WAFTA Interview with Melanie MaClou

September 12, 2021

Tell us a little about yourself.

Growing up my mother and father were big supporters of my creativity. I was always day dreaming and making things… During my childhood I was surrounded by women making things. My mother and grandmother were dressmakers. I grew up surrounded by sewing machines, pins, material,wool etc.  My grandmother would constantly drop pins on the floor so I had to be very careful when not wearing shoes in her sewing room.  My granny would sew herself an outfit in the morning and wear it that evening. Her sister was very crafty and would make teddy bears, soft toys, macrame etc.

My father owned a business as a panel beater/spray painter. I loved visiting his workshop and enjoyed looking through all the car paint colour charts and choosing my favourite colours. I have loved the smell of burning metal since childhood.

Are you a self taught artist or did you attend an art school? If so which one? How did this help you in your art practice?

I received an Advanced Diploma in Fine Art from North Metro TAFE in 2007.  At the 6me it was called the WASchool of Art, Design & Media. I really loved studying there because it was so hands on and our teachers were inspirational artists.  We also had access to a workshop with lots of tools, materials and equipment. We were encouraged to explore and to experiment. It was a great opportunity to study sculpture at that time and I lookback on it fondly.

Can you tell us one or two things that you learned in any art school, class etc, that has always stayed with you and that you have found the most useful in your art practice?

My sculpture teachers inspired me to “Have a go… look and make, just begin and see where it leads you…”

Sculpture was a revelation to me. I fell in love with it immediately. Initially I was challenged and didn’t think I could do it. My sculpture teachers inspired me to “Have a go… look and make, just begin and see where it leads you…”

We had the opportunity to go on sculpture camps to remote places in the outback. We learned to be resourceful and push through challenges in our artmaking.

Planning is important. Putting ideas down on paper pulls them from the ether and assists in the design process towards manifestation. A drawing tells me so much and allows me to push ideas before I even start making. The idea may morph into something en6rely different however as a first step it at least sets me on my way.

Is there a particular artist(s)that has influenced you? If so, who would that be and what is it that appealed to you most about their art?

Choosing just one is challenging. Locally I’d say Tony Jones and Stuart Elliot have been great teachers,mentors and influencers on my art since I began studying sculpture. Their wealth of knowledge, talent and perspectives have encouraged me to continue creating sculpture. I also love the work of Nalda Searles and her prolific making with the use of found natural objects.

Internationally, I love Andy Goldsworthy for his ability to transform simple, every day, natural objects into transcendental works of art, Antony Gormley for his ability to use different mediums with poignancy and I love Nick Cave’s Sound Suits. Georgia O’Keefe is ofcourse an all-time favourite of mine.

How would you describe your art? Textile,fibre, installation, structural etc.

I usually create big metal sculptures. I like to create nature inspired, organic pieces. I love flowers and tend to make a lot of them. I like to include LED lighting in my work. I also work with concrete.  When not making public art I like to create large ephemeral outdoor pieces that incorporate found natural objects such as sticks,leaves, stones etc. I also enjoy creating smaller more fragile artworks with materials that range from cane and tissue paper through to straw, wool, feathers, sticks,nuts etc

How much time do you spend on your art?

Art is my life, if I am not designing or making, I am teaching or dreaming of it… I am constantly juggling many things at once including art, family, work and play.I would like more 6me in my day to fit everything in – orbe]er 6me management? !  My family is very supportive of my arts career and is used to being dragged to installation days, exhibition openings and not to forget the messy dining room tables that threaten to take over the house. They are always ready to lend a hand or a critical eye !

Describe your 'studio' space. Is it large, small,tidy, chaotic? Do you know where everything is?(Photo of your studio?)

I have a large and messy studio space. It is filled with concrete, metal pipe, timber sheets, a dismantled piano,lots of found objects including half a chandelier and a cow skull, lots of wool, feathers,  paints and muchmore…One day it will all turn in to something else… Ihave not spent much time there lately which is a shame as it is filled with potential.

I spend a lot of time at a friend’s fabrication workshop when making large sculptures. There is a large space with all the equipment and machinery to fabricate my artworks.

Do you keep a sketchbook? If so, how do you use it?

yes – to jot down ideas, measurements, phone conversations etc. It’s a mash up of life and art. I try to keep it close at hand to write/draw ideas before they disappear. It is most important to me in the design stages of any project.

What influences your art and your choice of materials? Colour, shape, texture, physicality, tactility?

Mother Nature is my muse. I like to use strong durable materials because they work well in the public art realm.I like to manipulate them to make them appear more fragile than they really are. I like to enlarge flowers,leaves, pods and nuts to bring a]en6on to the smaller things in life, to encourage people to stop and smell the roses… I also love to work with natural objects.

Do you work in a series, with a theme? Is there something in particular to which you respond? Each project gives me new challenges and pushes me in different directions to learn new skills and techniques.

Do you teach art classes? Have you held any exhibitions, entered and won any art prizes? And if so, do you hold any one of these honours closer to your heart that the others?

In 2007 I was lucky enough to be accepted to exhibit at Sculpture By the Sea Cottesloe while still studying at TAFE. I created an ephemeral artwork made of beautiful ghost gum sticks of varying lengths. The sticks were initially very tall and formed a tunnel that gradually became smaller as they made a spiral shape. People could walk through the tunnel until a certain point. Children could crawl further… It was a fun, interactive piece.

My biggest honour is to have a large artwork of mine purchased by an art gallery in Shanghai. The gallery has exhibited the work at various locations in China.

I teach art at Casuarina Prison. This is WA’s maximum security male prison. I enjoy encouraging people to look at the world differently.

I also work at Form as Creative Practitioner in their Creative Schools Programme where we work together to make the curriculum more fun, interesting and creative while still ticking curriculum boxes.  For example, tomorrow we will make and eat pizzas as we learn about Year 4 Maths - improper fractions and mixed numbers!

If you were marooned on a deserted island, what three art items would you like to have with you?

I would take a magic box that allowed one to pull out as many resources and materials one desired. If not, then I’d say my sketch-book and pencils and an ever-ending ball of colourful wool

Finally: Why art? What does art mean to you?

Art allows people to share perspectives with expressiveness. Art feeds the soul, whether you are making it or appreciating it. Art adds colour, depth and meaning to the world. Art allows me to hold on to mysanity, without it, life and my world would be meaningless and boring.

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