Melinda Schawel’s work is ambiguous in interpretation. On the one hand, her drifting images bring to mind the trajectory of stars, geography, mapping; on the other hand, a macro view of some organism, or even molecular structures.
Using scalpel, drill and sandpaper, she perforates, tears and roughs up the surface of heavyweight paper. Inks – mainly a neutral palette, with pops of vibrant colour – are poured and manipulated into abstract, organic shapes. Control is only possible up to a point, although she is aided, she says, by an “intimate knowledge of the materials”.
Many elements of Schawel’s practice are informed by observations from nature. The technique of perforation, for example, began after watching crabs on a beach in Queensland drilling holes into the sand. “It stems from moments of paying attention,” Schawel says of her pro- cess, “and translating those moments into work on paper.”
For the Higher Ground series, she has drawn on a phenomenon that occurred in Tasmania during recent floods. Struggling to escape the watery forest floor, millions of spiders cast their lines upwards with the hopes of reaching a treetop and launched blindly, en masse, into the air. Those successful dangled precariously above the floodwaters; trees were wrapped spectacularly in webs.
The poignant uncertainty of survival is echoed in these drawings, which are fragile and unanchored. Schawel describes her artistic response as “primarily an emotional one”, using her textured dreamlike compositions as a counterpoint to the present global atmosphere of rising tumult and fear. The paper’s tears and perforations point to damage but also resilience and a vulnerable beauty. Among a million clamouring images, Schawel’s work is a moment of respite, a small breath.