INTERVIEW: Nina Meledandri

Nina Meledandri in her Brooklyn Studio
Nina Meledandri in her Brooklyn Studio (photograph by Apiwich Bangrapimolpong)

SFA:  There are so many interesting things happening in your studio, but let’s start with this watercolor setup in the center. Is this a regular part of your studio practice? 

NM: It is, daily practice is a big part of my life on many levels and I have been painting in watercolor ostensibly every day (although, there have been some lapses) for over 25 years.  For a long time this took the form of painting in a number of themed “journals” each day. For example, one was devoted to painting with my left hand, another to making a drawing from life, and in another I began each entry with a doodle (called “starting w/(a) line”).  One continuous thread throughout this practice has been to paint in my “work journal” each day and I am currently on #95. 

Nina Meledandri's Watercolor Palette
Nina Meledandri’s Watercolor Palette

Often, a body of work will develop from these exercises such as a portfolio of diptychs (oil on paper) that pair a left handed and a right handed drawing or an ongoing project (started 2009), also called “starting w/(a) line,” where each day I make a 5″x7” watercolor; running through them all is a single line; each day’s painting begins with a line that continues from where the previous day left off.  In 2016 I self-published a monthly magazine: “Daily Practice” combining my watercolor and my photographic daily projects: each day of the month was represented by a page that paired the “starting w/(a) line” watercolor with that day’s photo from my tumblr “sink or swim”(  

While many may associate the concept of “daily practice” with discipline, for me it creates opportunity for freedom and unfettered exploration. I may go for (many) months making daily work that feels “inconsequential” or “ungrounded” before it evolves and becomes charged, coalescing into a new direction. Weathering these cycles requires a policy of “no judgement” which I then try to extend into the rest of my studio practice: I do truly believe that the critical voice is best left out of the process and reserved for contemplation of the product.

SFA: As I look around the room, I see notebooks, photography equipment, bowls & jars filled everything from flower pedals to produce.. and that’s before I even set eyes on the artwork. You seem to be analyzing, record-keeping, and organizing quite a lot. Am I reading this right?

NM: Ha, well, on a good day I do consider myself to be an archivist (though some might say pack rat).  Having always made mixed media work, I tend to see everything as potential raw material waiting to find its place. A scrap of paper, a decaying piece of fruit, or works (on paper or canvas) that I don’t feel hold up on their own, all have potential, exposed to the alchemy of the studio, to transform. Consequently it is often difficult to throw things out.  And the things I collect hold value on many levels; as raw material, as subject matter for still lives (drawings or photographs) or simply as inspiration.  This is most true of my vast collections of bones, shells, pods, seeds, feathers, stones, insects, etc. which, as a born and bred “city girl” keep me strongly rooted in the natural world.  

Nina Meledandri's studio setup
Nina Meledandri’s studio setup

I am inherently predisposed towards organization (for many years I designed table structures for databases) which helps to keep me from being overwhelmed by my materials. Sometimes however, it is imperative that these systems break down, with the result that the studio becomes almost ferocious in its disarray. I find these times to be quite fertile, I relish the rebellious aspect of it and find myself quite content to muddle about in the midst of chaos making “mud pies”.  There is another beneficial aspect to all my organizing besides an attempt to maintain order: it involves constant physical handling of my materials. I am repeatedly forced to cull collections, find new places to store them, sift through and decide what to keep.  During this housekeeping activity I revisit different periods of my life, re-experience lost delights, relive old sorrows, unearth forgotten starts and nurture connection with the materials. Developing such intimacy with them creates the possibility for me to be guided by an intuitive and fluid force as opposed to my analytical mind.

SFA: You’ve said to me that color is the thing you always go back to. I also see a strong sense of line in your compositions, particularly in the Random Thoughts series. Please tell me more about the series.

NM: I view color as the underpinning of my process, it answers questions for me, it solves problems, i trust it implicitly.  Line on the other hand behaves more like an organizing factor; creating direction, mapping a course, defining boundaries.  Conversely it might disrupt flow or define a fissure. Because there are so many Random Thoughts paintings and because I am endlessly grouping and regrouping them, they form a map of my exploration as a painter and it becomes easy to see the ways in which the interaction between color and line play out. I have found that I often use line to make sense of the color, to define purpose or at times to challenge aspects of my palette.  Line can bring emphasis, line can destroy or line can reintroduce drawing into a work that has lost its ground.

