Breathing Underwater with Allyson Mellberg

April 15, 2013

Picture 1
photo by Jason Lefton

Allyson Mellberg is Artist of the Month in April!

If you have been following our gallery over the years, you will undoubtedly be familiar with the work of April’s Artist of the Month, Allyson Mellberg. Allyson’s work is much like the woman herself – thoughtful, sincere, magical, and concerned with our relationship to the natural world – but not without a healthy sense of humor. What immediately struck us was how simultaneously tender and grotesque her drawings could be. Delicate lines and a soft color palette depicted these sickly yet beautiful, androgynous characters that kept reappearing in her drawings, often interacting (or vomiting) strange creatures, rock formations, or plant life. Like the best science fiction stories, no matter how fantastical there is a wondrous parallel to our own reality, as well as a fair warning: take care ourselves and the natural world.

In keeping with the themes in her work, she refuses to use toxic paints in the making of her drawings and instead creates her own by making pigments and inks from walnuts, egg, spinach and other natural ingredients. Not only is it ideologically and environmentally sound but Allyson is able to create a striking color palette that is wholly her own.

We asked Allyson some questions about it all…..

1.If you could have any superpower what would it be?
To be able to breathe underwater so I could go exploring coral forests and bioluminescence without having to come up for air or get the bends…

2. How would you describe your process?
I tend to read stuff/draw and write in my sketchbook to get little sketches and ideas and then I go to larger paper and just start working. I don’t start with a super strict plan, just a general sense of what I would like to happen and a few sheets of paper to work on at once. I make a lot of changes in the penciling-in stage, then I ink in outlines with a crowquill, and finally add egg tempera, watercolor, and gouache. I think I basically work a lot like a comic book artist. My process has been this way for a while now, the biggest recent change is that now I have to trick my baby into going to sleep before I can get into this process! When she was tiny I could wear her while I draw, but now its easier to work when she is napping or at night when she is sleeping.


3. When did you start making art?
I started making art in my Mom’s studio when I was in pre-school. I got really serious about it toward the end of high school.

4. When did you know you wanted to make art for the rest of your life?
I knew as a very small child. My Mom’s studio and work ethic had a big effect on that. I never thought I would go to a university for anything other than art. I never really had an alternate plan for myself.


5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself making art, living at a beach at least part of the year, watching my husband surf with my eleven year old (gasp!) daughter… surfing with them, and gardening.

6. What is inspiring you these days?
My biggest inspiration is nature. Gardening, spending time at the ocean, exploring. I feel lucky in that I have never lost the sense of wonder you can find in experiencing nature. Growing food and pigments alone is totally fascinating and different each season. I am also hugely inspired by science fiction. Especially dystopias which I think are interesting because they are often reflective of social and environmental issues we are living with now or facing in the near future. Since sci-fi/dystopia stories are set in other times, places, it helps give the reader some room to reflect on the consequences of what might happen if we: genetically modify all of our food, destroy the environment, become too attached to technology, remove emotion from our daily lives, lose our regard for other life-forms, etc. It is limitless as far as imagination goes but it almost always comes back to stories about human nature… I guess I like cautionary tales? I love Ursula K. LeGuin and Arthur C. Clarke especially. And, lastly, I am inspired by being a Mama. Watching Margot grow and seeing how exciting everything is for her is really awesome. She is so stoked on everything.


7.Last good film you saw?
Forbidden Planet… Leslie Nielsen in the 50s! I also liked that Sean Penn Movie, “This Must Be The Place” – which I wasn’t expecting.

8. You create some of your own paints with naturally made pigments. What types of paint have you made recently? Jeremy and I have made Oak Gall Ink and Walnut Ink recently… we have been making watercolor pans and growing our own indigo in the garden for dye… Coming up in the next few weeks, we are about to experiment with making Casein paint ( milk based paint) with my breast milk! Liquid Gold!


9. Do you have any favorite quotes/mottos?
“The thing you pay attention to is the thing that grows” and… as far as quotes go… “I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library.”
— Jorge Luis Borges


10. What music are you listening to in the studio?
I have been listening to a lot of Haruki Murakami books on tape and PJ Harvey’s “Let England Shake” record. which is awesome. And the new Mice Parade record a lot too… To be really honest though, when I am working I like really familiar music and a lot of repetition because I like to sing along while I am working so I might spend a whole studio session listening to Morrissey or New Order over and over again or Belle and Sebastian…something almost sing-songy. Its a way to space out for me. When Jer and I do shows together we listen to electronic music… Also over and over again to the point that we associate certain music with certain shows.


11.What is your favorite spot in the world right now?
Sandbridge beach, off season.

12. Where do you feel at home?
At the ocean, in our garden, and wherever Jeremy and Margot are.


13. What are you currently working on?
I am working with Jeremy on drawing quilts and other pieces for our show at FLA next fall. We grew pigments for two seasons and dyed fabric with our indigo, safflower, sunflowers, etc. in order to make the quilts so we are pretty stoked to see them come to life. We will also be making drawings/paintings with our homemade breast milk paint!


14. Do you envision a positive future or do you think we are all fucked? apocalypse theories? I am an optimist, but I have to admit its hard to stay positive with everything from drones and wars to genetically modified foods and everybody being so plugged in all of the time as part of our contemporary lives… it is looking pretty bleak around here. Even so, I try to reconcile the relationship between humans and nature in my work and the collaborative work Jeremy and I are making. I guess making art about the environment & how people interact with it AND using non-toxic, natural, and sustainable materials to do so indicates the fact that I still hope that things will change -otherwise why bother- we could be spray painting everything and using all kinds of toxic shit. That would make some things technically easier to make… and stinkier too. Things might look bleak but I definitely haven’t given up. It is still worth it to make the effort. Especially now with a child in our lives I am simultaneously so stoked, hopeful, and terrified. Its really hard to guess what the world will be like for her when she is our age.


15. What is your spirit animal?
I have always assumed it must be a house cat.


16. What astrological sign are you?
I am a Leo…

17. Who are some of your favorite artists right now?
I love Ai Weiwei and Nick Cave. Being a teacher I think some of the artists I am interested in right now have more to do with being stoked on talking to my students about them than it has to do with influencing my personal work. As far as more direct influences go I still love Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington so much. And I feel like I have been looking at lots of old stuff…Jeremy has been collecting all of these old engravings which have been really inspiring.


18. What would be your last meal before execution?
TONS of sushi and red bean mochi ice cream for dessert from Akai Hana in Chapel Hill that OR fish tacos from Carrburritos in Chapel Hill … both with sweet tea… actually If its my last meal can I have both?

See available Work by Allyson from the Cinders InventoryHere

Check out Allyson and Jeremy’s Cool Blog

Stay Tuned for More New Work By Allyson Mellberg!