When I met up with MELANIE McCOLLIN-WALKER at the stunning Australasian Arts Projects gallery at 303 Tanglin Road, she was preparing for her first solo exhibition, which opens on 19 August. She is originally from Barbados, her husband Brent is Tasmanian, and – having left their own respective small islands – they find themselves on yet another one.
What’s your connection with the Australasian Arts Projects?
Aussie Gabrielle Cummins is the director of this gallery, and she was the first friend I made when we arrived here two years ago. We were staying in the same serviced apartments, and our sons were already friends. She’s a gorgeous person, and I feel so lucky to make such a good friend so quickly; it’s as though we’ve known each other all our lives.
At that time, the Australasian Arts Project was in its conceptualisation stage. When she saw my work, Gabrielle said that my paintings had to be hung, and found space for a few of them on her walls. Pretty soon, people started buying them.
How did you become an artist?
At the age of nine or ten I had a friend called Rochelle who was an amazing artist, and she taught me how to break objects down into basic shapes: circles, triangles and oblongs. When I could see those shapes, drawing seemed more doable, and I practised by copying from Archie comic books!
I’ve always had a steady love for art, and it was my specialist subject at school. I believe that when you’re starting off, you have to try lots of different media, because you don’t yet know which of them will allow you to express yourself most effectively.
What took you to London?
My dreams and aspirations always lay beyond the very small island of Barbados. In 2001, I moved to Italy and then to London, where I worked for a company called Hat Trick, producing television programmes for BBC Channels Four and Five.
I met Brent at a cricket match – Australia versus the West Indies. I think the West Indies beat Australia, a very rare occurrence at that time! When our daughter Aaliyah (now 6) was born, Brent and I were both working crazy hours; something had to give, so I gave up my job and stayed at home to look after her and Leinad (now 12).
And that’s when you started painting again?
Yes, I began painting at the dining room table. My only thought at the time was to fill our empty white walls.
It was supposed to be only a hobby, but people who came to dinner would fall in love with a painting; after a couple of bottles of wine, they’d end up buying it from me, and leave with it in the boot of their car! After a while, I posted some of my work on a small and modest online community – and, much to my surprise, it started to sell. Corporate commissions came in, including a big one for a series of artworks for the boardrooms of a large company.
Just when I started to think: “Hmm, maybe I can do this”, we decided to move to Australia, and my art took a back seat. After just 12 months in Melbourne, Brent was offered an opportunity in Singapore. We thought, why not? It would be an adventure.
As hard as it had been to move to Australia from London, where I had so many friends who were just like family, moving to Singapore was easy. It didn’t take long for Singapore to worm its way into my heart. I love the warmth and openness of the expat community, and then there’s the fascinating local culture and community, too; living here is a wonderful experience.
Looking at the size of some of these canvases, I assume you’re no longer working at the dining room table, are you?
No! My studio is the whole top floor of our house in Serangoon Gardens. In London, I painted pretty much every day, and it’s the same now. Art is an expression that takes lots and lots and lots of practice; you need to paint all the time, and in my experience you become rusty if you take a break from it.
What inspires you?
Places I have visited in my nomadic journey; my work is a synthesis of recollected images of the places I have seen, and sometimes I bring them together in unexpected ways. For example, there’s an exquisite village in Austria called Hallstatt that is my aesthetic. Also, memories of sunlight sparkling off pools of rain on a Barbados road; a warm tropical sea; the pale, crisp light of a New York winter sky, or the damp greyness of London clouds.
Why “Before the Beginning?”
This collection is meant to whisk you off to an imaginary world of freedom and raw beauty, encapsulating moments in time before the world as we know it began – before the Big Bang, if you like, before any clear delineation between sky, earth and sea, before the rules were laid down. There’s no sun, as you may have noticed, but instead an ethereal light that I have tried to trap on the canvas.
How do you juggle being a wife, a mother and a full-time artist?
I need to paint; if I don’t paint, I’m like a grizzly bear. But I want to have a good balance between being a mother and being an artist.
Melanie’s exhibition runs from 19 August to 8 September at 303 Tanglin Road. For information on opening times or to attend the official launch at 7.30pm on Thursday, 18 August, contact 9771 8974 or info@australasianartsprojects.
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