Growing up in Los Angeles, I have absorbed my personal history from family lore.  Most of us have come to this country as immigrants with nothing.  My grandparents and great-grandparents began anew, they came to the United States from Eastern Europe.  Cast-off or used objects already imbued with the history of others, aided in the building of new histories.  My fascination with the found is also rooted with objects from my father’s modest scrap metal business.  Used is redefined.  I am inspired by dichotomies and how the experience of objects appear to be one thing but is really another.  It’s like having a dream while being awake.

Melinda Smith Altshuler, Cloud Lab sketches2014
Jacob's Ladder in Progress
Melinda Smith Altshuler, Jacob’s Ladder Is Not Only His in Progress, 2014
Jacob's Ladder Is Not Only His
Melinda Smith Altshuler, Jacob’s Ladder Is Not Only His in progress, 2014

This body of work from the Cloud Lab originated when I was connected with a business owner who was opening a swanky tea shop and wanted large lit forms by an “artist.”  We were connected though Liz Gordon of Liz’s Loft Gallery.  Liz had shown my work once and knew that paper from tea bags was already part of my art vocabulary.

We met and discussed what she wanted.  I proposed clouds, forms to be suspended from her ceilings.  Up until then I was working small and medium in terms of sculpture except for my photo and light inspired installations.

Our work together was not as smooth, as many commissions go, but it did help my ideas grow and develop stronger concepts and themes.  The past couple of years have been rich thanks to that experience.  I have created many sculptural installations and site inspired works.

The process of going back into my brain and sketchbooks to wean out concepts is like opening my childhood treasure box.  I am always excited about working.

Solution for a Dry Field
Melinda Smith Altshuler, Solution for a Dry Field in progress, 2014
Melinda Smith Altshuler, Solution for a Dry Field, Chicken wire, paper from tea bags, hose, pail, light, 6.5’ x 2.5’ x 2’, 2014 Photo © Gene Ogami
What I Think I See Sketch
Melinda Smith Altshuler, What I Think I See sketch, 2014
Melinda Smith Altshuler, Consisting of Knowable Objects, Various found material; wood, metal, paper from tea bags 10” x 8” black gessoed canvas, 12” x 16” x 4”

My work is about the translucency of question, the mystery of thought and imaginings of intention.

Translucency, not only in the literal sense, through materials like acrylic paint or the used paper of tea bags but more importantly the idea of honesty.  Transparency in service of truth.  I see the materials I use as honest, I don’t try to hide what I use, I like clean forms but I do not subscribe to the use of smoke and mirrors.

Thought is mysterious, dreaming is subversive thought.  Our subconscious has that grip, dreaming while awake is my subversive act.  The imaginings of intention combines question with thought and then action or solutions.  Sounds political?  It is, art is political.  My role as an artist is to observe, commentary comes through the work.  Sometimes it is subtle like in Venice Canal Clouds Project or Flying by the Seat of… and other times it is not, as experienced in Storm Clouds Gathering Steam and Solution for a Dry Field.

Melinda Smith Altshuler, Jacob’s Ladder Was Not Only His, paper from teabags, aviary wire, rope, wood, light, 12’x 6’ x 4’, 2014 Photo © Gene Ogami
Melinda Smith Altshuler, Flying by the Seat of…, chair, Aviary wire, light, 37” x 24” x 24” Photo © Gene Ogami

What we choose to see and how we see is just beyond every first layer, but one has to look deeper.

Creating translucency sometimes is about subtraction.  In my print work I photograph shelters all around the world but I subtract some of the visual information before committing the image to a printing plate to then I print on a translucent surface.  That is where the paper from tea bags comes in again, I print on sheets made from the used tea bags.  The image is itself is incomplete, there is a relationship between object and space.

I have been interested in Martin Buber’s treatise, I- Thou for many years.  Buber, a 19th Century German scholar, addresses my intentions eloquently – the relationship between a person and their spiritual belief and as my work portrays the relationship between object and nature setting the theater of life experience.  I borrow out of sequence phrases from his work to use as titles for much of my work.

Demonstrated in my object paintings, the many found or acquired materials are used in place of paint.  I have nothing against paint, I love the sensuality of it, but objects, or bits of objects, weathered and worn always look different from their original form.  This gives an anonymity to each bit so that I can utilize a whole different vocabulary with these things.  These objects have a patina of age.  Found or cast-off metal also become the bones, the strength of my sculptures combined with translucent medium or delicate material that can only be defined by it’s shadows.  These are notations of my thoughts.

Melinda Smith Altshuler, Objects in the External World, Solar plate photo etching on panel of tea bag papers in Riker Mount, 14” x 21” x1”
Melinda Smith Altshuler, Small Storm Cabinet, Aviary wire, paper from teabags, wood cabinet, light, Collection of Julie Weiss, 65” x 24” x 15”, 2013 Photo © Gene Ogami

States of Perpetual Consequence Solo Exhibition of works by Melinda Smith Altshuler is on view until December 13, 2014 at V. Vorres Gallery in San Francisco.

All images and sketches © of the artist