TH/E ICONOCLAST: Rafael Melendez
“Dreams, desires, fears and fantasies.” The work of artist Rafael Melendez is a hypnotic trip through the visually arresting world of the unconscious made conscious. His intricate works on paper are beguiling, witty, tender and unsuspectingly iconoclastic, just like the artist himself.
You’re a Californian in London via NYC. Where is home?
Right now, London, even though I’ve only been here for three months. My husband’s here, and my cat, Nicky Taboo!
Do you miss New York?
I don’t. I didn’t really like living in Brooklyn, because it was so far away. Everyone was shocked when I said I was moving there, because I always said I didn’t believe in Brooklyn. I guess when you get married your priorities change.
You’re like Miranda, from Sex and the City!
Exactly! But without the law degree! (laughs)
Were you born an artist or did you become one?
I was born an artist. From the very beginning, I was always drawing. It’s like a lover. Sometimes I know it and I feel really close to it, and sometimes I feel really distant from it and I don’t know what’s going on. And was it always drawing?
I’ve dedicated myself to work on paper, and that’s what I know myself as. Right now I’m working on more structured drawings, but I also work on loose drawings, and all kinds of wet media; acrylic, watercolour, markers, pens.
I think paintings are more like products, and that’s my fear. I don’t want to create a product, and I think a lot of artists in this day and age are product-driven. As soon as you get into canvases, it starts to become a product. Even though there’s a high visibility of drawing now, it still hasn’t translated into a commodity as much as a painting has.
I think there’s also less ego in drawing. There are more rules, less room for mistakes. If you make a mistake then you kind of have to leave it open for people to buy into it, or absorb it, or be more forgiving. Your work is often concerned with countercultures. Is there a particular counterculture movement that resonates with you?
The ones in California; the hippies and the beatniks. French counterculture also. The New York art scene in the 70s and 80s. William Burroughs, writers, queer writers. Anyone that gets shunned from society is really interesting for me.
In artwork the meaning often lies somewhere between the work and the audience. Would you agree?
I think I always start with an emotion or a feeling, or some kind of sentiment. And then I know that I have to hide it all! So that it doesn’t become too overbearing for everyone. And then I kind of forget about it, because it becomes about the aesthetic and if it’s attractive or not. And we are taught that emotions aren’t attractive. I think a lot of people are taught how to hide their emotions, so a big percentage of my work is about that. What is the most important thing?
The first words were happiness and love. I guess love would be the most important thing. For me. In life should you listen to your head or your heart?
It depends on the person. You have to have a sense of who you are. You can’t love everyone in this world! But I think important people, or situations, of course your heart. But there are some people who aren’t worth your heart!
If you were to mix a scent that smelled like you, what would you put in there?
I would put the smell of each city that I’ve lived in that’s important to me. Do you have a motto?
"I'm not responsible for your fantasies.” I picked it up from Sophia Lamar on a Johnny McGovern podcast.