Second Chances 2018

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photo credit: Christian Capurro

monograph 2006-2018 available here

exhibition at Flinders Lane Gallery 1-19 May 2018

The abstracted compositions of Melinda Schawel conjure a kind of visual ecology; a symbolic world where concept and construct interact in quiet symbiosis. Immersing herself in the often-overlooked alchemy of paper, the American born, Melbourne-based artist summons formal dialogues between texture and mark to present her experiential vision of the natural world. 

With scalpel in hand, Schawel methodically tears the surface of heavy gauge paper, piece by piece, until a form emerges, taking its own organic path beyond the artist’s control. A lyricism inhabits this act of peeling layers and shedding surface; a dance between control and unpredictability that reveals the kinetic and sculptural potential of paper. An engraving tool is utilised to drill into sections of the paper, which by contrast is more controlled and symmetrical, choreographing depth by casting shadows. Each torn and perforated mark invokes both a ghostly presence and the imprint of absence. 

Schawel also incorporates highly pigmented and diluted drawing inks and fluid acrylics, allowing them to spread, reticulate and dry under plastic. While her carved markings appear weighty and immovable – evoking ancient escarpments etched and eroded with the lashes of time – her inky stains merge and mingle like nascent universes still in formation. Some painted forms recede in the pictorial space as others approach the surface, threatening to drift off the paper and dissipate into the atmosphere. These optical manoeuvres of energetic shapes and textures create the sense that the works are in flux, forever evolving. 

Through her unique and varied techniques, Schawel translates natural observations into atmospheric formations. Some worlds are carefully contained within stained, drawn or perforated perimeters while others dissolve into their surrounds like a fading memory. In the diptych The Calm Before the Storm (2018), gentle expanses of prussian and arctic blues recede into the paper alongside expanding perforated fans, while an outlined form of white hovers on the surface, vulnerable to the veil of blackness emerging from the edge. This work, as with many others, reflects Schawel’s attempt at remaining optimistic in an environment fraught with calamity. The paper bears the memory of the artist’s tools like former lives lived, a tactile symbol of Earth’s enduring strength.

Schawel describes her compositions as an expression of materials, process and form, inspired by natural events but not reliant upon them. Peering into her portals of aqueous forms and hard-edged shapes, we can see polar vignettes of sublime glaciers, galactic constellations glinting in the sky or tiny crabs burrowing into the sand. Yet there also appear to be echoes of domesticity, cartography and ritualism dwelling in the artist’s delicate lines and perforations, bringing together the manmade and the organic. This nature-culture dialectic can be read in the work Free Flowing (2018), where the central perforated annulus melds lace and lattice with feathery florets and the organelles of cells as a dense blue mass seems to pass like a raincloud over the picture plane. 

Holding within their crystalline membranes a multitude of worlds, Schawel’s compositions both confront and comfort the viewer about the environment we live in. Her visual economy of texture, line, shadow and stain pictorialise not only phenomena occurring in nature, but also the nuances of our minds as viewers filter the elusive compositions through their own experiences and imagination. 

Elli Walsh

photo credit: Loren Mitchell

Subterrain, The Organic Sublime pop up group show with Flinders Lane Gallery Collins Place during Melbourne Art Week Jul/Aug 2018

image details: Descent I & II 2018, ink on torn & perforated paper 104x152cm each