Eastside Culture Crawl: Vancouver artist Pilar Mehlis threads magic with realism

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      Pilar Mehlis creates works of art that blend fantasy with reality.

      She puts in such intricate details in her paintings and sculptures that make it easy to believe in the supernatural.

      The Vancouver artist likes juxtaposing human and animal forms, drawing inspiration for the latter from the salmon and cliff swallow bird.

      Mehlis describes her influence as a “language” she learned growing up in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia.

      “My grandmother was a great storyteller, and she would tell myths from the old times,” Mehlis relates in a phone interview with the Straight.

      Her grandmother regaled her with tales that “often involved something unexplainable or mystical or magical”.

      “The magical was embedded into the ordinary life,” Mehlis says.

      In literature, it’s a style called magical realism.

      “That was kind of a pattern, a vocabulary that was already ingrained in me, so it was very natural to channel that same aspect into my work,” Mehlis says.

      In addition to the stories her grandmother told, Mehlis also absorbed the heady atmosphere of the many street festivals or the carnaval in Bolivia.

      She recalls dance troupes or comparsas marching to exhilirating music on the streets.

      Mehlis remembers performers with masks and colourful attires that combined “angelic or devilish or animal forms”.

      “They’re very organized and choreographed dancers, and the costumes are just amazing,” Mehlis says.

      As an artist, these elements “just kind of came around”.

      “It wasn’t something conscious; it was something natural that evolved,” Mehlis says.

      Educated in both Bolivia and Canada, the artist settled in Vancouver in 2001.

      Pilar Mehlis recalls that her grandmother was a great storyteller who regaled her with tales.

      In her early works, Mehlis played with a lot of animal narratives, like mammals running with fishes.

      Sometime around 2016, she started drawing and painting half-human and half-fish images for what she now calls her “anthrofish” collection.

      About three years later, Mehlis began doing half-human and half-bird creations that currently form a separate “ornithrope” set.

      The Vancouver artist continues to produce new paintings and sculptures for these two collections, partly as her way of telling her own story as an immigrant.

      She chose the salmon and the cliff swallow as models because these are migratory creatures.

      However, Mehlis finds animal migration as a gentle phenomenon because movements happen in the course of nature.

      “There’s no borders,” Mehlis says. “They just have patterns in the world that they follow. And they’re always the same patterns, and they come and go in these patterns.”

      Human beings also move around, but it’s different.

      “Because we have these borders, they become complicated on many levels,” she notes.

      Mehlis shows her work as part of this year’s Eastside Culture Crawl. Her display is at suite 315 at the Parker Street Studios (1000 Parker Street).

      The second set of showings for the 2021 art festival happens from November 18 to November 21. For details, see here.