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Melanie Sharr: Painter/Sculptor

As a painter Melanie Sharr paints stories filtered through her dreams.  There is this etherial quality that flows through both her paintings and sculpture that also has a sprinkle of surrealism.  After seeing her work evolve I realized with her sculpture pieces she has literally made her characters come to life, standing right next to you and reaching out in some pieces.

'R is for Red and it is Red in my Heart' by Melanie Sharr.  Photo by Aimee Santos

Overall shot of 'The Thief of Always' Melanie Sharr's MFA Thesis show at San Jose State University.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Sharr with 'Little Bear' in 'The Thief of Always' MFA Thesis show at San Jose State University.  Photo © Aimee Santos

1.  Your paintings have a surrealist quality to them as well as self-referential.  Does your imagination feel surreal and are there moments in your daily life where your imagination gives you a new way of seeing mundane things and situations?
For me, the imagination is a completely vital function. It pushes my personal boundaries and helps me progress. Imagination not only includes mental images but sounds, emotions and narrative. I often find myself daydreaming. It creates a temporary world full of characters enacting scenarios. The banal and mundane are enhanced when my mind drifts into these stories; tension is released in otherwise uncomfortable environments. 

'Cat Remembers' by Melanie Sharr.  Photo by Aimee Santos

Aluminum sculpture of 'Little Bear' by Melanie Sharr.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Aluminum sculpture of 'Little Bear' with Melanie Sharr.  Photo © Aimee Santos

2.  Home is a constant theme throughout your work.  Do you think your ancestral past of nomads has been an influence upon your work and can you speak to your genealogy for those who don’t know?
I often dream of the house I grew up in. I frequently find my thoughts going back to my room and my backyard, overridden with plants and trees heavy with vines. These memories linger with more detail than places I saw just last week. My childhood home defines an ineffable aspect of me.  Over time it has been sold and remodeled. That original place exists only in memory.  My mother is Native American; we are descendants of the California Pomo Tribe. Aspects of my work confront the displacement and urbanization my family has experienced. My grandmother was taken from her family and placed into an assimilation institution when she was a child.  Her idea of “home” was much different from mine. The absence of a familial home life made her childhood both unique and tragic. As humans, we comfort ourselves by reliving memories of protection, most notably the house, but what if that didn’t exist for some of us?

'Animal Parade' by Melanie Sharr.  Photo by Aimee Santos

Sharr casts her hands for two characters in her 'Thief of Always' Thesis show at San Jose State University.  Photo © Aimee Santos

3.  You are now branching out into sculpture.  When did you know you wanted to make your paintings come alive?
My journey into the three dimensional realm was a surprising and unplanned shift. It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to bring my paintings to life; it was more of a stumble, which led me into the right room. Upon taking a metal working class, I felt a “click” while sculpting in wax. I began with an emotion and would sculpt; the result was always a surprise. After some time, I noticed that certain characters from my paintings resurfaced in my sculptures.

Melanie Sharr assisting the poker crew during the annual iron pour at San Jose State University's Foundry.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Little Bear' and Melanie Sharr.  Photo © Aimee Santos

4.  Pictorial arts have the tendency to be a solitary art and sculpture tends to be one of collaboration and extrovert environments.  Do you feel that working more in sculpture has helped expand your process as an artist and made you more open to the thoughts and comments of other artists?  And are there cons to this process?
I find painting to be a very lonely practice. It can be very cerebral compared to sculpting which I find to be physically taxing. The group aspect of metal casting is exhilarating. Carving wood possesses a danger element, which I find seductive. Relying on others was new to me. It is liberating to communicate my plans to others; it helped me to solidify ideas. There are no cons to this process, I am so happy to have built friendships from the people at the foundry. It feels amazing to belong to a like-minded and motivated community.

Bear sculpture and self-portrait by Melanie Sharr.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Down to the Wire' by Melanie Sharr.  Photo by Aimee Santos

Small sculptures by Melanie Sharr.  Photo © Aimee Santos

5.  Animals flow through your work like gradient colors do in painting.  Why animals and why do you create hybrids?
I have always included animals in my work and most recently they substitute real people from my life. It is easier to project emotions onto these anthropomorphic creatures while maintaining a level of anonymity. Animals are a deeply embedded symbol that connects to my childhood. Growing up, my grandmother never turned a stray animal away. The neighborhood was aware of this and would candidly present her with every unfortunate and unwanted creature they encountered. My fondest memories are of playing with the numerous dogs and cats, usually dingy and unkempt they were all appreciative enough of a home to get along with one another. I loved them and found their reliability to be comforting. Attached to these relationships came the sadness of loss. At a young age I became acquainted with the process of dying and bared witness to the residual stain it left on a family. This emotional narrative followed me through adulthood surfacing in my art, serving as a connection to my past. It is easy to combine my sentiment towards people with the sentiment I hold for animals. They are not separate.

Coyotefoxdog and crow by Melanie Sharr.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Sharr hand sculpts wax to create her creatures that are created in a one time investment mold of aluminum or bronze.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Detail of the Alligator jaw hand sculpted from wax.  Photo © Aimee Santos

6.  What is the next step for you?  
My goal is to create more life size figures. The dynamic of having these characters in a shared space was monumental to me. I enjoyed the challenge of marrying two mediums (metal and wood). Focusing on a new approach gives me a new perspective of the people in my life. The experience of building from old stories and past relationships has made that murky and complex part of me clearer and I thoroughly enjoy that feeling.

Sharr spent six months carving the bodies of her creatures out of wood from scrap yards and lumber yards.  She could see them all in her mind but it was the physical manifestation process that took the longest.  Photo © Aimee Santos