colorful critters come from her dreams
[Bayfield, Colorado] FUN, FANCIFUL, FUNNY, FANTASTIC— Artist Mary Mellot’s work is all that and more. It is Color—a profusion of it in pulsating shades and hues. It is Creativity—layers of unique shapes, squiggles and doodles leaping from colorful canvases. It is Critters—dancing fish, singing chickens, rocking dogs, howling cats and a big blue bear holding a silvery blue moon populate colorful, creative paintings.
Mary’s work is a dream world in gouache on paper and oil on canvas. Her fanciful figures and forms come from dreams, and follow a stream of consciousness from mind to brush to canvas. “I dream of animals—I call them my ‘critters’—with a light, creative spirit. They mesh with the earth in playfulness. Like the chicken and cat riding a tandem trike around the night sky. Or the fish dancing on a quilt on my bed. Those are great images!
“My dad, who was also a painter—a vocation he took up after retirement and in which he became a great success—said imagination is quite a gift. My journey is to express it. There is no one I have to please with my paintings. I just paint, just produce. I start doodling, and a stream of consciousness takes over. I’m drawing a character, and then, I go, ‘Oh, there’s a cat in the chair!’ I follow the brush, where it goes I go.
“I live a colorful life in my dreams. Often they are night scenes, although I don’t paint with black. Many paintings have a bright night sun! I dream the stories, and in my dreams, I’m a kind of observer. I’m usually watching the critters, but not a part of them. I’ve had dreams where they are talking to me, and they are usually showing off like the chicken in the bright red shoes in the painting “‘Singing in the Sun.’”
Mary’s home is an extension of her paintings. It is vibrant. The powder room is plum. The living room is glazed in a leaf green, and the bedroom is glazed gold. Glass-fronted kitchen cupboards display a rainbow of Fiestaware dishes. Throughout the house, the ceilings are paved with tiny wood strips. It is a lovely, inviting home. Upstairs is Mary’s studio, a symphony of light and color. Her bright paintings line the stairwell and fill the room above, and there is a pot of pink geranium baskets in the front window. Mary’s two cats jostle for space next to the blossoms. Music plays softly from the stereo, sunlight spears through the room as Charlie, a fluffy white dog, dances about my ankles. Mary picks up a brush and gestures toward a dazzling painting in progress, “The Fiesta,” she says. How appropriate that title. I can easily picture Mary working here in this happy space.
“When I was in school in Boulder, working on my masters, (her degree is in pschotherapy with an emphasis on art therapy) I was restricted to lap art,” she says, smiling. “I had a little lap easel and a bag of paints I used to carry around. Now I have space. This place gives me an opportunity to fill up space, to do large canvases. I’m like an airplane lined up at the airport waiting to land. I am just a conduit for what comes out on my canvases. That’s what’s so exciting. I’m just a part of it. It’s not just all about me.”
We go downstairs and out to the patio table for lunch (homemade french fries, burgers and iced tea, all prepared by Mary’s husband, Bill Brandon). Sitting beneath an unfurled umbrella, eating and visiting comfortably, we are cosseted by a fragrant forrest of pine—the breeze through the branches makes a unique and unmistakable sound. There are five acres here, a small part of them fenced in to keep the deer out. We are surrounded by flowers and fountains…and critters. Charlie the dog, Lola the calico cat and Clouseau the skittish yellow felne frolic in the yard, occasionally pausing to tease the newest family member, Babette the bunny.
Beyond, in a wire cage, are six recently acquired hens with great names like Aunt Bea, Henny Penny, Lucy and Liz and one rooster named Big Red. (Twelve new chicks, waiting to be named, hide in the henhouse.) “We got them for the eggs,’ Mary says. Uh huh. I’m betting that Aunt Bea, Babette and the rest of the newcomers will soon appear in dreams and dream-inspired paintings.
An ant crawls across Mary’s glasses. She brushes it off. “That’ll be in my dream, in a painting,” she declares. “In my paintings, I often do chickens. Now I’ll do some bunnies, too. Soon Babette will be appearing in them.” Mary has just confirmed my not-so-far-fetched assumption.
She looks toward the sky peeking above the pine boughs. “One time I heard this big swoosh, I looked around to see what it was—I thought it might be a plane. And there was this big eagle, just swooping down, like a glider, not flapping its wings. I’ve never heard a sound like that before.”
I am certain that eagle, too, will one day flow from Mary’s mind to brush to paper or canvas. As does Priscilla the octopus. “I have serious dreams, too,” Mary had told me earlier. “Priscilla is a sort of spirit guide, and has appeared when I most need her. She is beautiful, encrusted with jewels, and she has guided me through some difficult times.”
Now, however, Mary’s aura is of happiness and fulfillment. She is painting, and she is painting in a wonderful space surrounded by the critters, real and imaginary, of her dreams. Her work has been accepted by the Women Artists of the West for their Fifth Invitational Show in Jackson, Wyoming this September.
Editor’s note: When this story was written, Mary’s studio was in Bayfield, Colorado. Her studio is now in Castle, Rock, Colo.
All images courtesy of the artist.