CS Coates & Scarry

Dean Melbourne

Your work has been described as falling into a literary painting tradition, responding to our inherent need for stories. You also have a love of language, expressed beautifully through your blog posts. Do you intentionally keep the two separate? How would you feel about marrying your words and pictures?
I have only recently started sharing my writing in this way. It feels very fast and allows me to see traits and undercurrents in my selections and structures that will definitely inform future paintings. I may even use the posts as starting points for work.

As for directly using words and sentences on the canvas, I have played with that in the past. For me, it doesn’t work often. The speed of our reading and the slower pace of looking at paintings provide a visual challenge that would be a distraction. 


Fram by Dean Melbourne

You give your paintings the most intriguing of titles, for example The Thaurmaturgist (World Folder), or Langourla (The Promise).
How do these names come about and how important are they to your work?
Naming paintings is rarely the same process twice for me. Sometimes the title comes first and other times, even after a painting is finished, the right title won’t come. It can be a real fun game or a complete pain.
The titles, to me, at least, often seem straightforward. Titles can be used as a way in to a piece or a red herring. Most often, mine are meant as clues, or at least a hint at my process.


I love your artist’s statement, particularly where you say:
What I do with them [inspiring images] is to really just let them live in my head with me for a while and eventually they feel like they want to get out and live in a different way. They tell me when they are ready.
How do they tell you?
It’s a hard one to verbalise but I think that it’s a circumstantial thing. I live with an ever-growing collection of images around me and in my memory and I scan through them when starting a painting to see what feels right. I could miss an image for years and then one day it is just right. Or at least I have progressed enough to be able to give it what it needs to exist in a painting.

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You also liken your work to vinyl records, books and old leather bags – these things all seem drenched in nostalgia. Do you consider your work to be share this quality in any way?
I think that paint - the painted canvas - has a patina, it has visual crackle and noise. It is tactile and sensual. They smell amazing. Increasingly we see art on the screen and we lose its physicality and its imperfections. It seems to me that there is a real craving for things that have soul. My Grandad’s old leather wallet that I now use has that.


Although you have an obvious love of analogue, of history, and of the physical, your Instagram feed shows another side – stories, but told as digital snapshots. What do you enjoy about this medium?
Yeah, I have fallen for the Instagram craze at the moment. I like the confined format and the limitations that mean you can really see the differences in the way people see the world and select. Friends often joke that all I want is to be “special and different”. They are right, of course, and Instagram gives me a way of showing how I am.

Also, and more importantly, scanning back over the images is a bit like flicking through a book of a painter’s work. You can see compositional tendencies and colour selection and motifs that hint at a deeper understanding of what makes that person tick.

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It’s nice to meet another cloud-spotting, weather nerd. What is it about skies that intrigue you so much?
I am a life-long nature nerd, but relatively new to cloud appreciation. Clouds and skies are kind of therapy for me. They bring me to the present and help me see the moment. They increase my mindfulness, they remind me that things change and that I am part of something bigger. Being tuned in to my environment like that is starting to inform my work, and, as I mentioned via the blog, it also helps me manage my sometimes troublesome grey matter!


You work in many mediums - painting, linocut, drawing. Is there one you prefer to use or do you enjoy the variety?
Those three are all really important to me. I guess its like being able to play more than one instrument or speaking multiple languages. It just means that I can communicate with more subtlety and have a wider vocabulary to choose from. Drawing forms the backbone of my practice, although I rarely show drawings. Painting has been my focus for the last couple of years. I needed to feel better at it so I dropped everything else and pushed to improve.
I miss print and now I’m in a new studio space I am looking forward to bringing it back into my working week and developing a new body of print works.


What has been the highlight of your painting career and why?
No doubt, it was being asked to exhibit with Coates and Scarry at the RWA earlier this year. It was such an honour to be asked. The other artists at the show were really supportive too. I was blown away to be there showing alongside them.


I’m intrigued by your site-specific piece at BPN Architects. Did you enjoy working on such a large scale?
Yes, I really enjoyed those pieces and I hope to do more of that work in the future. I made them on the two days leading up to the show opening and so it was a little pressured but that added to the energy, I think. It was nice to have a perfomative element. I was thrilled to see that BPN have kept them on the wall too!


Did you work closely with the architects to develop the work or were you given free rein?
I developed a great relationship with them when I went in and delivered life drawing classes for them in their studio. I encouraged them to take risks and I was consistently talking about the power of marks. I felt I owed it to them to practice what I preach and so felt I should demonstrate what I meant.
They gave me a completely free rein in terms of where I drew and the subject. Those few lines transformed the space and I hope I made my point.


Can you tell us about any exciting projects you’ve got coming up?
I am continuing to set up my new studio space and to prepare a printing area. The rest of 2012 will be about a new collection of paintings.


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