Artist Melanie Daniel pieces together radically different cultures

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Drawing from her experiences living in Israel for the past 20 years – seven of which she has spent in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Jaffa – Canadian-born artist Melanie Daniel (pictured above) will open a solo exhibit of new paintings at Shulamit Gallery in Venice tonight, May 21.

“Piecemaker” is a striking body of work that reflects Daniel’s negotiation of her own hybrid identity and moments of cultural dislocation.

This selection of paintings presents dichotomous motifs, sublime color palettes, abstracted landscapes, and dreamlike settings that confound concrete storylines.

Unique formal and compositional elements unite to create a sense of unease that is rooted in the artist’s personal experiences living in her adopted home.

In her practice, Daniel excels at defying traditional narrative frameworks, achieved through the use of dense and disorienting compositions, the melding of abstraction and figuration, and by deploying jarring color combinations activated through thin color fields and areas of detailed brushwork. In “Piecemaker,” the story is always unresolved, as Daniel prefers to create psychologically fraught scenes that evoke both reverie and anomie.

This tension between memory and fantasy highlights her own personal negotiation of Jaffa’s diverse backdrop, where local Arab and Jewish cultures co-exist to create a vibrant, complex, and at times, fraught sociopolitical environment.

Throughout the exhibition, which will run through June 27, Daniel continues to incorporate conflicting cultural motifs, referencing Canadian landscape painting embedded with traditional Arabic designs.

Shulamit Gallery is located at 17 North Venice Blvd., Venice. For more information, call 310.281.0961 or visit shulamitgallery.com.

Patchwork Landing, 2015, 55.25” x 63”
Patchwork Landing, 2015, 55.25” x 63”

How many pieces will be in this exhibition?

Ten paintings will be exhibited in the main space of the gallery, all oil on canvas. Formats range from large (80 inches) to tiny (25 inches). Each painting was created over the past six months of intense studio work. The shippers come to my studio, take all the paintings away for crating, and they’re finally flown out to their overseas destination, in this case, Venice. I love that part – walking back into an empty studio. I enter these high-energy six-month cycles during which I can produce an entire solo show. Then, I chill out for a month or two, recharge the creative juices and get back to work on the next show.

What do you think makes this exhibit unique?

This exhibit fits its venue hand in glove. The Shulamit Gallery’s mandate is one that emphasizes cultural tolerance and socially engaged art or art of a hybrid nature. As the show’s title “Piecemaker” hints, all paintings are an attempt at piecing together elements of two radically different cultures: Canadian and Middle Eastern. Just imagine highly charged forest landscapes with enough neon pink to lend them a slightly apocalyptic sensibility, populated with furtive characters and Arabesque patterns.

Can you tell a story of one of your favorite works, and how that piece came to be?

One piece, “Scruffy’s Emerald Secret” is a favorite of mine. It’s moodier that the others and I can identify with the bare-footed loner sitting on a tree stump, hunched over his campfire. Behind him looms this tall green patterned tree, a beautiful freak specimen. It shouldn’t be there, but it is. The man shouldn’t be there, but he is. Where is his family? Why is he alone?

How did this exhibit come together?

Shula Nazarian saw my works at the Untitled Art Fair in Miami several years ago and that sparked a dialogue and finally an invitation to do a show here in Venice. I’m very lucky to be working with such a committed and open-minded person.

Will you be in Venice for the opening reception?

For real? I’m flying half way around the world just to say, “I’m so stoked to be here!” I can’t wait.

Where do you live now?

Today, I’m far from where I started. I grew up in British Columbia, and one year while travelling in India, I met an Israeli. The rest as they say is history. Presently I live in Jaffa, a unique neighbourhood south of Tel Aviv where Palestinians and Israelis coexist. It’s an oasis of sanity in a country hell bent on revisiting the Dark Ages.

Can you talk about the title 
of the exhibition?

“Piecemaker” was a word that occurred to me when I began to notice that many of the Islamic designs I was using reminded me of patterns commonly found in American quilting. Members of quilting guilds often use the moniker “Piece Maker.” For me, it conjured the nearly hopeless notion of peacemaking, which when placed in a conflicted Middle Eastern context, sounded about right. I noticed that when I painted an Arabesque star in a more didactic manner, truer to a traditional color scheme, I could preserve something of the original design. But that wasn’t what I was after. So, I started painting the same stars in a chunky, random manner, which made them look more like Shaker quilts. Most of these quilt designs originated in the Middle East, only to be adopted by Europeans and eventually exported to the New World so long ago. I don’t try to fuse these two identities or elements, because I don’t think I can or even want to resolve this strange narrative for the viewer or myself. They are simply that: pieces from very different worlds which hold enormous potential for more storytelling.

What’s next for you?

I also work with a gallery in New York, so my next year will be in preparation for the next show there. My short-term plans involve a happy week in Venice meeting new folks, watching surfers, and savouring as many burritos and quesadillas as opportunity permits. No one understands Mexican food in the Middle East and I’m hooked.

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