Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Post Wanderlust: Where to now?

Melanie Mehrer: Wanderlust!
September 16- November 6th, 20011,
Penticton Art Gallery

It's fall and it feels like a turning point.

The closest thing to having my name in lights!
But the question is, What's next?

Quick recap: This weekend I attended the opening of my first public art gallery show at the Penticton Art Gallery alongside an artist I would list as one of my inspirations, Nick Bantock, whose retrospective took up residence in the Main Gallery. We had an extremely successful opening, And Director-Curator Paul Crawford said it was the second biggest turnout ever in his history of working at the gallery.

My Travel journals on display: The first time they've seen by the public.

"The only opening to beat you were the Tibetan Monks." He informed us over dinner.

Nick, Joyce (Nick's wife) and I decided we were okay with being beaten by Tibetan Monks. (Which if you think about it literally, is a pretty funny visual.)

The Wanderlust exhibition in the Toni Onley Gallery:
Nick's retrospective is behind the right wall in the main room.

Sometimes when I find myself in bizarre situations, I like to stop and take a mental photograph of where I am and thing of all of the experiences, moments, turn of events that brought me to these moments. Sitting with the Bantocks, at my favourite restaurant in Penticton, talking about art and yarn bombing and Tibetan Monks seems all absurdly natural. I told NIck that when I went to University in Victoria I worked in a tourist gallery that sold his stationery sets. Even though I barely had two nickels to jingle in my pocket, I bought myself a set and poured over the images. When the letters were written and the postcards sent, I put all of my important letters and postcards in that Griffin & Sabine box. If you told me back then that one day I'd be breaking bread with the Bantocks I would think you were absolutely bonkers.
Artist Melanie meets Nick Bantock. Oodles of fun! Nick and Joyce are super. If I had money to burn and knew where I'd be next September, I'd jump on their artist's retreat in Spain. (Link at bottom of the page)

Anyway, at the dinner table Nick and I chatted a lot about his alter egos, the characters in the books he writes, Griffin and Sabine and the new WasNick Blog he's been writing. He is like an animated version of his own books, slipping in and out of character as he retold stories, and shared his insights with me.

High school art student Melanie tracked down my high school art teacher and invited him to the opening. It was great to see him after all these years. I'm now four years older than he was when he was my teacher. When I was in his class, my goal in life, oddly enough, was to be a high school art teacher and have a show at the Penticton Art Gallery.

So over the course of the next few days, I started thinking about myself and my alter egos. We all have them, and truthfully, I've never given them much thought. But the opening on Friday night for me was very much a time where I slipped into a very old character- one I haven't seen in years, as I had my old classmates, my parents, my relatives and my high school art teacher all in attendance- I was the 38 year-old version of my 18 year-old self.

Cousin Melanie, Niece Melanie, and Daughter Melanie with my family.

And then there is my exhibition itself, hanging on two parallel walls, facing each other like dance partners waiting for the music to begin. Someone told my mother that if you stood in the middle and looked at both walls, the left with linocuts of Taiwan comics and the other side with paintings of Turkey and Canada, you might think there were two different artists, yet they are both me at different times of my life when different things were important and parts of my character and understanding of the world were different too.

Abu Dhabi Melanie was represented! My good friends and former coworkers Maureen and Rachel happened to be in the right hemisphere at the right time. These two were an amazing support team for me when I was really down in the Emirates and I will never forget their willingness to put up with me at that time. Cheers to you both!

It's hard to put words to it but looking at the art there on the walls made me realise that what I do is interesting and appealing, but it's also very safe. I don't usually start anything until I've thought it al the way through to it's successful state. What was that? Safe? Not usually an adjective you would associate with someone who has travelled the world over like me.
Taiwan Melanie was also at the Opening with Taiwan friend/roommate Scott and his wife Ou. Scott had to gingerly step over most of the Taiwan prints which were drying in rows on the floor of our living room for weeks. He said it was really cool to see the same images hanging on the gallery walls 12 years later.

But if one were to look closely at my art, you'd notice that there is quite a bit missing from the UAE chapter in my life. What never made the artist's talk is that I left the Emirates at the lowest point of my life and safety and contentment is what I needed at the time. And Turkey handed that to me on a big Turkish tea platter complete with tea and sugar. And so my Turkish paintings were painted out of that necessity for safety and security. The Canadian paintings have been a big part of that healing process. It didn't really hit me until I was in the middle of my artist's talk.

My high school classmates! Not only was it an opening, it was a reunion!
Very cool to see everyone and strange that twenty years have passed since I have seen some of these people. Once zitty teenagers, we are now teachers, artists, designers, wine industrineers, mature university students, scientists and computer software engineers. New versions of our past-selves.

A friend of my mother's filmed the artist's talk I gave on Saturday, and in trying to edit it I have had time to watch myself answer on-the-spot questions in the gallery without too much thought and I've had time to think about some things. If I had to answer some of those questions again, a few days later, I'm not sure I'd be so quick to answer. I still don't have answers, if fact, I'm not even sure I have questions! But something is a changing. I feel like I'm going in a new direction, and I'm not sure if it's up, down or sideways, but it certainly isn't the linear left and right path I have been on lately.

I can't categorize which Melanie I am around Paul- He knows them all. Paul Crawford, Director-Curator at the Penticton Art Gallery is also a close and personal friend who has infiltrated my university days, my Taiwan days, and is an honorary member of my family. We haven't always gotten along, and because of that, I think we have a really strong friendship. As Rumi Says, if you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?"

And then there is the present fractioning of who I am which really gets to the heart of my recent feeling of Schitzophrenia: Me as an artist, Me as a teacher, and me as a prospective Art teacher Candidate in the UBC education programme. I've been trying to imagine myself as this future art teacher, opening up students to different ideas, to be open, explore their creativity and get them moving in new directions they never thought possible.

The wall of Canada!

The wall of Taiwan!

Lucky for me, (The Grand Poobah of "Me"s,) knows that I've got time to figure out which path I'm going down next while I take this programme. Where I'll be this time next year is a giant question mark for me. Maybe I'll be teaching, maybe I'll be back living in my parent's backyard. Maybe I'll have spun off in a new direction I never anticipated. (I'm kind of liking that last idea.)

Until then, I think I'm going to put the paints away for a bit, focus on school, draw inward, and see what happens when I stop being all the "Me"s I think I need to be.

Hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action.
~Ralph Ellison

Links to Wanderlust! Videos on Youtube:

Wanderlust Artist's Talk:

Links to Nick Bantock:



  1. I love your Gemini-ness: your multidimensional thought processes, your multisided approach to life, your multifaceted artistic talent, even your multicontinent travels and your multilingual abilities, in fact, the complete multitudinousness of your assemblage of assets. I consider myself privileged to follow your adventures and am an unabashed fan. -Joanne

  2. congratulations Melanie, it must have been wonderful to be there with you, thanks for showing us such a beautiful art... keep going!! you rock!! ♥

  3. Thanks, Lily! Wish you could have been there! ; )