Talking with Evanston artist Melanie Deal

July 18, 2017

local art
“No Picnic” (paper collage)

Melanie Deal is an Evanston artist who is the latest to be featured in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL. Inspired by her fascination with grids, tessellations, and repeated shapes, Deal’s striking paper collage and mixed media works “reflect both the humdrum and the humor of everyday living” and are “influenced by a lifelong love of comic books, paper dolls, gumball-machine trinkets, board games, television, literature, and music.” You can catch her exhibit Life on the Grid through the end of July on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library, and you can also find more of Deal’s work by visiting her website. We recently spoke with her via email about her ingrained love of grids, the meaning of her art, and the burgeoning Evanston art scene.

Evanston Public Library: Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist? How did you get started in art? What are some of the comic books, board games, TV shows, and songs that most influenced you?

Melanie Deal: I was that child in the corner, always drawing. My mother carried blank sheets of paper in her purse so I could draw during church, for example. I made paper dolls, picture books, and comics. Because I loved to read comic books—from Little Lulu to Archie to Marvel Comics—I made my own comic books, with my own teen and superhero characters. As I got older, I made comic strips starring my friends and eventually moved into collage and mixed media.

EPL: Do you see your collage and mixed media works as fitting in with any particular artistic movements or styles? What is it about grids, tessellations, and repeated shapes that so intrigues you?

MD: I didn’t study art—I have degrees in English literature instead—so I’m not sure if my work fits into any particular style. Because I like to use repetition of images, some people have mentioned Andy Warhol as an influence. But really, I just do my own thing. Where did my attraction for grids come from? I grew up in Indiana, which was laid out in 6×6-mile townships in the late 1700s as part of the Northwest Ordinance. Everything is square and easy to navigate there, so maybe that’s ingrained in me. I like repetition because I find it funny—a mildly amusing image seems exponentially funnier and more absurd to me when multiplied.

local art
“Dusty” (mixed media)

EPL: Can you take us through your creative process for one of the collages you’re showing this month?

MD: “Creative process” sounds pretty lofty for what I do. I usually start with an idea, which may be as simple as a pattern or set of colors I’d like to work with. I plot it out on graph paper to figure out what size it will be. I gather my materials, such as paper, printouts, book pages, and cartoon word balloons. For “Dusty,” one of the artworks in my library show, I added doll-sized combs, brushes, mirrors, and hair rollers for fun. Sometimes I draw some of the paper pieces by hand. I cut out the pieces and glue them to gatorboard (like foam core, but sturdier), often in layers. It can be a painstakingly slow process, but I have no real reason to rush. And besides, I’m having fun!

EPL: What are your future goals and plans as an artist?

MD: I’m not sure that I have any specific goals as an artist, other than to keep working at it and showing my work when the opportunity presents itself. Although I’m not good at talking about my art, I do like hearing people’s thoughts as they view it. To me, an artwork “means” only what the viewer gets out of it—and each person brings his or her own experiences and perceptions to bear. Sometimes I’m surprised by what people find in my artworks—and that adds to the fun.

EPL: How do you find Evanston and the Chicagoland area as a place to work and exhibit as an artist? What inspires you as an artist about the community where you live?

MD: I used to feel I had to exhibit nationally to build up my resume, but my work is difficult to pack and ship—and that can be very expensive. So now I stick to the Chicagoland area. My favorite venue in Chicago is Woman Made Gallery, where I had my first solo show. Lately, Evanston has become a much richer source of venues than it was in the past, at least in my opinion. There used to be the Evanston Art Center and not much else. Now I always have work on display at Creative Coworking, which has been a real boon to local artists. The Evanston Made show at the EAC is a good opportunity. Besides the library, I’ve also shown work locally at Artruck, Gillock Gallery, As You Like It, Noyes Cultural Center, Gallery 4502, Blick, the Evanston Art Walk, Art Under Glass, and my workplace, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Interview by Russell J.


