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Review: Mela M The Authority of Color at the Speed of Light by Mary Anna Pomonis

The eternal radiance in light speed delivers its colors to all matter of home throughout the cosmos (blue round), 2021, acrylic on wood, 22.5 x 23.5 x 5.5 inches

Images courtesy of George Billis Gallery

The Authority of Color at the Speed of Light, Mela M’s solo show at George Billis, is an ode to light and space and in many ways continues the lineage of female abstract painters today and through art history. As an artist drawn to light space and non-representational abstraction, I have longed for a category, genre, or label that brings contemporary abstraction into focus while exploring the intersections of influence, techniques , and concepts of exclusively female-identifying artists. In the essay for the 2009 exhibition at the Orange County Museum of Art, Illumination; The Paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe, Agnes Pelton, Agnes Martin and Mildred Pierce, curator Karen Moss writes,

Ultimately each artist (O’Keeffe. Pelton, Martin and Pierce) manifested her personal sense of place and spirituality–both formally and conceptually–through illumination, using light to convey the mystical, ineffable, and sublime qualities of nature.”

Moss touches on not only the formal references evidenced in the construction of the work, but the commonalities of light and mysticism that pervade the work, while illuminating the often neglected output of female artists in the art historical canon.

Mela M’s painted sculptures (or sculptural paintings) are inheritors of the creative output of so many women. From Helen Lundeberg to Howardena Pindell, M’s work fits well in a discussion among female-identifying artists, as well as light and mysticism as content in abstract painting.

The eternal radiance in light speed delivers its colors to all matter of home throughout the cosmos (blue round), 2021, acrylic on wood, 29 x 31 x 6 inches (Detail)

In The eternal radiance in light speed delivers its colors to all matter of home throughout the cosmos (blue round), 2021, acrylic on wood, 29 x 31 x 6 inches, M manages to balance her fascination with the noise of active color relationships and the quiet of domestic life. The domestic, the felt, and the architectural, collide in work that feels simultaneously simple and complex. Clearly rendered with small industrial woodshop tools, the pieces are fundamentally human in scale. M constructs her works inside a small home that doubles as her studio. Surrounded in deeply saturated color, M’s work spills out into the wall and exterior, creating the feeling of being fully immersed in her creative state of gradient color, and multiple perspectives, and anti-gravity. Her domestic life collides with her creative output and the corner of a room becomes a meditation point and the site of an inexplicable half-painted mural. The overlaps of her identity as a partner in a domestic space and an artist in a public arena makes the work tense as it violates a neat dialogue about the purity of modernism, which is so often used to frame abstract painting.

The Authority of Color at the Speed of Light, 2018, Acrylic on wood, diptych, 6 x 71 x 72

M often cites Malevich and his fascination with the void and anti-gravity, though the work has few formal references to Russian Suprematism. With clearer roots in the multiple perspectives of cubism, as well as Japanese Edo painting, the work has a certain ebullience that in many ways defies both of these cultural antecedents as well as Russian Suprematism. M’s works, such as The Authority of Color at the Speed of Light, 2018, Acrylic on wood, diptych, 6 x 71 x 72, have multiple perspectives and spatial dynamics similar in the output of contemporary abstract painters, Julie Mehretu and Marie Thiebault, and falls within a wider narrative about the position of the female-identifying artist within Patriarchy. The multiple perspectives and faux shadow structures create a parallel universe of illogical illusions that render the forms floating in space rather than grounded. The multiple intersections and horizon lines operate as axes of rotation, amplifying the haptic movement of the color and taped off brushwork. The floating world of intersections calls to mind intersectional identities, the kind of liminal spaces outlined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw as overlapping categories of oppression and understanding. The artist herself in the exhibition statement says,

“I view the orbiting megatropolis as a mirror image of our earth bound civilization…., built by a species that has always wanted to reach the stars…This drive to do so is no doubt a primitive remnant of a basic imbalance masculine imperative to conquer, dominate, control and ultimately destroy all things natural, bright and full of color.”

The Authority of Color at the Speed of Light, 2018, Acrylic on wood, diptych, 6 x 71 x 72 (detail)

What Makes Mela M’s work unique is that it utilizes the slick process of hard edge abstraction but still manages to evoke the casualness of assemblage. They explode in obsessive wonder and color; the components appear to be cast-off cut pieces from the woodshop floor. Resembling a haphazard assembly of fragmented pieces like Rebecca Niederlander’s large sculptural wood installations, M’s works add elements of decorative traditions within interior architecture through her use of the house and stars as silhouetted elements within the sculptures. Her use of color is often in structured gradient units like those created by abstract painter June Edmonds who similarly explores portals and empty spaces within cavernous repetitive forms. The show is the product of a drive to exceed the stylistic restraints of modernist painting: a conflagration of gradients, neon colors, and focused silhouettes of houses, stars, and gates.

In her exhibition, Mela M seems committed to opening up a bigger dialogue with the history of female abstract painting from Agnes Martin to Agnes Pelton. By situating herself within the tradition of modernist painting but referencing elements of the landscape, space, and desert transcendentalism, M is operating within a yet unnamed genre of creative output, one with exclusively female visual referents, from the iridescence of cosmetics to the cavernous spaces and archways. The work visually sizzles with feminine energy. What happens in a mirror image of a patriarchal earthbound civilization? Mela M artwork depicts a possible answer, she illuminates a civilization expanding and opening itself up to reveal raw feminine power that alters the perception of everything.

1 Moss, Karen, Illumination: The Paintings of GeorgiaO’Keefe, Agnes Pelton, Agnes Martin and Florence Miller Pierce, Catalog Essay, Art and Life Illuminated: Georgia O’Keefe and Agnes Pelton, Agnes Martin and Florence Miller Pierce by Karen Moss, pg 45 of the Illumination Catalog. Merrell Publications, 2009.



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