Lara Melnik, queen of craft fairs and cafés, has created an intricate and colourful show of work in polymer clay at the Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery.
If February seems black and white and grey to you, Polychrome could be the antidote.
The title wall reflects Melnik’s well-known status in the community. Her name is given simply as “Lara” with a large-scale flower beside it.
More of these flowers bloom on the show’s back wall. These flowers, with petals radiating out from the centres, carry some of the hippy groovy style Melnik uses in her work.
A long, slender horizontal piece underlines the title. A wide variety of colours and textures in small vertical shapes run along the long black rectangle. Above each shape, white dots in a variety of shapes, the form and texture of scotch mints, suggest the heads of many simple figures. They could be the crowd of people at the gallery’s opening.
The piece is called i-catching (i-pods). Beside this piece, as with all of them, short, easy to read first-person text recounts how Melnik made or got the idea for each piece.
An installation of legal size cards, six high by seven wide, fills the other side of the title wall. Overall, the piece shades from red at the top though the colour wheel to red again at the bottom. On closer inspection, Untitled lists all the titles of Melnik’s thousands of original pieces she’s created over the past 10 years, in alphabetical order. It’s the ink it’s printed in that produces the colour effect.
You could spend a pleasant while, traipsing through these names with your imagination. I had other pieces to turn to, so perhaps Baby Blue Fruit will suffice to intrigue you. Or how about whole lists based on chocolate and cinnamon?
In this piece and in the ramps and boxes in some of the other pieces, I believe that I detect the hand of Darren Holcolme. Lara Melnik’s partner in life and art business, Holcolme set aside his engineering career to turn his computer, carpentry and organizational skills to the family art business.
It is a Melnik tradition, for every art opening, to prepare simple polymer clay bead-like pieces to give away to everyone who comes. Many of her fans collect these pieces. This show was no exception. All visitors to the show received a circular colour wheel edged in black, about an inch in diameter.
Some of the pieces will be recognizable in format to those who know Melnik’s work. Framed Yukon landscapes, matted in bright colours, cluster on one of the walls.
Then, some take her work and enlarge upon it. Forever and a day is a midsized piece. Melnik has taken a series of her unframed inch-deep landscapes and butted them up against each other, matching at the horizon. The landscapes are depicted in a range of bright colours for mountain and sky. The cumulative effect evokes the variety in the Yukon landscape, how it changes in light and character from day to day.
Two framed pieces, Flora of the Yukon and La Flore du Yukon, use the same strategy: strong green shoots covered with a wide variety of fantastic multi-coloured blooms.
These pieces are fine, but the most interesting for me were the ones where Melnik used her skill with the polymer clay more experimentally.
An assent of polymen will reward long inspection and will delight young and old. Ramps have been built around plinths. At the bottom, a black polymer clay face grows out of a disk of black clay inset with colour buttons around the perimeter. Little whimsical creatures, reminiscent of anime characters, follow one after another up the ramps around the plinths.
It seems to me that Melnik had a wealth of these characters, and so they got to mill around in a group on top of the plinth before rejoining the line to go back into a small black pond, where an orange face is dissolving, the suggestion being that it will re-emerge at the bottom.
Beside this dissolving pond, a face with a spike growing out of its head collects a rainbow of coloured rings.
Is it an allegory of life and death? Perhaps …
Playing in the rainbow occupies a large plinth. Melnik has artfully arranged a series of disks of polymer clay in a range of colours, printed with textures, gradated from ¼” to 4″ diameters. Over the course of the show she will come in and rearrange the disks to make a new piece. A digital picture frame on the wall above the plinth shuffles through photographs of the disks in various arrangements.
In another piece, the audience is invited to step inside a circular curtained area. The curtain is made of strung beads. Melnik reserves a sample of every cane she’s created over the past 10 years of making beads and art. A dated bead separates the months, so you can trace a history of her interests in colour. You can touch these beads, gently.
And finally, possibly my favourite, the kingdom of bead. Melnik has created several cases treating her beads to a Victorian style biological scrutiny of species and variety. Melnik’s polymer beads are melted on pins and given playful Latin names. The “lovey bead,” for example, is called Amplusamoratum valentines.
The materials are “polymer clay, pins, blood, sweat, and tears.”
You can see more about Melnik’s art on her website at www.laramelnik.com.
Polychrome continues at the Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery until March 13.