Phoenix-born artist Ed Mell effortlessly captures the timeless beauty of the American Southwest. In “Red Desert Sunset” (1995) and “Canyon Expanse” (1996) the movement of clouds in a vast, unending sky emphasizes the almost unearthly stillness of the desert below. Mell achieves this by using a palette of bold, contrasting colours and by juxtaposing light and shade. “It’s a slow evolvement”, he says of his art. “There will be some traditional landscapes and more abstract themes, and moving back and forth between those two.”
“Diamond Bloom” (1998) veers more towards the abstract but reveals a similar approach: contrasting colours and an expert use of light and shade which makes the white petals seem translucent against the dark purple background. Whereas the artist’s landscape and floral paintings capture the stillness of the desert, his lithographs and bronzes convey the energy of its inhabitants.
Mell’s training as an illustrator and early career as an art director influenced his works: it can be seen in the smooth, precise quality of his lithographs. “Full Speed Ahead” (1982), depicting a horse and rider, conveys a stylised sense of movement and speed reminiscent of Art Deco designs. In the 1980s, flying over the south-western region in a number of helicopter trips impacted Mell’s three-dimensional perspective and inspired him to start working in bronze. Using clean lines to capture the energy of the horse and rider in “Jack Knife” (1992) results in a powerful, almost cubist work.
Although Mell’s talent lies in his ability to master any medium, technique or style he chooses to work in, his landscape paintings are my favourite. Having travelled to Arizona a couple of years ago, I was in awe of the canyons and their surroundings – of which I was pleasantly reminded when viewing Mell’s paintings. To be able to convey the grandeur of this ageless landscape with such ease is impressive.
The exhibition, Ed Mell: New West Visionary, can be seen at The Forbes Galleries, 62 Fifth Avenue at 12th Street, New York 10011 from 10 September until 26 November 2011.