Portrait of an Artist: Melanie Ellery
The “ah ha” moment for Melanie Ellery is when she’s found balance amidst the colours, shapes, and patterns on her vibrant abstract canvases. Getting to that point, however, isn’t always so obvious, and so she heavily relies on her intuition. Often, it’s in the early morning cusp between the unconscious and conscious that it suddenly becomes clear what final step is needed to complete one of her pieces.
The walls of Ellery’s small Powell Street studio are lined with dozens of canvases, including at least half a dozen works in process. Inspired by “nature, light, and the chaos in our lives”, Ellery was trained in illustration in Ontario and worked in advertising for many years before returning full-time to her craft in Vancouver. In 2007, five years after moving to Vancouver, she had the transformative experience of finding her East Side studio near the shipping ports, a space that has released the creative muse that she’s had inside since she was a child.
“If I’m not doing art, something is missing in my life. I’ve always been an artist, making one thing or another.
“I have a tendency to have something going on everywhere, on canvases and in life,” says the woman who has run 14 full marathons and recently, two ultra-marathons.
Ellery found her calling in abstract painting during a course at Toronto’s School of Art. In an effort to free herself from an illustrative style, a teacher told her to paint two canvases and to “make them ugly”. That’s when her breakthrough in abstract happened—and she’s never looked back.
“A lot of people who look at abstract art want to recognize something from reality; a lot of people see balloons in my circles, but they’re just round shapes. They’ve also been called seeds, pods, and orbs. I do feel they stem from a concept of growth or emergence,” she says, acknowledging that abstract isn’t for everyone’s tastes. “At the Eastside Culture Crawl I realized that people are either okay with it, or they’re really not!”
Inspired by fellow Canadian artists Sylvia Tait, Janna Watson, and Claire Desjardins, Ellery is constantly seeking new inspiration, usually online. “I love to look at art all the time, and I often think, ‘What a beautiful piece—I want to go paint, now!’
“The hardest thing is to stay true to who you are. I need to make sure my art is coming from within.”