Abstract artist Melanie Cheung (b.1986) grew up in Toronto, Ontario, and is currently based in Hamilton, Ontario. She holds a Bachelor of Design from Toronto Metropolitan University and is a mostly self-taught painter. Utilizing fluid layers of paint, working with unique colour pairings and organic shapes, Melanie seeks to capture the quiet narratives of our inner lives.Tell us your story, why did you become an artist?
I was a fashion designer before pursuing art in a professional capacity, but I’ve always loved to draw, paint and make things since I was little. I went to University for fashion design and really loved the hands-on aspect of making clothing, but once I started working in fashion, I became somewhat disillusioned by the industry and found most of my time being spent at a computer, sending off designs overseas. After spending 14 years working in fashion, I ended up getting laid off from my job once the pandemic hit, which turned out to be the push I needed towards a new career path. I moved cities and started working as a freelance textile and graphic designer to pay the bills, but I knew I needed to get back into painting, not as a career pursuit, but as a meditative outlet for my own well-being. During that time, a close friend of mine asked me to paint an abstract painting for her for her new apartment which led me to create my first series of abstract paintings. In the past I mostly painted portraits and a few streetscapes but abstract art felt really freeing and therapeutic. Ultimately, all I’ve ever really wanted to be is an artist, but I didn’t think it was a plausible career path. I’m grateful that my professional art career has been slowly growing with art shows, sales and commissions. Sales are not my main motivation for creating art, but making connections with people through my work having people feel genuinely excited about what I’m creating has been really encouraging and a great motivator to keep creating.
When you create a new work, how do you go about it? What comes first?
I’m constantly thinking about painting ideas when I’m going about my daily life, sometimes to the point of distraction. I keep a running list on my phone of random phrases, ideas and concepts that pop into my head, they don’t always make sense at the time but eventually become themes for painting series and the titles of my paintings. I stretch my own canvases and usually prime them with a clear gesso. Even though my work looks quite free flowing and intuitive, I usually pre-plan most of my paintings digitally before painting. I find it easier and much faster to get ideas out in photoshop before experimenting with paint. I then mix all of my colours and paint small studies and tests. I never use a colour as-is from the tube, I think my background training in colour theory from fashion school has allowed me the ability to easily mix colours in an intuitive way. Once I start painting, I reference the digital mockups, but I also allow intuition to take over to a degree, and I like to allow for happy accidents and imperfections to form. What can you tell us about your studio, what makes it special to you and how does it influence the way you work?
I Just recently moved into my first studio outside of my home this past July and it has been so incredibly impactful on how I work. While I was extremely grateful to have a space to work from when I worked from home, I worked out of a tiny room that didn’t get much natural light. Floor space was limited and since I work mostly on the floor, it meant lots of hopping around paintings, and limited the number of pieces and the size of works that I could make. Now I have a much bigger space to work from and I have 3 south facing windows that let in amazing natural light. My studio is in a converted old factory building and is also part of an arts centre that provides artists with a ton of artist resources and equipment. I’m surrounded by a very diverse group of talented artists in this space which is very inspiring. For me, having the separation between home and my workspace has been really nice as well, and has allowed me to be a lot more productive with my time. Is there a work of art in your life that has especially impressed you?
I think that the most influential art work in my life would have to be that of my Grandfather’s (who passed away a number of years ago). He was a very talented painter, but always practiced as more of a hobbyist. His style was very different from mine, he used oil paints primarily and was very technical in his approach, painting mostly still-life, figurative and landscape subject matter. His work was really my first introduction to art and he recognized my interest in art at a young age and treated me as a fellow artist peer. I remember him setting me up with an easel, classical music and professional paints when I was as young as five years old. I’m lucky to be able to have a few of his works in my own home now and if I had to choose one that has made a lasting impression on me, it would be a large painting of my mother’s childhood home in England. While this piece isn’t actually my favourite of his, I loved how he took risks and experimented with unconventional ideas. He painted a very realistic painting of the house and then masked lines over it with tape and painted gradient rainbows overtop. The final result gives the impression that the viewer is looking out through blinds at the house and the blinds are reflecting from a prism. Reach to the stars: where will you be in 5 years?
In 5 years, I’m hoping I will be working as an artist full time (at the moment, I split my time between art and graphic design). I’m hoping that I’m making work that is fulfilling and challenging and not just commercially successful. I hope that my work continues to always evolve, but I’d like to be at a place where I’m really happy with my own artistic style, which can be a challenge for me. I’d love to have a solo show (or a few) within the next five years and I would love to create works for collectors around the world. Instagram