After studying fine art at Central St Martins and De Montfort University, Melanie Paice went on to work for the Tate Gallery (Modern and Britain), where she managed a course programme before becoming freelance to work on projects with organisations such as Frieze Art Fair. She currently lives and works in Woking, Surrey, giving classes at the Lightbox Gallery among other venues in the surrounding area, whilst still producing her own work for commission.
I feel that my own art practice has improved a great deal since teaching. The fact that through teaching, you’re learning other peoples work constantly and finding a way of helping them to correct mistakes in their work means that my own observational skills have improved greatly. It’s just a constant thing that you do when teaching. There are some tutors particularly in adult education that will come to the front of the class, demonstrate something and then ask the class to copy what they do. I don’t work like that. I prefer people to think a bit about what they want to make so that they have further interest in what they are doing rather than just following what the teacher says. I encourage them to come up with their own ideas. My own practice has improved because of all that.
With lecturing, I find that researching about other people’s work and teaching about artists that interest me quite often mean that I go into a lot of detail about the art history of it all so the approach in my lectures is more about looking into the art historical details, but it certainly helps my own work progress.
Abstract is really what I consider to be ‘my thing’. It’s what I like doing but abstract doesn’t really sell that well in Surrey, so I tend to do more figurative work. Although I prefer abstract work, I do certainly have a love of plants and flowers as my parents were landscape gardeners, so I still enjoy working that way.
I love the work of Andy Goldsworthy. He is a sculptor who works with natural materials and uses only natural processes to bind the elements together. When I lecture on him I put his work under ‘land art’ because he is more than just a sculptor. His work is very transient and he takes a lot of photos of his work so that the photograph becomes the piece of art in the end. When I was around nine years old, the artist that really made me want to get into the art world was Chagall and in particular his painting, ‘The Cattle Dealer’, where the foal is in the womb of the horse. It fascinated me that an artist could show you what you knew was there, but that you couldn’t actually see. In some ways, I feel like this is similar to what I do when I teach.
I love teaching art because I love working with people and I wanted to share my love of art. To be able to make people feel what I feel when I paint is a wonderful experience. My approach is that it should be a sociable environment when I teach because then the students are more relaxed and open to learn. I prefer working with a very small class where there is more interaction and discussion about the work. It’s a much more pleasurable experience than lecturing at people. Teaching brings a lot more back into my own work.
I love working in the negative like when I do my slate drawings. I love bringing the light onto a black surface. There is an element of it being less of a blank canvas as you have something to work against. I love working that way but when I try and teach it’s surprising how hard beginners find it until they start really looking at light that way. The exhibition I did last year included a load of sculptural bees, which I created out of smashed light bulbs and so light is very important to me in that way, bringing old things into the light. The exhibition was actually called ‘Trash to Treasure’ as I was working on turning old materials into new pieces of art.
For me, creativity is the closest thing to spirituality. When something is really working in a painting or a sculpture, there is an amazing feeling that is almost spiritual. If I haven’t made artwork in a while, there is a frustration where I feel I need to make something. If people revaluated what ‘success’ was in our world and it wasn’t just about money and becoming known but more if you were happy and how you would be viewed by other people, I think people would be a lot happier.