Essentially, my work is about the process of drawing––the layering of marks to create images and patterns. I have long work on surfaces other than plain paper. Surfaces that come with embedded histories such as graph paper, lace, and road maps. I focus on present day environmental issues using historic drawing methods; primarily exploring the dichotomous forces of nature, from its staggering beauty to its extreme dangers. While realistically rendered, my drawings alter and merge different species in my immediate environment––the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. Our area is becoming more jungle-like as tropical flora and fauna moves north. We are seeing more destructive storms, strange fauna (armadillos!), invasive insects and plants.
In 2009, we lost over 3000 trees in a Derecho leaving massive visual and environmental scars. Seeing so many fallen and shredded trees made me more aware of their height and weight. (One crushed my car.) For several years, replicating their huge scale was a major factor in my work. “Revolving,” (46-feet-long), is a life-size falling tree that cycles through the seasons of the year before returning to the earth. (On view at the Sheldon Galleries March 4-May 13.) After spending years drawing large-scale trees, I turned to a series of “Cross-Section” drawings. Using the circular format of “Revolving,” these works concentrate on the pattern and flow of various barks. My recent work embeds trees with the means to protect themselves against man, insects, and disease. (See “Cross-Section: Armed” and “Water Locust: Lichen Eradication.”)
ART BIOGRAPHY: Mel Watkin’s solo exhibitions include: Franklin Furnace, New York, Illinois State Museum-Chicago, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Addison Ripley Gallery in Washington, D.C. and Philip Slein Gallery, St. Louis, among others. Her group exhibitions include shows at American University in Washington, D.C., The Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan, The Sheldon Galleries and Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis, Longue Vue House, New Orleans, Salina Art Center, Salina, Kansas, and Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Sedalia, Missouri. Reviews of her work have appeared in New American Painters #83, Grand Rapids Press, Art in America, The Washington Post, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among other publications. Her artwork is included in private collections in Istanbul, Turkey, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, and St. Louis and in the public collections of the Saint Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, Kansas, Illinois State Art Museum, Chicago and Springfield. Her artist’s books are collected by the Museum of Modern Art Library, New York, Special Collections at the New York Public Library and the Fine Arts Library at the Fogg Museum of Art at Harvard University. She has been awarded four grants from the Illinois Arts Council, a Critical Mass Creative stimulus Grant, St. Louis, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowship and an Artist’s Space Grant, New York. Her artist’s residencies include: Palazzo Rinaldi, Noepoli, Italy, Ragdale Foundation, Lake Forest, Illinois and Ucross Foundation, Clearmont, Wyoming. Ms. Watkin was also one of 9 artists commissioned to create permanent public artwork fabricated in collaboration with Franz Meyer of Munich, Germany for the “C” Concourse at Lambert St. Louis International Airport. She is currently working on two separate commissions for the Hyde Park Art Center’s “Not Just Another Pretty Face-COVID-19 edition."