Melanie J Hodge is a US born, British based painter who works with oils on glass in a reverse technique she was introduced to while living in Croatia. These are delightful and beautiful works in the Naïve style and she also offers workshops so that people can learn this technique themselves. She is a mother of two, whose son has autism with associated special learning needs and whose daughter has asthma, so Melanie needs a lot of flexibility when it comes to being at home and available at short notice. This helps to give context to her Artist Statement:
"My work explores my quest for self, sanity and creative expression against the demands of daily life. Drawing on landscapes known and dreams imagined, with spiraling stars and flowers that bloom out of season, my paintings are both my escape from the world and my strength within it."
As a result of her own experiences, Melanie also founded Creative Carers in 2014, which offers workshops and mini-respite for Parent Carers, Partner Carers, Adult Sibling Carers, Professional Carers, and those who have recently had caring roles.
Melanie's next projects are a new body of work and developing a major naive art exhibition to feature work by approximately 40 contemporary naive artists (20 from the UK and 20 from Croatia) to tour both countries, for which she is currently seeking partners and sponsors. You can find out more about this exciting project here.
In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do?
I never wanted to suffer for my art, so when parenting responsibilities consumed my life it was easier to put my art making aside than to pursue it. Only that made me suffer in a different way. So, the very best thing about what I do today is that it works with the rest of my life, integrating my art making ambitions with my caring responsibilities in ways that are manageable and make sense for me.
I know it’s a bit crazy when you realise what goes into my paintings - but the very fact that I work on glass, in slow drying oils, in time consuming details, also means that I can drop my paintbrush for the school run or to nurse a fever, and come back hours later to wet paint without ill effects. Finding a medium that fit with my everyday life literally saved my sanity, while working in a naive tradition allows me to freely obsess about those things which make me happiest when I paint. As an extra bonus, the way I work allows me to separate a painting into many stages, allowing for an infinite number of short painting sessions which develop over many months without losing their magic. After years of frustration, I have found a way of expressing myself that adds more joy than stress to my world and everyday I am grateful for this gift.
Even better, I get to share my passion and skills with others - introducing naive art to new audiences, teaching snail-slow reverse oil on glass techniques in a fast moving world, supporting carers to share their knowledge and experiences with each other during Creative Carer workshops, and encouraging unconfident artists to take pleasure in the process of what they do and pride in their work. Helping others to gain confidence in their unique creative voice can be life-changing and these activities give my practice meaning far beyond the paintings I make.
Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why?
The two artists I am most besotted with at the moment are Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington. I am inspired by their confidence and dedication in pursuing their own artistic visions, for their independence of spirit in living unconventional lives, and for putting so much of themselves into their artwork. Between Frida’s magic realism and Leonora’s symbol-filled surrealism I feel anything might be possible, and their biographies only reinforce this as the obstacles they faced make my troubles seem inconsequential by comparison.
What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?
I was so very lucky and someone actually gave me the most important bit of advice before I even started, “You can always come back to art.”
The person who said this to me was an art professor, who had himself done a science degree first time round. I was an undergraduate in literature, taking art classes for fun and really couldn’t see how being an artist was going to work for me so I didn’t switch courses. What I didn’t know then though, was that art would be the most portable career possible to me, and the only path on which I have ever felt most ‘me.’ His words, in time, became more than a reassurance, they became my lifeline. No matter how long the time I didn’t paint, I knew, when I was ready, I could come back. And when the opportunity arose, I seized it with both hands knowing that this time even if I didn’t know how art was going to work for me - being an artist was the only thing I wanted to work at.
So for anyone reading this, I would like to pass it on: whatever your passion is, follow it while you can and if (for whatever reason) you walk away for a bit, know you can always come back to it.
If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it?
For anything difficult my mantra is, “Remember to breathe.”
No matter the situation, if I remember to breathe I know that everything else will follow, time will move on, and either the problem will resolve itself or I will find a new way to approach it. Breathing can mean all sorts of things too, not just inhaling and exhaling (though that is always the first and best place to start). For me it is about slowing the breath, calming the flight or fight response, going for a walk, seeking out clear air on the Downs, in the woods, or at the seaside, and trying something different for a bit. I’ve learned that my creative blocks are a sign of things happening under the surface, so I try to practice patience - giving the problem a bit of space, so my mind can work on it in peace, and then, when the time is right, I find the words, the colour choice, the project, will emerge ready for the next stage of development.
And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?
A Saltwater Sandal - they are simple, straightforward and stylish in an understated way. They are practically barefoot and all I need to make me feel seven years old again, on summer holiday, dancing in the sunshine and splashing in the sea.