Bringing Blank Spaces to Life: Mel O’Dell w/ Brooke Tunbridge / by Brooke Tunbridge

JUST WHEN I THOUGHT I WAS RUNNING OUT OF TALENT TO DISCOVER IN NEWCASTLE, A COLOURFUL WALL SPARKED MY EYE. WELL, A PHOTOGRAPH OF A COLOURFUL WALL. I WAS CAUGHT IN A LATE-NIGHT INSTAGRAM STALKING SPREE, ALTHOUGH FOR ONCE, IT ACTUALLY TURNED INTO SOMETHING POSITIVE. I WAS A FEW PROFILES DEEP, FORGETTING WHERE I EVEN SAW THE FIRST PHOTO (DON’T JUDGE ME – WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE). IT ALL LED TO MEL O’DELL. I’M GOING TO ATTEMPT TO WRITE HER TITLE BUT AM SURE I WILL MISS SOMETHING. MEL IS A 24-YEAR-OLD NEWCASTLE-BASED ARTIST, WRITER, POET, COMEDIAN, PERFORMANCE ARTIST, TEACHER, MODEL (WHEN ASKED TO BE BY HER FRIENDS AND FAMILY), DABBLER IN MUSIC WITH AN ELECTRIC DRUMKIT, PRODUCER FOR CRACK X FESTIVAL AND, WELL, AN ALL-ROUND BUBBLE OF JOY AND CREATIVITY.

MEL O'DELL

After talking with Mel, I’m convinced there is nothing she can’t do, although she isn’t the type to boast. These roles were unravelled in our conversation as passing comments, small details in her story rather than a list of achievements. While some of these roles were fleeting hobbies, they all played a part in the learning curves on her path to where she is now. Her style and medium have changed a few times over the years but have now turned into vibrant, colourful and abstract art that is instantly recognisable as being created by Mel.

Mel grew up in Kempsey with her parents and two older sisters. Although she admitted to having a great art teacher, she begged to move to Newcastle in Year 9, craving something more. In 2012, Mel moved to Newcastle by herself, chasing the flourishing art scene. Describing Newcastle, Mel says she has ‘met so many talented, passionate people with a strong drive’ and admires that ‘they want to make events and experiences’.

‘Mid last year, I wanted to move away from Newcastle but kept coming back. The art scene is blossoming and I want to be part of it,’ Mel explained.

After studying drama and English teaching at uni, Mel teaches high school classes as a casual teacher. Combining her passion for teaching and art, Mel talked to Hudson Street Hum in December last year about running a workshop. They asked her if she’d be interested in painting a mural at their space, and she started on the project a week later.

‘They started this kind of mural craze,’ she said.

Mel’s mural is how I discovered her work, but not this one – another one on the wall at Tiny Boat at Softys, where she held a reveal party for her art.

MEL O DELL

I was so distracted by the telling of the mural story that I completely missed that Mel said she wanted to run a workshop. Going back to that, sure enough, Mel taught a four-week workshop for adults at Hudson Street Hum. It was all about having a release through art, whether that be performance, writing, painting or something else.

The workshop ended with painting a mural. Mel gave students the choice of planning out the mural or just going for it, and they chose the latter. She says the workshop aims at getting you back to a kid-like state: ‘process rather than product’.

Last year, Mel decided within a month to create an exhibition before the This Is Not Art (TiNA) festival started. This is where her colourful abstract style developed.

From feeling like she couldn’t express herself at school and being incredibly shy, Mel now wants to express herself in every way possible. Her art started with acrylic on canvas, then onto oil painting, then expanding her creative expression to writing slam poetry, which turned into comedy and then performance art. This journey took place over three years, but it led her back to painting, refining her style.

Mel says art was always in the background growing up – art being the only subject she cared about in Year 12. ‘The first year of uni, people starting buying my works and they were kind of crap… Buddhas and flowers. I made a little money though.’

Trying out markets, Mel sold mandalas at Hunt & Gather and Olive Tree, and although she’s only tried it a few times, she says she might revisit with a different approach rather than only selling originals.

Mel’s work is featured on the homepage of Newcastle babe Abby Butler’s recently launched website, Sisterhood of Soul (www.sisterhoodofsoul.net), also collaborating with local fashion label Chinchen St last year. The collaboration focused on the theme of mental health, and the importance of hugs to make people feel happy. Chinchen St owner Bonnie sourced denim for Mel to paint on.

‘I’m really bad at telling people I need help,’ says Mel. She believed art could soften this, and so collaborated with Chinchen St to spread the word.

Creating artworks at Studio One in Maryville, a space created by Marigold and Zac, Mel says there are a lot of things happening in the future that aren’t happening just yet. More murals are in the planning stages, a design job for Floozy Coffee Roasters (all-female roasters), and more exciting projects.

An upcoming project she couldn’t give too much detail on is her involvement in the next issue of Angus Bowen (Aanguskhan Creative)’s fine art zine: Absolutely Hideous. Mel explained that the theme prompts you to reflect on yourself, and that her art will be personal and deep, involving paper cut-outs.

Looking to the future, Mel hopes to study with Brett Piva (Pocket Design) and get a finer hand, and dreams one day of a collaboration with Australian fashion label, Gorman, designing something to suit the style of their distinctive colour palettes and whimsical prints.

For now, you can keep up with Mel’s exciting projects on her Instagram @melodell.
If you’re wanting to purchase any of Mel’s prints or you’re after a colourful mural to brighten a wall, looking for someone to run a workshop, or anything else Mel can do, contact her through Instagram!