People think I’m kidding, or I’m being hyperbolic, when I say that Melora Walters is the Elia Kazan of this moment in painting. I think they are very similar figures: category killers in what they do, but ambassadors of a certain movement–in Melora’s case a return to a kind of full-throated expressionism that’s long past–that no longer holds cultural authority (though we do love the annual dividends it pays). And in both cases there is a mastery of form that buckles underneath a seismic swell of emotion–there is just too much feeling for a work of art to contain it. In movies we love this excess, probably because our feelings are usually so parched, but in painting this is considered not sufficiently thoughtful and a kind of indignity. Are people who look at paintings just dulled enough in the emotions they take in from the canvas that suddenly the inner life of Melora’s work will be made visible?
Actors often do things other than act and if we love them, or rather the skein of fantasies and daydreams they allowed us to project onto their faces and voices, we will put up with the jam band CD or the unfortunate slender collection of short stories because, in the end, it is one more keepsake of the moments of them we replay. I don’t know if Melora acted or picked up the brush first, but she is unique in my experience in her ability to fuse the two into one gesture. What you will see tonight are performative paintings, the act of acting and painting are made to coexist with each other. The concentration on gesture, immediacy, and above all desire acted out through a physical impulse is the same in both worlds–but again, on the canvas, that hailstorm of urgency, bodily urgency, feels more frightening and new.
The impetus for the series you will see here was (in part) the works of Heraclitus. The works of the pre-Socratic philosophers are all the rage right now, I think partly because their world, which begins in the space before Western Civ 101, resembles our own post-human-but-not-quite-dead period. There is a bit of apocalypse-played-backwards there. And so it is a very popular thing too that Heraclitus speaks of change and the instability of all things. We all try to render this panic-inducing news as a Zen koan as best we can. But what I find interesting about Heraclitus, and what lies beneath the two-and-a-half roomfuls of work you will see, is that in his later phase he became a wandering, misanthropic renegade, somewhere between a hobo and a beatnik, who roamed the earth and “ate bitter root.” He was clearly an inspiration for the greatest misanthrope in Western letters, Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, a jilted lover of humanity who retreats to a cave and exhilarates himself with bitter sermons.
Could the warm, genial, surely harmless person who conceived these works of art in some way be inspired by, or heaven forbid even be a bit of, Timon of Athens? It is certainly a Timonian age; and the difference between Room 1 and Room 2 is as if some spigot, some heart-shunt of compassion were turned on and off. The roomful of Hellenic masks is elegiac, noble, a work seemingly in mourning for itself; a whole civilization, a “way of life,” a species of emotion is alive in these ancient masks and now is almost crumbled into dust. Like a race of Asperger’s victims, are we able to read, genuinely read, the emotion on those might-as-well-be-cast-iron faces, now smudged into charcoal crumbles? Next door, there is this Chicken Man who is gleefully, zanily flayed alive. As if in a parody of a PETA spokesmodel weeping over the industrial vivisection behind the concrete doors of KFC, Melora dismembers, disfigures, and maybe reassembles, Frankensteinianly, a figure who is a Chicken Man, which, one suspects, might just mean just what it sounds like. There is no love lost in this room–or maybe there is nothing ∗but∗ love lost. In any case, the grand guignol pleasure in mutilating the canvas and mutilating the chickenshit are joined in unholy matrimony. Isn’t L.A. the world capital of gorehounds? Even the most visceral-minded might be satisfied by these acts of desecration.
Fusing these worlds–the elegy and the chainsaw massacre–well, maybe not fusing them–gluing them–like a child stepping in between parents to make them hold hands–is a series of sketches. I want to call them “brief sketches,” so slight are they; but they are slight in the lithe, elegant sense. They hark back to Matisse and the ease, the caressingness he could bring to a very few lines. The spareness in Matisse’s drawings, as in Melora’s, is experienced as a small, modest but electrifying touch. Who do you know, really, who speaks in as many diverse idioms as Melora, and in such an equally tender and all-commanding voice?
“Lying Chicken Man and the Muse”
I am trying to find a balance between ancient history and modern day, in the subject matter I choose, as well as in my approach to the paintings and drawings. It is also my attempt to find meaning to man’s existence.
In my drawings I reference the Ancient Greeks. I am trying to show a continuum between what we came from, as a culture, to where we are now. In my latest charcoal drawings, I am also trying to bring an emotion into the sculptures. As though the soul that motivated the sculptor is still there. Essentially I am trying to draw the soul.
“Lying Chicken Man” has references to Robert Johnson, the blues singer, and the idea that we go to the crossroads to sell our soul for something that we think we want, that we think will bring us great happiness. In this series, I am painting a process, transformation, of reclaiming my own soul and shadow.
Whether drawing with a porcupine quill, charcoal, or using oil paint. I honor that medium, and it’s history of use. I believe that my approach to art is an emotional one, of trying to find truth. While they may seem very different, if you look closely you will see that the same line is always there, a concentrated connection with the paper or canvas, to show what it is to be alive, similar to the cave paintings and their hand prints.
BFA – Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY
2011 Lying Chicken Man and the Muse, (solo exhibition) LAUNCH, Los Angeles, CA
2008 Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Berlin, Germany
2007 Jan Baum Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
2005 Gallery Brown, sculpture installation, Los Angeles, CA
2004 Amnesty International, paintings for stop violence against women campaign, Los Angeles, CA
2004 Headquarters, painting exhibit, Los Angeles, CA
PUBLISHED ART AND WRITINGS
2011 The Siren and In the Painting Heraclitus Wrings His Hands Above the World and Appears
to be Crying, Poems and Art, Edition of 1/50, AP Edition 1/10, Published by Writ Large Press
2010 Sonnets and Failures, Poems and Art, published by Finishing Line Press
ART IN FILMS
Harrison Montgomery, (watercolors), 2006
Magnolia, (“The Smokers”), 1999
Art Forum, online, 2007
Hollywood Life, Dec/Jan 2004
Jane May 2003
Flaunt #53, 2002
Los Angeles Times, Book Review, Nov 4, 2001