Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Speaking with Melanie Diss

Paint Petals (Purple), Melanie Diss, 2011.

Hi Melanie, Could you tell us a little bit about your background? Did you grow up in Perth and did you study here?

Hi Claire, yes, I grew up and still live near the Swan Valley, pretty standard upbringing. My whole family is quite creative in different ways so I've always had some sort of artistic activity going on around me. In high school I took TEE Art, as well as Art & Design and I also chose to spend my free study period in the art room so almost half my weekly school schedule was spent making art!

I think that was a really productive time and it reinforced what I had always known, that whatever I'm doing, making art needs to be a big part of my life. Saying that though, I had no idea what career art would lead me to other than "graphic designer". I had gotten into university but I wasn't too keen on jumping straight back into full-time study so I thought I'd go to TAFE part-time instead and see where that leads.

I studied Fine Art at Central TAFE in Northbridge, which was an amazing place to study, the lecturers, the resources, the whole atmosphere was really creative and inspiring. I went on to get my Advanced Diploma, then ended up continuing on to university after all, where I got my Bachelor of Arts at Curtin.

Age, Melanie Diss, 2008.

You have a studio in Midland, where we are neighbours : ) Did you get your studio quite soon after leaving uni or did you wait a while? and do you feel that having a studio (as opposed to working in your home space) enhances your creative drive?

Through Artsource I heard about a venue in Midland becoming available for studio spaces in early 2009, which was the year after I graduated. I hesitated to put my application in at first because I assumed I didn't have enough experience. But a friendly person at Artsource encouraged me to apply anyway and let me know that Artsource are all about helping emerging artists so I went ahead and applied and got a space.

I definitely think it would have been harder for me to continue making art if I didn't have my studio space. It's invaluable having a space outside of your home that is dedicated to making art. It keeps you disciplined in that it can be like going to work, but it also gives you freedom, in that it's a room that's solely used for art and doesn't need to be tidied up and used for some other purpose! It feels like a continuation of my space at uni really.

I agree wholeheartedly with what you say about having your own dedicated space, it really does make a difference not having to consider the other uses, or people that use a space!

Who are some artists you find most interesting and why?

While studying and developing my current body of work I discovered artists who were doing really interesting things with paint textures. I wanted to work with paint without a canvas, Linda Besemer, a US artist was doing amazing things with this idea. I also looked at the work of Lynda Benglis, who used paint and other materials, like latex, to create the effect of really visceral paint sculptures. I also love the work of WA artists Cynthia Ellis and Alex Spremberg, while very different, the effects and textures they both create are really incredible.

Paint Patch (Green), Melanie Diss, 2011.

Coming from a textile background, I got so excited when I first saw your work and realised you were painting on fabrics other than canvas! and I think it is kind of funny that people seem to forget that canvas is a textile too. Is that something that you were consciously thinking about when you started painting on organza?

To be honest it's not something I was conscious of! At first I wanted to work with paint only, and create paintings with no support, but I couldn't get the desired effect. So I experimented with a few different materials including plastic sheeting and different fabrics like tulle and voile, before discovering that organza was exactly what I needed.

I wanted a material that would 'disappear', with the support being almost invisible. Organza definitely gave this appearance but when I started using it I also found it had other really interesting qualities that I could work with and manipulate, and with it's transparency there are lots of things you can do that you can't do with canvas.

Installation view - Narratives of Debris @
The Oats Factory, 2011.

Are there constant themes that you are attracted to throughout your work?

With my current work I am really interested in texture, and I find that I'm drawn to that in other artists' work. I also find myself noticing interesting textures everywhere now! I'm also interested in the themes of decay and renewal, and finding something attractive/appealing in discarded or neglected objects.

Are there any mediums/materials you would like to try that you haven't done yet?

There are so many different skills I've yet to learn, I think that's what makes art so exciting, there's an infinite supply of techniques and materials to try out. For me though, I'd like to learn screen-printing and finally learn to sew properly! I do find I always end up coming back to working with paint though, there are so many things I've yet to try and there's so much it can do. I'm also only just starting to use different painting mediums and glazes more, so I think I'll be sticking with paint for the next few years at least.

I often hear music playing from behind your door when I walk past at the studios. I think it is interesting how some artists need silence to work and others really draw from that energy music gives, or they drown away outside distractions with it. What part does music play for you in your art making?

I find I generally need the TV on or music playing if I'm working for long periods of time. I find it occupies the part of my brain that thinks too much! If I have music playing while making art I tend to make more intuitive decisions, I don't over-think what I'm doing. And yes, it definitely blocks out other outside distractions too, so I definitely prefer having music playing.

Installation view - Narratives of Debris @ The Oats Factory, 2011.

If you could go anywhere tomorrow where would it be?

I was gonna be cliched and say the Louvre, travelling around Europe, seeing as many galleries/churches/museums as I can but the truth is, tomorrow I'd love to be able to go to my studio and work full-time as an artist, and quit my boring day job.

Any current/future shows coming up?

I have a show with Shelley Brookland and Connla Kerr, at Melody Smith's gallery The Oats Factory. The show is called Narratives of Debris and the last day to see it is next Sunday, 14 August.

Where can people find out more about your work?

I've just recently set up a blog which can be viewed at melaniediss.blogspot.com, please check it out!

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