Understory: A Collaborative Exhibition by Joan Martin and Lara Mellon

26 August - 14 September 2014
Main & Mezzanine Galleries

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This exhibition is not about two artists just exhibiting alongside each other, but it is a story about two artists making a conscious attempt to connect their work on more than one level.  
 
There is a modern misconception that great visual art is only made by solitary individuals isolated in their studios, but even our great Renaissance artists worked as part of collectives; each individual working on a part of an artwork that was their specialist area, whether it was landscape, drapery or figures to create a successful painting.  
 
Martin and Mellon, in this exhibition, have not both worked on the same product (although they have experimented with this practice in the past), but have connected in various ways to facilitate the success of this exhibition.  
 
 “Understory” refers to the plant life that grows beneath the forest canopy and never really reaches its full potential.  The term also suggests that there is a story beneath the obvious one. Both artists are concerned with examining their positions and lives within their immediate environment.  
 
Visually Martin’s “understory” is populated by the inhabitants, geographical structures and features of metropolitan Durban namely the mynah birds, geckos, strangler fig trees and colonial monuments. Her Sphynx cat Sam makes a regular appearance in her artworks. Mellon’s “understory” seems more rural landscape with actual photos of people whom she notices walking along our African roads. These misty landscapes captured in a dawn or dusk light often include silhouettes of both domestic and wild animals.   

 

Despite this difference in subject matter both artists are drawn to similar methods and materials. Both artists collect items that have been discarded or abandoned – “treasures” like rusted bottle-tops, razor-wire, old stamps, shreds of rope or found fabric; and gecko, bird and insect skeletons. Imbedding these items within the fabric of their artworks and transforming the undesirable into the desirable, by layering them into the landscape of their works using texture pastes and resin. Both artists distress their artworks by sanding (often with electric sanding machines) and burning the surfaces with heat guns.  These harsh techniques has made them both shift from canvas to stronger supports, although on occasion they both work with transparent materials like Mellon’s butterfly people trapped in glass bottles and Martin’s interpretation of the Vasco Da Gama Monument: a 3x2meter stitched drawing constructed out of semi-transparent mylar.  
 
To capitalize on and highlight their collaboration Martin and Mellon purposely created projects that would start up dialogue. Like the postcards that they have been hand delivering to each other; documenting ideas and thoughts over a two year period. Each postcard responds to the visual or conceptual stimulus that the   previous postcard provides. The hand delivery also ensured that they physically met on a regular basis & often these encounters would result in more prolonged visits in each other’s studios. These studio visits afforded opportunities to share ideas, techniques & often provided just a safe nest to express fears, doubt and insecurities. Both of these artists work full time at other careers; Martin is the senior art teacher at Durban Girls’ College and Lara is a Consults in the area of Reward and Perception Studies for Deloitte Consulting.  They rely on each other for support, advice and encouragement when the juggling of their careers and their art becomes overwhelming.  
 
This exhibition has seen a departure from the more traditional format of their work in the past. You will see more traditional media like oil on canvas, but you will also see more assemblages and mixed media stitched drawings.