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What Now? Melinda Harper

Australian Art Collector Jan 2011

Courtney Kidd

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What Now?


Your dazzling paintings in the 1990’s with right, clashing colours, attracted a lot of attention. What have you been working on lately?

I’m focussing on the show coming up in March. It’s made up of embroidery works, small scale about 30 by 30 centimetres in size and all done by hand. Their embroidery mesh is spray-painted, they’re like the way I work with paper. They relate to an exhibition I did back in 2007 at Heide Museum of Modern Art here in Melbourne. The show, called Combined was with Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley. Janet and Jennifer took the title from Robert Rauschenberg’s use of the term combine. The way he made assemblages of painted images, some from other artist, then worked them with found objects. This was in the 1950’s. The show worked well in the modernist space of Heide II. Audience response was really positive so I was keen to develop the ideas further. Initially I saw the embroideries as a continuation of my painting practice in another form. But slowly they have informed and brought new ways of looking and using colour. I have always had a strong interest in textiles, been attracted to the William Morris tapestries and Sonia Delaunay and to the work of the women artists of the Bauhaus.


How has your working process evolved since your first solo exhibition at Pinacotheca back in 1987?

Those works were small, rough on wood with paper and in three or four colours. The work now is much more complicated, more expanded by the endless possibilities of working with abstraction. Some people assume abstraction is about limitations but I’m interested in its expansion, the ways colour and form continually evolve. My paintings are developed from my experiences of looking, I do a lot of works on paper and am generally working on several paintings at once.


What does a day in the studio mean for you?

At the moment I only get two days a week in the studio and that’s at night as the two children, aged four and six, take up time. I also work two days a week in an art studio working with people who live with a mental illness. The studio and my home are both in Collingwood so that makes the travel easier.


What have you seen lately that impresses you?

Eva Hesse drawings, Mark Grotjahn painting [and] I enjoyed Brian Spier’s exhibition earlier this year at Sarah Scout Gallery.


You’ve been included in major survey shows such as Australian Perspecta, the Moet et Chandon and Primavera and you’ve exhibited in Europe on a number of occasions. Do you think it is ultimately necessary for artists to engage in an international arena to make their work?

If possible, it is very difficult.


Your work holds allusions to the history of abstraction, to Malevich and Mondrian, for example. Do you think viewers need these reference points for your work to be fully appreciated?

No, art is a visual experience. I don’t think the viewer needs to be informed. I remember m first experience of an abstract painting was the Hans Hoffman in Canberra at the National Gallery of Australia; seeing this painting was life changing when I was 16 years old, and most probably the reason I be came an artist.


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