Kreh Mellick worked mostly in red and black for a long time — the two colors became a way for her to establish a drawing’s setting. Red indicates otherworldliness, while black is more grounded, portraying something of this world. “I’ve spent so much time in that red pattern and just kind of following that, repeating it and seeing where it led,” Mellick says. Her elaborate patterning and illustrations appear on the cover of Burn Your Fire for No Witness, the most recent album by local musician Angel Olsen. “I still kind of think of both of those colors in that way now,” the artist says, “just because I’ve worked with them so much.”
Blue Spiral 1 will be host a solo exhibition of Mellick’s work in the Small Format Gallery, which will open Thursday, March 3, alongside several other new displays. Mellick will show new pieces that integrate paper cutting as a more significant component to her drawings. Additionally, she will set the atmosphere of the space by painting a mural on the gallery wall, using a similar style to the outdoor mural on the studio of 7 Ton Design and Letterpress Co. in West Asheville.
Mellick’s new body of work still includes drawing but also represents an increased exploration of paper cutting. That work began with a specific visual reference — a piece called “The Animal Kingdom” by an unknown artist, pictured in The Flowering of American Folk Art (1776-1876). “I was just going back to it and back to it,” Mellick says. Deciding to copy it as a way to explore her own interest, she thought, “I’ll start here and see what happens with it, because it’s something that I really like,” and, like much of her works, is inspired by folk art.
Mellick’s first project, “Animal Stack,” involved cutting out silhouettes of animals to replicate what she saw in “The Animal Kingdom.” The process — using pencil marks and guidelines to preserve the symmetry — was much less improvisational than anything she had done in a while. Despite making a copy, “it still looks like my animals and my people,” she says. “To see it up close, the faces on each side are different, or some of the patterning is a little bit different. So that’s where my hand comes back in.”
The paper-cutting process that she began exploring with this piece has already evolved to include a series of landscape strips with a shaped exterior edge and a sequence of windowpane-style stacked drawing overlays. But this is not the first time that Mellick used an external reference as a starting point. The patterned line work of her drawings was inspired by the sketchbook of her great-grandmother, who worked in a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch style.
Mellick came to Western North Carolina nearly a decade ago to attend the Core Fellowship Program at Penland School of Crafts. After several years of various artist residencies, travel and living in Asheville, she has returned to the Penland community. Later this year, Mellick will have another solo exhibition, this time at Penland Gallery’s newly renovated space.
Creating an internal improvisational narrative as she makes her drawings, Mellick builds scenes that are endearing, even during moments of vulnerable awkwardness. There’s a risk that the work could become saccharine or cartoonlike, but the artist doesn’t want to hand the viewer something that’s too easy or too pretty. “You want it to be a little messed up, so you can take care of it,” she says.
Mellick adds, “Before it gets to that line of too cute or too easy, I make people limbless or I make something scary happen.”
The intended narrative within the drawing remains ambiguous to the viewer, and that’s the way Mellick wants it. “I’ve given you a small set of things to look at, and then you get to create that story yourself. That’s what I love about books without words, that interaction between the artist and the author,” she says of that purposeful mystery. “It’s like breadcrumbs.”
WHAT: Kreh Mellick solo exhibition
WHERE: Blue Spiral 1’s Small Format Gallery, bluespiral1.com
WHEN: Opening reception Thursday, March 3, 5-8 p.m. The exhibition remains on view through Saturday, April 30