Gallery Artist: John DeMelim
Collage is the basis of all my work and studies. As a Graduate Student in Mexico, I introduced collage to enhance my study of painting and eventually focused on collage as an art form in its own right. I have avoided adhering to any one media and prefer to explore new combinations of materials and ideas. Collage has been a conceptual concern that permeates my production in other media. It provides the perfect medium and format that is thought provoking and introspective, while providing a rich source of innovation. The dynamics of collage provide a technique rich with fertile and stimulating activity that takes on a life and direction of its own.
In daily life, one is visually assaulted by a million different realities. They collide, merge, blend, overlap, crumble, flash and disappear, from which some semblance of truth is created momentarily in the conscious as a montage of a living experience. To absorb this montage of multiple impressions, essential elements and responses, I use a variety of technical approaches. The juxtaposition of fragments recreated in a collage embodies / captures the essence of our surroundings ( our being ) ---- a moment in time compressed into a stationary work giving depth and meaning to the reality of what we see in fleeting and fractured moments.
The development of collage is the result of juxtaposing materials I have collected in foreign countries. The graphics, calligraphy and designs are extraordinary. Collecting these materials - sometimes inches thick - from old billboards is fun and exhilarating and heavy and difficult to pack! These materials haves to be soaked and meticulously separated and dried. All sorts of other materials are collected, engravings of machines, anatomical drawings, proofs from my own silk screen prints, brochures, etc. These materials become the basic vocabulary of my collages.
The works are a kaleidoscope of graphic expression that has its roots in studies of ancient and modern cultures. Mention should be made to language via letter-forms and fragments of text in the context of signs and symbols. Collage has been and is a prodigious source of invention – thought-provoking and introspective – and this exploration and complex of mixed media generates multiple possibilities as to form and content. I take time with collages, let them incubate. I love the mystery and the magic in determining the end result. I take advantage of the happy accidents – things I don’t plan on. Experimentation provides many paths to suggest various graphic possibilities in the development of images.
Painters and teachers I have met, studied and worked with, such as Umberto Romano, Karl Zerbe, James Pinto, and David Aronson, have had a profound influence on the openness of my thought process and the freedom to explore and work with all media. I have been blessed throughout my life especially early on to have these fine teachers take a sincere interest in me. They were great mentors, friends and fellow colleagues later in life. Forty years plus of teaching for me is a joy and seeing students grow and develop into their own is fulfilling payment.
about the artist
John DeMelim is a well-known New England artist and has had more than twenty one- and two-person shows in New England, New York City, California, and Mexico. His work has appeared in more than seventy juried exhibitions and has received many awards. His works are mixed media, and include paintings, assemblages, collage, serigraphs (the fine art of silk screen printing), embossing, and sculpture. Found objects early on played an important role in his constructions, assemblages, and sculpture. He blends historical images with contemporary technology to create a historical science fiction.
He has avoided adhering to any one media and prefers to explore new combinations of materials and ideas. He finds the exploration of media and techniques contribute to a process that generates multiple possibilities as to form and content. He states that conceptually and technically the metamorphosis that an image goes through as it is articulated by various reproductive and design processes further enhances the physical and psychological development of the image. He states, “I have many journals – some done on site when I travel and some created daily. These journals are a necessity for me and become a living record as well as artistic output and source material for future work.”
The work in his latest exhibition at Salve Regina University, titled Fractured Moments, focuses on collage and spans two decades. His extensive travel provides a rich reservoir of visual images and experiences. His use of collage to record juxtapositions of historical and contemporary images is contrasted with images and themes from different historical periods that portray similarity or contradictory thought, sign or symbol to suggest a visual metaphor. John’s work is a kaleidoscope of graphic expressions that has its roots in his studies of ancient cultures.
DeMelim has been a working artist all his life. His work encompasses painting, drawing, graphics, serigraphy, sculpture, assemblage and collage. He makes preliminary studies with collage and photography. His serigraphs provide two avenues of output: one, a series of limited edition prints, and two, a series of proofs that are the necessary byproduct of testing color, transparency, alignment and composition. These proofs become another source of material for his collages and provide inspiration for future pieces.
His serigraphs are overlays of transparent colors that provide clean, crisp, secondary colors and modulations, the textural qualities that are produced by a variety of stencil techniques range from the subtlety of a watercolor to the impasto of an oil painting. An etching press is used to emboss some works, creating a sculptural quality that is not possible with the screen process. The combination results in a strong graphic image and sensuous surface. Some embossings use no color and are totally dependent on the play of light and shadow.
Early in his career, he questioned the diversity and variety of techniques and media and his inability to concentrate his effort in one field or medium. He took a leave of absence to grapple with this unsettling problem. During this time he started using collage in his paintings and started working in metal sculpture. His work in steel led to experiments using flat plates for mono-prints and embossings. Each area fed the other, relationships between media and process became evident and opened new avenues of exploration. During his year of introspection he resolved that this inability to work in a single media was his core strength as an artist and his curiosity about using unorthodox techniques and equipment satisfied his creative expression and communicated his message in a fuller and more satisfying manner.
"Meet the artist," by Paula Martesian (2013)
Less than a mile from Route 44’s constant stream of commerce lies the jewel-box home of artist and retired Rhode Island College educator John DeMelim. Mass covers the roof of the studio, trees protect the house from the road and two statues of Buddha watch over the gardens. In the backyard, an expansive view of the reservoir unfolds.
As beautiful as the house and setting are it is the collection of art and artifacts inside that truly wows. Large wooden figures and small stone figurines from Mali and Papua New Guinea are everywhere. Shoji screens are used as curtains, light fixture covers and shower doors. Posters from Japan and Greece line the walls of a bedroom. And tucked in between the traveler’s treasure trove are the two- and three-dimensional collages of John DeMelim.
An educator at RIC for nearly 40 years, DeMelim was an integral force in the creation of the college’s art department with an art major and a Bachelor of Arts degree. For several years every student that attended RIC was required to take his class “Visual Arts in Society,” the only art class the college offered. Now the college offers degrees in studio art (ceramics, digital media design, graphic design, metalsmithing & jewelry, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture), art education and art history.
DeMelim loves teaching and he loves traveling. His late wife Mary explored the world (with him) and in each location, the DeMelims found something to bring back. They stuffed bags full of the aforementioned figurines. DeMelim cut pieces of graphics, calligraphy and designs from old billboards and brought the heavy fragments home in a suitcase. Much later he would soak them, then meticulously separate and dry the fragments for use in his own collages.
He started using collage when he was a graduate student at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico as a way to enhance his painting. Later he focused on collage as an art form in itself.
DeMelim explains his connection to the medium: “In our daily lives, one is visually assaulted by a million different realities. They collide, merge, blend, overlap, crumble, flash and disappear, from which some semblance of truth is created momentarily in the conscious as a montage of living experience.” The medium of collage, DeMelim feels, is the most cohesive way to represent the myriad of differing realities we experience each day.
His collages work on both visual and emotional levels. DeMelim plays with space using abstract shapes, colors and letterforms. Sometimes the palette is muted and quiet, even black and white. At other times, the collages are punctuated with strong bright bursts of color.
Then DeMelim really starts to play. He includes fragments of art he created long ago, screen prints and embossings rich with texture. In go pieces of the lovingly collected graphics of other cultures and small curios 3-dementional pieces gathered here and there.
For over sixty years, the spry 89-year-old DeMelim has explored the world through the prism of collage. His work is both a celebration of life and a siren song that evokes the collective human longing for something more. Somehow through this multi-tiered and all-inclusive approach, DeMelim creates a cohesive world that mirrors the human condition.