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. -Jung

The Random Thoughts are a series of paintings, oil (some with wax, graphite and mixed media) on 8″x8” cradled wood panels When I began making them in 2005, I saw them as a visual version of magnetic poetry. While each can stand alone, they also inspire one to assemble different combinations, to explore visual connections, to create little poems. They are very comfortable to make; easily held in one hand, they lend themselves to spontaneity. Painting them, I am encouraged to try new approaches, to go over them completely, to make them ugly or to be as silly as I want. When I get bored with one, I start another and it is a lot of fun. To share the fun, I developed the “Random Thoughts Game,” printing images of the paintings onto small magnets so people could make their own combinations, players would photograph their configurations, send them to me and I would post them on a blog. 

detail of Nina Meledandri's "Random Thoughts"
detail of Nina Meledandri’s “Random Thoughts”

Over time I began making larger and larger groupings, culminating in an installation of “100 Random Thoughts” (10 paintings x 10 paintings). Then, in 2016 I created a series of 12 groups of 4 as the focal point for my solo show at Gridspace: “pieces of a puzzle.” The Random Thoughts are also used as raw material in the Somewhere In Between works. This project consists of diptychs composed of a painting and a photograph.  As a collagist and an archivist it is an amazing journey for me to go through the process of pairing the Random Thoughts with photographic images, watching the paintings transform when they find their compliment in a photograph.  Sometimes this will result in a print: a digital image of the painting is paired with the photograph to create one image.  Other times the actual painting and a photograph  (printed and mounted on an 8″x8” cradled wood panel) are paired as a single work. However they are presented, these works are truly “somewhere in between” a painting and a photograph and the power of their impact rests in the haunting, tiny, almost subliminal space “somewhere in between” its two components that have become one.  Recently, the Random Thoughts have been incorporated into a body of work entitled Harmonic Convergence. These images are comprised of a flower photographed against a painting, continuing my exploration of images that combine my paintings and my photographic work. Both the flowers and the paintings used can be in varying stages of their life cycle, but through the lens, they come together at a unique point in time to create a “harmonic convergence”

Nina Meledandri in her studio (photograph by Apiwich Bangrapimolpong)
Nina Meledandri in her studio (photograph by Apiwich Bangrapimolpong)

SFA: I can make out at least 3 distinct series of works on display in this room, and then these moments when they appear to intersect or combine. It’s almost as if there are gears from these 3 bodies intermeshing, creating a completely new series of works. Can you walk us through this serendipitous synchronization of systems?

NM: The reliance on synchronicity as an organizing principle is a major underpinning of my process.  As an abstract painter, unintended interactions of media figure deeply in my work, as a photographer I often work sequentially, responding to synchronistic connections between images and of course, the mixed media work is a product of random materials coming together to form a whole.  While I do strive to paint a transcendent painting or capture a unique photographic image, ultimately I have come to understand that the vast majority of what I make is simply raw material for some future work and that the various media that I use (oil, watercolor, photography) have the potential to blend seamlessly. The “Daily Practice” magazine I referred to earlier was a true manifestation of this synchronicity; I was continually amazed at the harmony between the photograph and the painting, made the same day, that comprised each page.

We talked already about the Random Thoughts and how these paintings have come to form a backbone for other projects.  They themselves are actually an offshoot of the daily watercolor practice as I was looking to translate to my oil painting, the freedom I found through generating a high volume of work on paper.  In a similar way, the intuitiveness that I strive for when combining materials to make mixed media pieces is akin to my approach towards assembling the Somewhere In Between diptychs which also depend on maintaining a free and felt association between materials, in this case the photographs and the paintings that I am pairing. My concerns about process are consistent no matter what medium I use.

Relevant to this discussion is the importance of trust, trust in what I refer to as t_l_v or “that little voice”.  We all have it, it’s what says that you are forgetting something as you leave the house. I believe that all artists rely on it and it is something that I actively cultivate; If t_l_v says “take that picture” I do, if it says put down your book and start painting I do; the more you listen to it, the louder it speaks (and if you ignore it, the quieter it becomes). The mixed media work I am making now is very much about exploring this aspect of process and it is a much slower way of working than I am used to. I tend to have a bit of a “slash and burn” approach that cycles between impulsive gestures which I then need to make sense of. Recently, however, I have begun to embrace listening and waiting, not needing to fill every moment with doing; I am curious how pursuing this approach will manifest in my painting.

There’s some mysterious process at work here, which I don’t even want to understand.                  – Philip Guston


portrait of Nina Meledandri (photograph by Apiwich Bangrapimolpong)
portrait of Nina Meledandri (photograph by Apiwich Bangrapimolpong)