Taos News, Tempo April 2004
Mel Scully's Life Work
Artist lecture is titled 'Breath in Nature'
For one more month, Harwood Museum of Art artist-in-residence Mel Scully will live and work in the quaint, old apartment next to the museum. It makes her sad that her four month tenure is nearing its end. As a wasp buzzes overhead, she points out slides of her life’s work that are scattered across a round wooden table as she prepares herself for a free upcoming lecture to be given today (April 22), 7:30 pm at the Harwood.
The lecture is part of the gig when you are chosen to be artist-in-residence. Titled “Breath in Nature,” Scully plans to present a slide show of her work, marking its progression, sharing her inspirations, explorations and methods. She was a teacher's assistant in graduate school at Utah State University in Logan, so she has spoken in front of a room full of people–although she admits to feeling a little nervous. But as passionate as she is about her paintings and her subject matter, the butterflies should easily float away once she gets going. It is nature, especially trees, that drives her passion.
“Different people find different things beautiful,” Scully said in her calm, easy-going way. In the fall I feel like I am collecting thousands of leaves, gathering them for their color. The shapes and colors in nature draw me every time.”
Her paintings draw the eye as well. Have you ever picked up a translucent leaf and held it to the sun and rubbed a finger across its bumpy, yet silky surface? In many ways that’s what Scully’s work reminds me of. It’s as if you can see into nature’s soul and feel what it is made of. Her work is abstract, but it didn’t start out that way when she was an undergraduate student at Michigan State University in the early 1990s. Her creative transformation has been a concerted effort to find her own voice.
“My progression has slowly evolved more and more from a recognizable landscape focus to more meditation,” she explained. “It comes more from a feeling now instead of attempting realism.”
She points to a painting hanging across the room called “The Blessing” and tells a story of coming across a place in an aspen grove. Leaves are falling all around, touching her. That moment was a “blessing.”
She walks into nature, sometimes with a pencil and sketchpad, and sometimes with a travel watercolor set and quite often with a camera. Her journeys into the trees to record their shadows and lines usually happens in the late afternoon to take advantage of the famous New Mexico light that pours a glow over everything.
The lecture and “Open Studio day” planned May 1 is a chance for Scully to show and discuss her sketches and photographs together with her paintings for people “to see where they all came from.”
Quoting something she wrote in an artist statement, “I grasped onto them, drawing them over and over until I began abstracting them. But I wanted to do more… I wanted to capture their essence… I wanted to collect their sound… I wanted their silent powdery white bodies to grow through me and teach me patience…” I asked her if the aspens have indeed taught her patience.
“Yes, they have… slowly,” she answered with a smile.
The artist-in-residence program at the Harwood has given Scully the opportunity to concentrate on her painting– something for which she is very grateful.
By Scott Gerdes