Artist of the Week 05/02/05
The top three adjectives I use to describe paintings I consider important and superior, giving you some insight into my personal priorities, are (in order) sublime, transcendent, and edible. Robert's paintings are usually the first and most definitely the last (note: I don't actually eat art, and Robert's paintings, which often include plaster, would break my teeth...it's just a desire to consume something because it's so luscious). Consider the following:
Robert Melee, Redefined Gradual Substitution, 2000 enamel, plaster, beer bottle caps, on wood 25" diam, 20 X 30 inches
As noted, the circles are beer bottle caps sunk in plaster, and although they do reference the alcoholism, suburbia, and dysfunction explored in his photography and videos, here they obviously serve a formal function and reference Pop Art and Op Art, and eyes, and give Robert a recognizable, accessible vocabulary unit that lends the work a clunky elegance (I LOVE "clunky elegance"). Besides, polka dots have been hot for a while (think Damien Hirst or Sigmar Polke) and whenever a motif crops up in various artists' work, it usually suggests a zeitgeist of some sort.
Here's a more recent, mixed-media piece:
Robert Melee, Anti-Disassembled Substitution, 2004, Wood, plaster, beer bottlecaps, headboard, enamel paint, 60 1/2 X 53 3/4 inches
Robert titles each of these works some sort of "substitution." And although I've actually discussed what this means with him, I'm still not totally sure. Beer as a subsitution for love? It's a painful notion. Here's one more piece, this one using painted curtains in a rec-room-esque installation:
Robert Melee, Untitled, 2003, wood, plaster, enamel paint, Art 34 Basel 'Statement' installation view
Here you start to get a sense of what Robert's referencing with his palette, a hyper-saturated 70's technicolor middle-class America memory...think Brady Bunch compacted. In this way, Robert might be seen as belonging among those in a new generation of artists who've discarded the "Canon" as source material and chosen their own pop-heavy, commercialized culture. His beer bottle pieces' titles suggest otherwise, and there's still a sense of nostalgia in Robert's work, giving it a more universal (read: longer lasting) appeal. (Reflection of this sort seems to have been rejected as a necessary lense by some younger artists, making one wonder if eventually this approach to art-making will result in works that become passe even before they're finished...I know that will make me sound like an old fogie in some quarters, but I suspect that impression, too, will pass).
Robert remains my primary example of an artist who can still surprise me, both with content and personal approach to artmaking. His installations display a rigorous approach and ambition often lacking among his imitators. His paintings are absolutely, in a word, yummy.