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Acrylic native

Acrylic native

Melissa Melero mixes tradition with abstraction

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

Some artists take on new subject matter and new forms with each project. Some prefer to keep perfecting variations on a theme or two, slowly refining their craft and their viewpoint.

Melissa Melero's take? "People always ask if I run out of ideas. No! I could paint one concept forever!"

Like many artists, she keeps an assortment of pictures and objects in her studio for inspiration for her abstract paintings. "I was trying to evolve my series," she explained recently from her home-based studio in Sparks. "I had basketry pictures on my wall. I had willows, pine nuts, all of those things. I was always trying to get them onto the canvas."

Those particular scraps of inspiration are reminders of her Paiute heritage. She was born in San Francisco, raised in Reno among a family of artisans, and studied photography at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico where, she says, a lot of young, native artists show up with a deep knowledge of traditional craft and end up making contemporary flavored work.

"Limitations are your friend," some artists say. For Ms. Melero that's definitely the case. When her son was born, 13 years ago, she stopped using oil paints and limited herself to non-toxic acrylics. And she kept musing over how to incorporate those willow sticks and pine nuts into her images long enough that she finally started gluing them right in, making for collaged abstractions with bas-relief textures. 

While her works are still very definitely paintings, Ms. Melero's surfaces and color palettes sometimes suggest sculpture or traditional craft. Rusty earth-colored palettes work on canvas surfaces as if they were patinas on metal. Her frequent use of the color turquoise brings to mind the symbolism of Native American jewelry—but she said that the color was inspired by memories of home she had when she was away in New Mexico: "Our land is like religion. Pyramid Lake was always on my mind."

Melissa Melero's exhibit, "Absolute Paiute," closed in April at Sierra Arts. Her work is featured in two group exhibits, "Reflections of Pyramid Lake," at the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center (that's code for "library") at the University of Nevada, Reno, through Sept. 15, and the Great Basin Native Artists exhibit at the Maidu Museum and Historic Site in Roseville, CA, through July 10. 

Tunnel vision

Tunnel vision

We're all doing time

We're all doing time