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12 Questions: Monika Meler

1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life? 

Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina

I am also a big fan of almost anything Rebecca Solnit writes but her books Men Explain Things to Me and A Field Guide to Getting Lost have been monumental in the way I think about my art and the world around me. 

2. What are you currently working on?

I am working on a series that combines printmaking and paper cuts that explore ideas about the Anthropocene, the geologic term for the age of man.  I am interested int he ways people value representations of nature in their home but don't seem to have the same reverence for actual nature.  It's a robust contradiction. 

3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

I like to think of my entire history as an artist as a history of failure.  This way, each thing I make doesn't hold precious value and I feel free to take risks.  It's really all failure and while this may sound discouraging, it's actually really freeing.  With everything going on in my life (work, kids, family), my only goal is to keep making art, it's the only thing that I pressure myself to do. How good or bad it is really doesn't matter. 

4. What is your most unusual habit?

I wake up very very early. I do not keep the hours that artists are known for. Like my dad, I like to be in bed by 9:30 and up by 4 am.  He did it because "the plants were most beautiful at that time." I do it because I love the silence of 4 am. 

I refuse to read anything about a book before I read it, for fear that any synopsis/review will ruin it for me. This gets me into trouble sometimes. 

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?

Frida Kahlo: Because if I could get anyone to paint my self portrait, I would want it to be the most qualified person I can think of. Swoon: Because I love her mark, the way she draws Jenny Saville: For the same reason why I would want Frida Kahlo to paint my portrait. 

6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like? Could you share an image?

My studio is a disaster, I work in chaos. I have three little kids and my studio is currently partially integrated into my house.  Right now, the youngest one is climbing on my back as I type this. But generally, I love to work in visual chaos, having many piles of things around me. I love seeing Trenton Doyle Hancock's studio on Art 21. It's a mess and just looking at visual chaos fills me with inspiration and ideas. My studio folds into a single table that I "fold out" onto the floor when the kids go to bed. I love working on the floor. I pride myself on the fact that this studio can happen anywhere, in my home, in a hotel room, and eventually hopefully in a more official and dedicated space.

I have a few photos of working spaces but honestly, my studio is always moving. I am partially in my house, partially in my work office and often in different print shops. 

7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?

I walk a lot. This is the only thing I really have.  I really like to be moving and I value walking as a good way to clear my head all while filling it with possibilities. I specifically love city walking.  There is something about the rich visuals that present themselves in a chaotic crowded space that makes an impact on me visually. I love the brick building with the colorful curtain alongside a hand painted sign. 

8. Who/What influences your work?

A log of artists. After graduate school, I realized that I no longer need to rely on artists whose work relates to mine, visually or conceptually. I now feel influenced/inspired by watching anyone do anything well. I recently watched Beyonce's Homecoming documentary and I was completely moved by her dedication to getting all aspects of her performance right. I kept thinking "THIS is what an artist does." I like watching my husband parent because he is so very good and dedicated to the craft of making responsible people whereas I am dedicated to making people who give in to every impulse. I love watching my mom cook because she is so fluid at it. I am influenced greatly by Rebecca Solnit's words because she has a way of putting words together that is entirely poetic. Sometimes I ask my close friend Andrea Ferber, an art historian to edit my statements/cover letter and when she sends me her edits, I always think "she KNOWS words." Being a witness to all sorts of people who know what they are doing is incredibly influential. 

9. Do you collect anything?

Paper. Nice, handmade paper and random receipts I find and kids drawings and handwritten notes. I am a hoarder of all things paper. 

10.  What words of advice would you give to your younger self?

Be much, much, much more confident. 

11.  In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice? 

I have started to work much more incrementally. I used to think that I needed to have hours to make art daily and if I didn't have that, it was not worth it.  I now work a little bit everyday. 

12.  Share an inspiring image.

I teach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, IN.  This is an image from a 2D Composition project by Lily Martin. In the project, students choose a painting by a "master" artist and recreate the composition and color value in the painting using only newspaper print.  This is Lily's take on an Edward Hopper piece.  This is all sorts of right and I love looking at it because it reminds me to push the work further and further. When we looked at it in critique, Lily was not quite finished and I was ready to give the project a really high grade.  Then, she kept going after crit and the result is so inspiring and nuanced. I love looking at this as a reminder that my students are quite inspiring. 

Monika's work is available on ARTSY and on view at James May North as a part of the exhibition: SUDDEN CHANGE OF WIND.

Exhibition dates: December 6 - January 25

James May North

219 State Street

Algoma, WI 54201


Thursday- Saturday 10-5



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