News Column

Eric James Mellon

February 6, 2014

Tanya Harrod, theguardian.com

Eric James Mellon , who has died aged 88, was a painter, printmaker and ceramicist who decorated bowls, plates and tiles with mythological scenes, mermaids, circus performers and entwined lovers. He carried out extensive research into ash glazes, which enabled him to draw and paint on ceramic, using an underglaze palette of oxides, and to fire to high temperatures without losing colour, brushwork and accuracy of line. The effects he achieved in ceramic were unique. Mellon was a product of the skills-oriented training offered by British art schools until the early 1960s. The son of a cabinet-maker, he was born in Watford , Hertfordshire . He was a delicate child who decided to be an artist when he was eight, while watching an uncle draw. At 13 he attended Watford Technical and Art Institute to prepare for a career in the local printing industry. At weekends he would cycle down to Harrow School of Art for life drawing and pottery classes. He was debarred by childhood illnesses from military service in the second world war. In 1944 he enrolled at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London to study book production and printmaking. The wood-engraver John Farleigh was a particular mentor and Mellon's early neo-romantic prints show Farleigh's influence. In 1947 he began a lifelong career in teaching at boys' clubs, working men's institutes and from 1950 at the unlikely-sounding Ministry of Fuel and Power Art Club , later the Thames House South Art Club , where he taught off-duty civil servants. In the same year he began working for the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge , designing display and exhibition stands, subsequently carrying out design work for other charitable organisations including the Missions to Seamen and the Foreign Bible Society . In 1952, he set up a community at Hillesden vicarage, Buckinghamshire , with fellow artists John Clarke , Mary Mansfield , Derek Davis , Ruth Lambert and Martina Thomas . The atmosphere was youthful and dedicated. In 1956 he married Thomas, and the couple settled in Bognor Regis, West Sussex , in a house designed by Mellon's brother, turning it into a cell of good living a place utterly dominated by the making of art. Martina painted bold CÉzanne-inspired landscapes and still lifes, exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy in the 1950s and early 1960s. Mellon painted, carved in wood and, as a printmaker, investigated monotypes, wood engraving, lithographs, aquatints and etchings. His omnivorous reading from Flann O'Brien's anarchic comic novel The Third Policeman via Edward Armstrong's The Folklore of Birds to LempriÈre's Classical Dictionary flowed into his art. So too did his love for, and fascination with, the human form. Life-drawing from female models was central but his finished works invariably had a mythological dimension. If Mellon's models were an unusually vital inspiration, he also drew strength from visits to the circus, from portraiture and from the old masters, taking in work as diverse as Rembrandt's etchings and Carlo Crivelli's Annunciation in the National Gallery . In 1958 Mellon, who had previously worked in earthenware, was introduced to stoneware by the potter Rosemary Wren and began making a series of bowls decorated with images of Daphne and Apollo, the beginning of what the classical scholar Oswyn Murray described as Mellon's "democratisation of the Greek myths". Pots were marked with Mellon's signature and a drawing of a fox. In 1965 Mellon had begun researches into ash glazes, using ash from trees and plants in his garden, from 1979 assisted by Mabel Padfield , a scientifically trained neighbour. In 1973 Mellon was appointed head of art at Slindon College , a boys' boarding school in West Sussex with a beautiful naturally lit art room. He taught there for 20 years and from 1975 held summer schools at the college and in Cornwall , inviting fellow artists to work for free alongside his evening-class students. Watching Mellon drawing was a central attraction, as he drew directly from the life model on to biscuit-fired clay. Mellon had become a founder member of the Craftsmen Potters Association in 1958. He had more than 30 solo exhibitions, many of which concentrated on his ceramics. One of the most recent was a 2012 show at the Ariana Museum in Geneva , headquarters of the International Academy of Ceramics . Ceramics by Mellon are in many British public collections including Chichester's Pallant House Gallery , the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the York Museums Trust , as part of the William Ismay collection. With Paul Foster , Mellon wrote Decorating Stoneware: Ash Glazes and the Art of the Brush (2007). Foster's Eric James Mellon : 65 Years of Printmaking (2010) forms a guide to his prints and Eric James Mellon : Ceramic Artist (2000) to his pottery. In person, Mellon looked the very image of a bohemian and visionary artist, passionate to communicate the centrality of art to a civilised existence, bespectacled, and, in later life, sporting a majestic white beard. He has been interviewed for Crafts Lives , part of the National Life Stories oral-history project at the British Library , and by Recording the Crafts , a project based at the School of Creative Arts at the University of the West of England , Bristol . Martina died in 1995. Mellon is survived by two children, Martin and Tessa . Eric James Mellon , ceramicist, painter and printmaker, born 30 November 1925 ; died 14 January 2014


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Source: Guardian Web


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