Ladies of a Certain Age

Antique images fascinate Kreh Mellick.

Antique images fascinate Kreh Mellick.

Kreh Mellick is sitting in her studio leafing through a book about crinolines from the 1800s. “It sounds so cliché to say this, but I really love that whole Victorian-era thing,” she says, pointing to a black-and-white photograph of a woman clad in a corseted dress of dark satin and stripes. “It’s all just so spooky to me.”

It’s easy to see why the antique images would fascinate Mellick. Her own gouache paintings on paper call up various gloomy eras — folklore about New England Puritans, sea captains, witch trials, homesteaders, provincial mistresses and the lovesick wives of sailors lost at sea. They are, as Mellick says, “stories appropriated from memory, folktales, traditions and nostalgia.”

“Static armies” is the term she uses to describe her congregations of starkly outfitted, stoic-faced women. Sometimes they lean on one another, sometimes they pull one another’s hair or otherwise succumb to fits of fury. “You hear about the wild woman in a lot in history,” says Mellick. “She’s nurturing and domestic and sometimes brutal. I find this whole range of strength really fascinating.”

The austere backgrounds of untouched paper and Mellick’s restrained use of color lend a sublime simplicity to her drawings. The white backgrounds, at times oppressive in scale, envelop the figures on the page. “I like the feeling of not telling the whole story,” says Mellick. “Maybe that’s just part of my personality — like if you give up too much of yourself, you open yourself up for scrutiny.”

Perhaps this is why, every now and then, she decides to take a penknife and cut through the barren backgrounds, revealing a random patch of texture and pattern from beneath. “I started tearing parts of the paper to provide dimension,” she explains, admitting it’s a technique she originally used as a way to cover up a mistake.

Mellick, 28, grew up in New Jersey and received a BFA in Illustration from the Maine College of Art in 2005. Upon graduating, she moved to North Carolina to attend Penland School of Crafts as a participant in the school’s two-year core-arts program. She’d applied with the intention of pursuing bookmaking, but the longer she stayed at Penland, the more she became interested in the illustrations she was creating to fill her books. “I was having more fun with the stories themselves,” she confesses. “I’m not really a ‘craft’ kind of person, but my experience at Penland really taught me how to work. When you’re bored out there it’s not like you can go to the movies, or go to a bar — you end up going to your studio.”

Upon finishing her fellowship in 2009, Mellick lived in Iceland for three months as a resident artist. The countryside and folklore of the North Atlantic land enchanted her. “I just wanted to get inside that place and that landscape — being so close to the ocean, the earth and the moss. I was really romantic about it,” she says. “I can romanticize things to death.”

She brought with her a sketchbook filled with motif samples created by her great-grandmother, and began incorporating them — many in the Pennsylvania Dutch style — into her drawings. Over the years, the motifs have also evolved as characters in Mellick’s work, as embellishments on a portrait, or in flight over an army of ladies.

Recently the artist adapted her motifs and characters into a wallpaper design for an installation at the Space Gallery in Portland, Maine. Working with artist and friend Kimberly Convery, Mellick used the wallpaper to convert the gallery into a type of parlor in which she and Convery hung their drawings.

It’s projects like this that are important to Mellick in the evolution of her work. “I really trust there is a process, and if you keep working through certain ideas you’ll keep moving forward. As long as you’re honest with yourself.”

In fact, she’s seen her work change significantly in just the last few years. A lot of her figures have grown up, she claims. “If you saw a drawing from five years ago the character would have looked less confident — younger.”

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Ladies of a Certain Age

BY URSULA GULLOW


Kreh Mellick is sitting in her studio leafing through a book about crinolines from the 1800s. “It sounds so cliché to say this, but I really love that whole Victorian-era thing,” she says, pointing to a black-and-white photograph of a woman clad in a corseted dress of dark satin and stripes. “It’s all just so spooky to me.”It’s easy to see why the antique images would fascinate Mellick. Her own gouache paintings on paper call up various gloomy eras — folklore about New England Puritans, sea captains, witch trials, homesteaders, provincial mistresses and the lovesick wives of sailors lost at sea. They are, as Mellick says, “stories appropriated from memory, folktales, traditions and nostalgia.”

“Static armies” is the term she uses to describe her congregations of starkly outfitted, stoic-faced women. Sometimes they lean on one another, sometimes they pull one another’s hair or otherwise succumb to fits of fury. “You hear about the wild woman in a lot in history,” says Mellick. “She’s nurturing and domestic and sometimes brutal. I find this whole range of strength really fascinating.”

The austere backgrounds of untouched paper and Mellick’s restrained use of color lend a sublime simplicity to her drawings. The white backgrounds, at times oppressive in scale, envelop the figures on the page. “I like the feeling of not telling the whole story,” says Mellick. “Maybe that’s just part of my personality — like if you give up too much of yourself, you open yourself up for scrutiny.”

Perhaps this is why, every now and then, she decides to take a penknife and cut through the barren backgrounds, revealing a random patch of texture and pattern from beneath. “I started tearing parts of the paper to provide dimension,” she explains, admitting it’s a technique she originally used as a way to cover up a mistake.

Mellick, 28, grew up in New Jersey and received a BFA in Illustration from the Maine College of Art in 2005. Upon graduating, she moved to North Carolina to attend Penland School of Crafts as a participant in the school’s two-year core-arts program. She’d applied with the intention of pursuing bookmaking, but the longer she stayed at Penland, the more she became interested in the illustrations she was creating to fill her books. “I was having more fun with the stories themselves,” she confesses. “I’m not really a ‘craft’ kind of person, but my experience at Penland really taught me how to work. When you’re bored out there it’s not like you can go to the movies, or go to a bar — you end up going to your studio.”


Upon finishing her fellowship in 2009, Mellick lived in Iceland for three months as a resident artist. The countryside and folklore of the North Atlantic land enchanted her. “I just wanted to get inside that place and that landscape — being so close to the ocean, the earth and the moss. I was really romantic about it,” she says. “I can romanticize things to death.”She brought with her a sketchbook filled with motif samples created by her great-grandmother, and began incorporating them — many in the Pennsylvania Dutch style — into her drawings. Over the years, the motifs have also evolved as characters in Mellick’s work, as embellishments on a portrait, or in flight over an army of ladies.

Recently the artist adapted her motifs and characters into a wallpaper design for an installation at the Space Gallery in Portland, Maine. Working with artist and friend Kimberly Convery, Mellick used the wallpaper to convert the gallery into a type of parlor in which she and Convery hung their drawings.

It’s projects like this that are important to Mellick in the evolution of her work. “I really trust there is a process, and if you keep working through certain ideas you’ll keep moving forward. As long as you’re honest with yourself.”

In fact, she’s seen her work change significantly in just the last few years. A lot of her figures have grown up, she claims. “If you saw a drawing from five years ago the character would have looked less confident — younger.”

Mellick’s studio, located on the second floor of the historic, former Meadow’s Dry Goods complex on Haywood Road in West Asheville, contains a large window revealing a steady stream of cars below. Sunlight spills into the small room that houses Mellick’s industrial-sized desk, scattered with paper, inkbottles and pens. “I love the window,” she says, staring out of it. “It can be so distracting.”

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