"Landscape painter of weird narratives" to discuss art and international inspirations during upcoming event
Posted on March 20, 2018
Melanie Daniel, Grand Valley's current Padnos Distinguished Artist-in-Residence, describes her academic career as “a long process of elimination.”
Toying with ideas of majoring in fields related to medicine, literature, philosophy and history, Daniel was still missing a sense of direction after four years of studying. So, she took a break and traveled to India for about one year before returning to British Columbia, where she was born and raised.
All the while, she painted pictures when she could, but it never occurred to Daniel that pursuing a career in art could be an option, until she moved to Jerusalem in 1994.
“The move to Israel was the moment that I really understood what I wanted to do with my life — that I wanted to make art,” said Daniel. “I discovered that it not only made me feel alive, but that I was not bad at it.”
Originally from Victoria, British Columbia, Daniel said it should have come as no surprise that she chose the life of an artist since painters have been in her family for generations.
“If DNA determines what aptitudes a person enters the world with, then the decision was made for me on a visceral level,” said Daniel.
Daniel lived in Israel through 2017, at which time she and her family moved to West Michigan so she could take up the mantle of the Stuart and Barbara Padnos Distinguished Artist-in-Residence – a position she will hold through the 2019-20 academic year.
The position, endowed by late Holland area businessman Stuart Padnos, and his late wife, Barbara, offers an opportunity for renowned artists to teach and mentor students in the Department of Visual and Media Arts, as well as speak on campus and to the wider community.
The Artist-in-Residence title is granted to a working artist or scholar with an established record of promise or achievement in art and teaching — a category in which Daniel inarguably belongs.
Daniel has carved out a niche for herself in terms of preferred mediums, and labels herself as a “landscape painter of weird narratives,” while also making videos on occasion.
She earned both a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master of Fine Arts from Bezalel Academy in Israel. Throughout her career, Daniel has displayed her work in numerous international exhibitions, including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Chelouche Gallery, and Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art, all located in Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel; the Asya Geisberg Gallery in New York City; the Shulamit Gallery in Los Angeles, California; the Kelowna Art Gallery in British Columbia; and Harvard Business School, among other galleries in Europe and the U.S. Her work has also appeared in numerous publications, including Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Artists Magazine, Frieze, Haaretz and CBC/Radio Canada.
Daniel will discuss her work and past projects during a special presentation at Grand Valley on March 28. The free event will take place at 6 p.m. in room 138E of the DeVos Center, located on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. A Q&A period will follow the formal presentation.
While at Grand Valley, Daniel has utilized her own personal style to introduce her students to a more hybrid approach to drawing. She has assigned projects in the ceramics studio, computer lab, paper lab, and even a lesson in Zen meditation paired with drawing.
“I encourage students to be rigorous about the act of art-making,” said Daniel. “I make them aware of what they’re doing and let them find their own way. Although I want my students to be informed about art history and contemporary trends, I suggest they try to avoid fashionable trends so they can see what comes naturally to them.”
Daniel said she also places an emphasis on her students taking advantage of available feedback.
“Art school is a peculiar place where you have peers and real, immediate feedback,” said Daniel. “Once out in the world, this access to real-time feedback vanishes. I tell my students to make the most of it and to listen to anyone’s opinions, even if they don’t like it.”
Much of the inspiration behind Daniel’s art stems from her experiences living in both Canada and Israel.
“This dual perspective imbues my paintings with elements of both the militaristic and anxiety-inducing environment of Israel and the tree dense historically charged landscape of my native Canada,” Daniel explained. “My works expose the hope of escaping back to nature or some hard-won peace as impossible ideals. Narratives remain unwritten, and figures are almost absorbed by their surroundings.”
Daniel said that over the years of her career, she has focused on developing her own artistic language, rather than limiting herself to a signature style.
“I’ve discovered that, even though I make visual shifts from one body of work to the next, my own kind of mark-making is always present because I’m always present,” said Daniel. “In terms of an art career, it’s not necessarily a smart move because you don’t end up with a signature look, but, as artists, what do we have? We basically have our freedom, so if we don’t use it, then what good is it?”
Daniel will be showcasing her work in an upcoming solo exhibition at Asya Geisberg Gallery, which opens May 17 of this year. The exhibit will feature works created by Daniel while residing in Grand Rapids.
Following her time as Padnos Artist-in-Residence, Daniel said she will return to Israel where she has been invited to contribute her work to a large solo exhibition at a major museum.