Mel Edelman's mixed media exhibit explores how surface impressions give way to complicated depths.
Thursday, October 11, 2001
Some of life''s most compelling mysteries arise from the inner complexity of people''s minds. In artist Mel Edelman''s most recent exploration of life around him, however, he wanted to examine the simplicities on the surface.
In his mixed media exhibit, "Some Faces in the Crowd," now on display at the Monterey Museum of Art, Edelman has created art that portrays his friends, family and some strangers as multilayered beings surrounded by familiarity or juxtaposed with chaos. The effect is both comforting and confusing.
"I just finished a long, very wordy project and I wanted something that was, well, less intellectual," says Edelman. "Something that I could do at my kitchen table, at night, something that fit easily."
What he came up with is roughly two dozen images--not all are on display--of collaged photographs and paper art. Using an ordinary camera, Edelman took black and white photographs of strangers and friends and printed each one on several sheets of clear lithographic film, which results in sharply contrasted tones. Faithful to the theme of human complexity, Edelman then pieced the layers together, with the result that in some cases the photograph ends up looking three-dimensional--which of course is realistic for most people.
"In everyday life, as you know, many elements make a person that straight photography can''t capture so well," Edelman explains. "There are many layers of personality from their past life, from experiences."
After assembling the image to his liking with as little darkroom work as possible ("I didn''t want to pour chemicals to be creative"), he started to flesh out the people with collaged images cut and pasted from magazines. The sub-surface color images add texture and contrast to the transparent people. Images ripped from magazines such as National Geographic were eventually filed by subject and color so he wouldn''t have to dig through piles of paper all the time.
"I began to think of the fragmented images underneath as our perceptions of people," Edelman says. "There''s a push/pull effect in some, where you''re drawn in but also a little disturbed."
Most of Edelman''s photographs are portraits, with a few abstract images or buildings thrown in. He says he is interested in people, not in copying the overabundance of landscape photography that flourishes in Monterey County.
Accordingly, viewers are encouraged to pay attention to their inner feelings when looking at the pieces in "Some Faces." Staring into the countenance of one of Edelman''s subjects is like meeting someone for the first time and forming a first impression. You at first only see the surface--usually the black and white photograph--but upon closer inspection, what Edelman has hidden beneath the uppermost layer reveals itself. "Untitled #7," for example, is a kind-looking middle-aged man superimposed over bookshelves and maps, implying a studious nature. In another piece, Edelman''s own daughter is shown sitting in a car, looking directly but vacantly at the camera. Edelman reveals she was camera-shy as a teenager but now is happy to be photographed. Her expression shows hints of nervousness and pleasure. A close-up of a woman''s smiling face suggests a carefree mood, yet background newspaper print grounds her in reality and her wide white teeth are smudged by words.
All the pieces are untitled because "the images are so loaded," explains Edelman. In that way, he doesn''t tell the audience any more than what it sees. The reflexive result is intentional; Edelman feels that many perceptions coincide with how we look at ourselves and the world.
The images in "Some Faces" are all very interesting because of the collage that Edelman chose for every photograph. The personality and lifestyle of each face were created in his mind, using art that either better defines the face or amuses the viewer. Why is that portrait blended with underwater sea creatures? Why are some faces almost completely darkened by windows? The artist may have one idea in mind, but the viewers are left to make up their own impressions and stories.
"Some Faces" is an intriguing exhibit, but it just hints at Edelman''s versatility. His next project, being assembled on former Fort Ord land, combines his current day job (carpentry) with storytelling and art. Three full-sized houses contain the belongings of three characters in a story Edelman is writing. The buildings and things inside them form the character in a very concrete way, and the entire installation is going to be disassembled and rebuilt for its debut at the Museum of Photography in Riverside, Calif. in January.
Some Faces in the Crowd is on exhibit in the Coburn Gallery at the Monterey Museum of Art, 559 Pacific St., through Nov. 25. 372-7591.