We had the good fortune of connecting with Melinda Braathen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melinda, why did you pursue a creative career?
When I was a kid, I pursued tennis and fashion design with equal intensity. Tennis felt like a living, physical conversation between two to four people. It mattered how I set up and how I showed up for each point. The more technique and concentration I cultivated the more I could deeply observe and participate in the unfolding dynamics, emerging patterns, space, time, tempo, direction, and outcome of the physical dialogue. I was also fascinated by fashion design and created my own clothes in high school. I was drawn in by the myriad ways that color and form could alter my everyday perception and experience. But I kept realizing that I wanted to be designing for a different layer of the body. I was interested in psychology, the emotional body, energy systems, language, and physiology. I was captivated by internal states that were constantly changing. This led me to experiment with a visual language that could help me access the more invisible internal architecture and ephemeral structures through color, form, motion, intensity, light and pattern. I found painting in college and my two passions collided. My paintings often originate from conversations or direct experience. Something happens — a shift in perspective, a new understanding, a visual insight; or inversely, confusion, discordance, an emotional response. I then go into my studio and, to use a tennis analogy, “replay the point” through drawing. It’s a creative process of turning my interiority into a physical object that I can then interact with, learn and share.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am an oil painter, living and working in Los Angeles. My work often appears abstract, but they usually reference something specific – a moment from a conversation, a memory, or a passage from a book. I rely on drawing to grasp onto fleeting memories or impressions, and often will make a few different sketches to slowly break down the representational triggers —like faces, bodies, the environment. The initial impression is slowly digested and translated into an abstract, visual language that focuses more on the dynamics — for instance, between two bodies talking — the direction, tempo, intensity, or felt sensations, thoughts, and so on. I’m curious by people’s everyday insight, thoughts, visual descriptions, and innovative actions that somehow catch me and leave me needing to take it back into the studio and further process it.
It has taken me a long time to arrive at this particular painting practice. I’ve worked through many different styles throughout my career, as well as tried my hand at different professions. I moved to Berlin after college to further pursue art and to learn the language. I was working as a painting assistant for a prominent German artist, who had upwards of 30 employees. In the beginning, I didn’t have a grasp of the language. Every morning, there was a meeting held in German. Without understanding what was being said, I was coming to understand how much meaning the body adds to language – the way we sit, talk, use gesture, volume, intonation, speed, pauses etc. All those pressures and embodied movements are also language. I later moved briefly into radio to experiment with conversation as a medium. This work allowed me to explore how meaning is constructed at the site of listening. These two experiences, in particular, have shaped the direction of my paintings and practice.
I think paint is a slow medium that takes years to harness. But in the end, I think success also comes down to giving yourself permission to wonder, to go on small voyages of discovery with your whole body, despite the ever-present fear and uncertainty involved with exploring something unknown and not guaranteed. For me, this also means cultivating a practice that helps me focus deeply. It means finding effective ways to not override my inner guidance system with too much thinking (so hard!). The challenge for me is letting my whole body fully take the reigns at various stages of the creative process.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
This is an exciting question to let my imagination wander on, seeing that we are a year plus into a worldwide pandemic and I’ve barely left my home, seen friends and loved ones, or eaten anything other than a home-cooked meal. Los Angeles is an incredible place to have as one’s backyard. I am so excited for the multifarious doors to open again, and to see familiar faces and meet new strangers.
If I were to take a week to experience Los Angeles with my best friend, we would most definitely do a day hike. Top of my list would be waking up with the sun, driving into the San Gabriel Mountains, and hiking Mt. Baldy. On the way down as the sun is setting, we’d stop at 7,800 feet elevation for a well-deserved beer and dinner at Top of the Notch Restaurant. And we’d take the ski lift the rest of the way down! The other adventure would be to take the Catalina Express Ferry from Long Beach to Two Harbors, Catalina and stay at the Banning House Lodge or camp out. We would do an all-day hike on the beautiful island where you have expansive 180-degree views of the ocean, lush vegetation and you can see roaming buffalos, rabbits and birds. We’d end, many hours later having done a big loop, and stop at Harbor Reef Saloon for dinner. We could do a taco tour through Los Angeles. The tacos I’m currently missing the most are Mariscos Jalisco in Boyle Heights, Leo’s Tacos Truck off Temple Street in Echo Park, the street tacos on Eagle Rock Boulevard near Target, or we could discover something new by checking out lataco.com. We’d go see great art at the manifold galleries and museums. I would consult my See Saw app to see what exhibitions were up. I would also suggest spending some quality time at LACMA and then eating an incredible Ethiopian dinner at Meals of Genet on Fairfax Ave. But what I am missing the most during this pandemic are friends! I would love to plan a cookout with a big group of friends. We would have fruits and grill vegetables from the many farmer’s markets and groceries stores in Los Angeles, pick up some good meat from Belcompo at Grand Central Market or a big fish from Fish King in Glendale. And tasty wine from Silver Lake Wine or make some margaritas straight off the tree. Thank you for allowing this lush daydream to transpire while I’m in my studio. I love LA so much.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to give a shoutout to Oral History Summer School (OHSS), founded by Suzanne Snider in Hudson, New York. I attended this program a few years ago, but it is the gift that keeps on giving. The program is cross disciplinary and attracts participants from all over the world and from all different fields — artists, media-makers, educators, social workers, documentarians, journalists, and writers. Suzanne Snider and her team do a thorough dive into oral history, ethical interviewing, compassionate listening, listening across differences, and preserving history through marginalized voices. She teaches you how to ask open-ended questions, and better questions that allow for new thoughts, enhanced understanding, discoveries and deeper connections. She sensitizes you to the varying dynamics that exist during a live interview, which contribute greatly to how history is retrieved and recounted, what narratives are voiced, and how transformative the overall experience can potentially be. The compassionate, open-minded listening that OHSS promotes and practices seems more relevant than ever before. This is especially true during a time in history when we are so politically polarized and it has become increasingly challenging to hear or see each other clearly.
I’d also like to dedicate my Shoutout to Baert Gallery, in DTLA. I started to work with this Gallery over the last two years, exhibiting in group shows and more recently Untitled, Art Miami Beach art fair. It’s been a really inspiring and supportive community that encourages experimentation and risk-taking. We’ve had such informative and constructive conversations envisioning future paintings, exhibitions and collaborations. They are excellent at finding clever solutions to make creative pursuits a reality, which has made the business and strategizing component of the practice more accessible and exciting. This has been an especially appreciated lifeline and source of joy over the last year as the pandemic continues to rage and has subsequently left me feeling temporarily isolated from the larger LA art community.
Joshua White – JWPictures (All artwork)