Melinda Meyer exhibits her work at the Loft during a First Friday reception May 4, from 5 to 8 PM. Music by Caroline Keys and Nate Biehl.
At first glance, Melinda Meyer’s paintings seem like they could be realistic landscapes, albeit especially colorful ones. But train your eye on them for just a few seconds longer and you’ll see they’re filled with enough absurd imagery to push them into the realm of fancy. For instance, a seascape of the port of Rio de Janeiro features a looming wind-up toy duck on a bicycle and an enormous purse in the form of a chicken, both perched on the shore. Plastic containers in a full array of colors — “the kind you get at the Import Market,” Meyer says — serve as the city’s buildings. The swirling black-and-white boardwalk near the water is inspired by Portuguese pavement, which Meyer saw and admired during a trip to Lisbon. And the toy-like planes in the sky are a subtle reference the 1933 film Flying Down to Rio, in which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, along with several chorus girls, dance on the wings of an airplane as it flies through the air.
Inside Meyer’s Missoula condo you can see the kind of everyday objects she incorporates into her paintings. For instance, she owns a chicken purse and the duck-on-a-bicycle toy. Curvaceous gourds she purchased from a garden center became bird-like objects in a seashore painting. The gourd birds are surrounding a metal moose (which she drew from a sculpture she owns by Missoula artist Dave Larson) that seems to be holding court on the beach.
She and her husband, John, live part-time in Missoula and part-time in Canada. Several of her paintings are inspired by their home in Victoria, including one depicting a squirrel that found its way into their attic and wouldn’t come out. The squirrel was a nuisance — eating through electrical wires, building nests, having babies (Meyer says her daughter named the squirrel Clytemnestra after the Spartan princess who caused chaos and murdered Agamemnon) — but its tenacity gained it a starring role in the painting, where it’s seen surrounded by dangling green glass bottles that add a surreal element to the portrait.
Meyer spent her early childhood in Butte, and several of her landscapes depict the bare-hilled terrain of the town. In one, she painted the home she lived in as a child, with an absurdist version of a Fourth of July parade passing down the street. The parade features carousel horses from the old Columbia Gardens ridden by finger-puppets rendered as some of her favorite artists: Kahlo, Dali, Monet and Van Gogh. Her Butte images maintain a balance between the harsh reality of a mining environment and the merriment of childhood.
“We loved Butte when we were kids, because it was adventuresome — you could play on those marvelous tailings ponds,” she says. “We had a lot of freedom.”
Meyer’s family didn’t stay in one place for too long. Her traveling salesman father moved them from Butte to a series of homes in Utah and California. “He got tired of things,” Meyer says. “He was one of those people that said, ‘Enough of this, it’s time to move on to new things, new horizons.’” Meyer’s work echoes a similar sense of seeing the world. She and John often travel, which explains the vast number of landscapes she illustrates. Still, the way that Meyer’s work defies logic underscores how much, for her, “new horizons” encompasses the fantastical. She doesn’t seem generally motivated to underpin her work with a high concept. She starts with a landscape and then adds characters and objects according to color and shape. When she is drawn to a particular object, she might add it to the painting just to see what it looks like. And sometimes that will create an unexpected dynamic or meaning. Mostly, the pieces maintain a playful mysteriousness.
“In juxtaposing disparate elements without regard for realistic relative proportion,” she says. “I can make visually available some drama or situation that is entirely unlikely to occur in any other place.”