Feminine mystique and more at Expressiones

Artist Flavia Melendez finishes one of the pieces for her upcoming show “Paisajes Minimos” at the studio at the Griffis Arts Center in New London on Wednesday. “Paisajes Minimos “will open at Expressiones in New London on Saturday.
Artist Flavia Melendez finishes one of the pieces for her upcoming show “Paisajes Minimos” at the studio at the Griffis Arts Center in New London on Wednesday. “Paisajes Minimos “will open at Expressiones in New London on Saturday. Tim Cook/The Day

A shrug of defiance can be detected in the hunch of the woman's back.

She is draped in a white quilt, which she clutches behind her with two strong hands. Stitched onto the quilt are symbols. Most women can recognize these calling cards of modern womanhood: a baby bottle, a wedding ring, Chanel, work bag, cell phone, an apple and measuring tape. The woman's head is in profile, her blue eyes shards of ambition.

Her bare shoulders, tan, are fluid and confident - a sliver of arm is exposed. Her hair is short, slicked back in undulating waves.

The print is one of two that comprise a diptych titled "The Perfect Woman," by visiting artist Flavia Melendez, who is from Lima, Peru.

Melendez will have a solo exhibit at Expressiones Cultural Center in New London titled "Paisajes Minimos" (Minimal Landscapes), which opens Saturday, June 2, and continues until July 4.

Another exhibit by visiting artist Iliana Scheggia at Expressiones, also from Lima, Peru, will be on view, as well. Her large sculptures invite the viewers to create as well as view with interactive elements.

The body of work Melendez will exhibit has been created during her three-month residency at the Griffis Art Center in New London.

Her minimal landscapes are small, mixed media works that unify thematically: they are women-centric, with most of the figures beautiful females, many engulfed by backgrounds of beading, fabric and other textile-type material creating lush landscapes.

The images are culled from magazines and other print sources, then are painted over by Melendez, who drives the image away from empty beauty to emphasize grim sets of the mouth, or a confrontational stare about the eyes. In one, hair flows as if submerged in water, the textile around her reminiscent of strands of seaweed.

Her mixed media series expresses both the human condition and our relationship to nature. That the images are almost exclusively women works as sort of a bridge for Melendez.

"I think it is the most unique and honest way for me to express the themes," Melendez said. "I speak about human conditions we don't really understand, but through the feminine image, I explore them. For me, it's because I am a woman, and this is how I understand the world."

Each little work sets the figure in an environment inspired by Melendez's connection to nature - one she first began to imagine in a different way when she came to America in 2009 as an artist resident at I-Park in East Haddam, which is situated on 450 acres.

There, she began a journal responding to the nature that surrounded her. That was the inception of the series.

"I discovered that here I feel very near to the landscape, the forest - it is different than in Peru," said Melendez.

Some of the works clearly depict seasonal landscapes - one is very autumnal, with vivid flushes of color and leaf-like textile surrounding the figure. While the textiles all vary, they are time-consuming for Melendez, who collects, hand-beads and painstakingly pieces them together.

Guido Garaycochea, who is also from Peru and is a founder of Expressiones, said the use of the ornate backgrounds possesses a Baroque sensibility. Yet the pieces express contemporary, secular themes, which Garaycochea said challenge the viewer.

"They expose a question mark of who we are - not as male or female, but as human beings," Garaycochea said of the faces, which he noted for their transporting quality.

Melendez describes the faces as being in limbo - they are neither alive, she said, nor dead, enabling her to use them as ideas.

The images of nude or partially nude females surrounded by textiles that reconstruct nature with industrial material (we have gardens, says Melendez, but we don't take care of the environment) evoke a feminine mystique, as if you are gazing at goddesses.

"It is sensual," Sharon Griffis, director of the Griffis Art Center said. "Men and women notice that in the work and respond to it and enjoy it."

The colors in her palette, and their soft application, emanate the warmth and sensuality that attracts the viewer. And it is a palette, said Griffis, that is not associated with Latin Americans by audiences here, who so often link Latin artists to the bright tropical landscapes inspired by the hues of the Caribbean.

Garaycocchea noted that Melendez's palette is typical of an artist whose roots are in the Andes.

The result is a body of work that both harvests the beauty of nature and the female form while unpeeling the layers of human and societal issues that are of our time, as well as eternal.

"My women represent the souls of the landscape," said Melendez.

If you go

What: Flavia Melendez solo exhibit, "Paisajes Minimos" (Minimal Landscapes). In a separate gallery is Iliana Scheggia's sculpture exhibit, "Geometry of Chance."

When: The two exhibits open with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 2. They close July 4.

Where: Expressiones Cultural Center, 84 Bank St., New London

Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri. and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat.

Contact: www.expressiones.net, (860) 501-9ART

About Iliana Scheggia: A visiting artist at Expressiones, Scheggia has created large, interactive sculptures. In her artist's statement, Scheggia writes, "'Geometry of Chance' is a game where I explore the possibilities offered me by one of the Platonic solids, the cube, and then cutting it into tetrahedra, using up all the odds, to build new forms.

"These new polyhedra may be manipulated by the viewers, who have the opportunity to build their own. The idea of this game comes in the wake of the phrase spoken by Albert Eienstein 'God does not play dice.'"

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