Yukon News - ArtSpeak - Written by Chris Scherbarth

Lara Melnik takes delight in her journey as an artist

    Yukon artist Lara Melnik has done it again. For the third year in a row, she has mounted a month-long show at the Chocolate Claim cafe featuring vibrant, unique and ground-breaking artwork.

    Melnik's medium is polymer clay with which she has worked since 1988 making beads and jewellery. In recent years, Melnik has begun to explore polymer clay's versatility as a medium for sculpture and "flatwork" mounted on boards.  One of the key tools of her trade is a pasta machine!

    This year's show at the cafe, which runs until July 28th, presents a new direction in her exploration of flatwork.  For starters, the majority of the works are abstract with simpler shapes and less complexity than the flower-filled landscapes and quiltwork assemblages of previous shows.

    Second, all of the pieces are much bigger than Melnik's usual fare. The average size of the 17 framed pieces in the show is about two square feet. By comparison, most pieces in last years' Big at Heart show were between 10 and 36 square inches in size. 

    Also new in the current show is the evocative use of text to engage the viewer. Melnik has always managed to come up with clever titles for her exhibits and individual works, but this time around she has given her inner poet more licence. 

    The show's title, One Word Says It All, is a reference to the fact that each piece is labeled by a single word.  Melnik expands upon each moniker with a short verse that artfully expresses her associations with that word. She also assembles each of the 17 words titling the artwork into an intriguing poem, rendered in polymer clay:

Wild Blue Eden
Release Lava Flow
Sweet Solstice Passion
Flair Fun Fusion
Why Rush Beyond

    "It's my hope that people who see the show will walk away thinking about words and their various meanings, as well as about colour, shape and texture," she says. "A single word can express a lot. I want to encourage people to reflect on that." 

    To nudge her viewers along, she has placed several journals in the show's venue with an invitation for comments - about the words and the ideas they evoke, not necessarily about the art. 

    One Word Says It All is her sixth major exhibition in Whitehorse since 2000, when she decided to devote her energies to art full time. Her shows and portfolio are well documented at her website, www.laramelnik.com.

    Visitors to the site have many options. They can shop online, find out about other sales venues and upcoming events, check out the offerings of past shows, view photographs taken at opening receptions, and read Melnik's various artist statements. 

    The short, poetic statement composed by Melnik for her SuperPolyFragilistic show in 2003 is an apt summary of her ongoing artistic journey, rooted in bead-making.

expressing myself through colour
traveling beyond the bead
exploring limitless texture and form
giving shape to my thoughts
i delight in my work

    It's easy to believe Melnik takes delight in what she does. Her work is colourful, innovative and often playful.  She likes the idea that she is able to create "affordable, happy art." 

    The happiness she conveys is no doubt an extension of the happiness she feels when she has time and space to be creative. Another artist statement, composed for her "Off the Wall" show last November, suggests this in the last sentence. 

I look forward to long happy days at my studio with the pasta machine at full throttle. 

    Like many artists, Melnik came to art later in life after following a different career path. She graduated from university with a degree in biology, but somehow never got around to pursuing work as a biologist. The training isn't lost, though. It comes to the fore when she sculpts living organisms such as flowers and fungi. 

    Melnik's love affair with polymer clay began 27 years ago when she received her first blocks of "fimo" at the age of 10 and proceeded to make figurines for years to come. Throughout high school and university she developed her artistic skills on her own, and eventually specialized in making jewellery, dream catchers and juggling sticks. 

    Until three years ago, beaded jewellery known as "Lareware" was her main output. Her polymer clay beads proved to be especially popular, prompting her to routinely feature her own bead creations as the point of interest in each piece of jewellery. 

    Melnik's decision to be a bead maker (or "beadress" as she calls herself) as well as a jewellery designer meant she had to spend even more time at her craft. That suited her just fine, as she relished the challenge and was ready to sink roots into a community after more than a decade of travel, living abroad, seasonal cooking jobs, supply teaching and house-sitting. 

    Born and raised in Ontario, she first came to the Yukon in 1989 to work as a summer cook at Moose Creek Lodge near Dawson. She was back the next summer with added manager responsibilities. 

    She made a preliminary move to the territory in 1991 but didn't really settle in until 1996 after a sojourn to Chile. In the autumn of 2000, she and her partner Darren Holcombe took up residence in a little, off-the-grid cabin on the Shallow Bay Road near Whitehorse. The move catalyzed a decision on Melnik's part to become a full-time artist. 

    "The cabin is in a beautiful, inspiring spot where it's easy to be creative. We were cozy and just got down to work making stuff," Melnik says.

    In the almost five years since the move to Shallow Bay, Melnik has become a dependable fixture in the Yukon arts community.

    She exhibits her work at the Yukon Art Society, the Yukon Artists at Work Gallery and two galleries in Dawson City, and she mounts shows once or twice a year in Whitehorse cafes. She is also a regular exhibitor at local craft fairs, music festivals and the new Fireweed Market held each Thursday in Shipyards Park in Whitehorse.

    This spring, Melnik worked with every student of Ecole Emilie Tremblay in the production of a polymer clay mural entitled "Celebration." Another example of happy art! 

    Thanks to the computer and photography skills of Holcombe, Melnik's website is one of the best cyberspace showcases of a northern artist. It is also an impressive chronicle of Melnik's evolution and amazingly cheerful state of mind as a professional artist. 

    If only the rest of us could find and express so much joy in our chosen professions.