Melinda Schawel's Silver lining at Beaver Galleries is charming and attractive


Silver lining. By Melinda Schawel. Beaver Galleries, 81 Denison Street, Deakin. Until November 19.

Although this may be Melinda Schawel’s first solo exhibition at the Beaver Galleries, she has exhibited here on three earlier occasions in the company of Belinda Fox, who has subsequently relocated to Singapore.

In style and technique, this year’s exhibition follows closely on what she exhibited at this gallery in 2015. These are essentially mood works, executed on sheets of paper of a considerable scale, where expanding veils and fans of colour are punctuated with various textural interventions. Schawel works on heavy gauge paper into which she carves with various implements, ranging from scalpels to power drills, while wetting the paper and manipulating the surface with watercolours and pencil. The created patterns are striking, occasionally hinting at the surreal, and are suggestive of various organic shapes, but are sufficiently abstracted not to relate to any specific creatures or natural elements.

The artist describes her source of inspiration as stemming from a snorkelling trip to the Whitsundays. Here, she writes, “I discovered bommies – shallow outcrops of colourful reef, growing in column-like structures. The devastation caused by Cyclone Debbie earlier in the year was immediately and eerily apparent in the destruction of many of these coral boulders, but what resonated most was the stark contrast of the vibrant regrowth. Sea life, both above and under water, abounded despite the upheaval and confirmed my belief that although fraught with calamities, the natural world can often provide solace when current (human-made) events feel much more random and unpredictable.”

Schawel creates works of considerable lyricism, where despite the brutality of her making process, there prevails a mood of tranquillity tinged with mystery and wonderment. In her impressive drawing Submerged, measuring 75 by 105 centimetres, the prevailing light blue tonality is allowed to form a background colour over which a number of shapes hover in an undefinable space. A black colour mass optically pushes into the background with textured forms apparently floating above.

Space is ambiguous and if it was not for the artist’s statement on the source of her inspiration, this could easily be interpreted as a view into the heavens. The perforations in the paper create tiny craters with their own individual pockets of shadow, while the scarred and ripped-up surfaces with traces of graphite form a separate band of textured shapes. It is this constant play with subtle colours, textures and the push-pull qualities of the forms that lead to quite a kinetic and immersive surface.

It is possible to see a metaphor in paper as a skin of life or the canary in the coalmine and on it we may notice a reflection on the challenges to the natural environment. Drawings such as Bommie I may be interpreted as a meditation on the marine environment and on the process of its regeneration during difficult times.

Schawel creates her own appealing pictorial language that has a charm and ornamental attractiveness. It is unusual and distinctly her own.