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Taos News, Tempo Dec. 2003
Sketchbook Vision
Harwood’s artist-in-residence gets a feel for Taos

Artistic painting is neither a safe nor a realistic way to make a living. So say the people in the area of Michigan where Harwood artist-in-residence Mel Scully grew up.

“They still think painting is a hobby,” 34-year-old Scully laughed as she sat surrounded by her abstract paintings hanging in the Northside Bean, where she also works part-time. “It’s kinda wild being surrounded by my work.”

Scully’s oil work has a feeling of springtime, a freshness. Her canvases are accentuated with shades of ochre. Her theme is based on nature. She finds herself drawn to trees, especially aspens.

With a sketch book in hand, Scully will hike, or if there’s snow, will cross-country ski or snowshoe into the Northern New Mexico mountainsides for inspiration.

“I start with sketching outside and work form that,” she explained, while still seeming to get used to being amid her work outside of a studio. “I use the sketches as a loose interpretation later.”

She admitted that having much of her work put up together can cause her to feel confusion and to be her own worst critic.

“I can look at a painting and say, ‘I like what I did there, I should try to do that again.’ And then regress and try to repeat something. But you can’t go back. Art is always evolving.”

Scully “goes through phases” where she’ll work with charcoal and ink, something she’ll fall back on when she “gets stuck” in a painting rut.

For four months (Jan. 15-May 15) Scully will live in an apartment above the Harwood Museum and concentrate on producing a body of work and experiment with her exploration of increasing texture through adding layers of paint.

As a requirement of being an artist-in-residence, Scully will also–very willingly–instruct an abstract nature workshop for kids, give a lecture and provide open studio days.

She studied at Michigan State University in Lansing and received a “trying and stressful” master’s degree from Utah State.

Scully admits that she’s “bounced around” a lot. Her many travels and her mother (a “hobby” painter) exposed her to much art. It was a Mark Rothko exhibit in Paris that stays with her to this day.

“I was blown away by (the Rothko exhibit),” she said, as though she felt that feeling all over again. “It was a meditation-like experience, almost like a church.”

Some painters work on a canvas for many months and some a matter of days. For Scully, her typical process lasts a week or two. She feels if she pushes it, the magic will disappear.

“I work on several canvases at a time, rotating them,” she explained. “If I go longer than a couple of weeks, I’m changing too much or just dragging it on. It kills it.”

She gets a certain peace from her own work and loves it when others feel the same.

“I like people to feel a calmness, a grounding or a centering from my work,” she said as her eyes grew larger. “My work is based on a connection with nature and meditation. When someone gets that, I get really excited.”

Scully applied to the Harwood with the thought of making it as an artist. She is taking herself more seriously these days and wants to make Taos her permanent home.

By Scott Gerdes


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