Talking with Evanston artist Kristen Neveu

April 20, 2017

local artistKristen Neveu is an Evanston artist who is the latest to be featured in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL. A painter and collage artist whose work has shown at Woman Made Gallery, the Beverly Hills Art Fair, Evanston Made, and in the personal collection of Community actor Joel McHale, Neveu threads Americana and nostalgia into her mixed media pieces to create “patterned, patchwork storybooks that embody a yearning for the past, with connections to possibilities for the future.” You can catch her show through the end of April on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library and meet her at a closing reception on Thursday, April 27 from 6-8 pm. You can also find more of Neveu’s work by visiting her website, and we recently spoke with her via email about making art after her day job, her intuitive creative process, and the friendly Evanston art scene.

Evanston Public Library:  Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist? How did you get started in art? Was there something specific in your life that sparked a need to create? What drove you in the beginning? What drives you now?

Kristen Neveu:  I didn’t start making art until after college and after I started working my 9-5 job. I was a Communication Studies major in college with a minor in Anthropology. I moved to Chicago and got a job at Tony Stone Images (which a few years later turned into Getty Images once it was purchased). I was a Photo Researcher. It was a somewhat creative job, but I felt I needed something else. The office job situation always makes me want to create instead of watching television when I get home; it’s like I need to unwind or empty my head and escape. Art is therapeutic to me.

Also, growing up, I had a musical outlet in that I played the piano, sang in choirs, played the clarinet… and I think I was trying to replace that outlet.

Waiting in Faded Sunrays

EPL:  How do you describe your collages and paintings? Do you see yourself as fitting in with any particular artistic movements or styles? Do you work in any other mediums?

KN:  My paintings and collages are intuitive and I don’t plan out what I’m doing; I just jump in. I paint over layers if it’s not turning out the way I want. I’ve been told the patterns in my work remind people of Gustav Klimt, and while I like his work, I wasn’t inspired by him in my work. I also take photos and have had a show that featured my photos of classic cars along with collages. Often, I use my own photos in collages too.

EPL:  Can you take us through your creative process for a specific painting?

KN:  I start by making a layer or two of paint and smudging it for patterns or adding drops of water. I then build patterns from the marks that are made on the canvas. Working bottom to top, I build winding patterns with circular or square shapes that evolve into floral shapes at times. I then figure out my title or what I’m addressing in that particular painting or collage and if it’s collage, fit in my figures or objects. Next, I work with the background colors or paint over patterns if there’s just too much going on. I love subtracting work once it’s there to find a more beautiful pattern.

EPL:  What are your future goals and plans as an artist?

KN:  I’ll keep creating art as long as I can. It makes me sane and gives me happiness and balance. I submit my work to galleries and shows, and I work with interior designers on projects. I still have my day job, but it gives me structure and I can work at night and on weekends. With the day job I’m not stressed as much to worry about creating work that I think will need to sell and be commercially successful.

EPL:  How do you find Evanston and the Chicagoland area as a place to work and exhibit as an artist? What inspires you as an artist about the community where you live?

KN:  It’s a friendly environment for artists in Evanston and Chicagoland. I know a lot of artists from my years here, and I reach out to them a lot. Next month I’m exhibiting at Swell Gallery in West Dundee, and one of the owners of the gallery I knew back in the day from Around the Coyote in Wicker Park.

Interview by Russell J.


Local Art @ EPL: Barbara Freeman

June 3, 2016

all dressed in whiteWe are very pleased to welcome Barbara Freeman back to the library for a brand-new Local Art @ EPL exhibit.  After debuting with 2010’s Road Light and following up with 2012’s smalltown: faith, flags, & firearms, the Evanston photographer and filmmaker has returned with All Dressed in White – a series of “color photographs that explore the gap between wedding day myths and traditions and the much-more-interesting reality… of two people trying to create a union.”  You can catch this inspired show on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library through the end of June, and don’t forget to stop by this Saturday, June 4 when it’s included as part of the 2016 Evanston Made gallery tour.  Also, make sure to check back with Off the Shelf later in the month for a featured interview with the artist herself.  Stay tuned.