Carmel McGrath is an Australian artist who works with posca pens (paint pens) and acrylics to bring together clean, bold lines, and bursts of colour into singular works reflective of her unique interpretation of the world around us. Heavily influenced by the ocean and seasons, McGrath is a self-taught artist that has been drawing since she was a child. She writes that the experience of growing as an artist independently, at her own pace, and outside of institutions, has allowed her to freely embrace the idea that art has no rules, no rights, and no wrongs.
And the results of that ideology are pretty incredible.
Stretch was the result of a geometric phase bursting into McGrath’s head and out through her posca pens and acrylics on to canvas while she was working through an animal series. Her process starts with simple sketches, so whilst sketching out some animals in a notepad, she found herself with ruler in hand, cutting sharp, clean lines on to the giraffe where normally we’d see spots. The idea is that Stretch is sticking his neck out and being different. He seems to almost be smirking, with his pride in his long lashes seeping out from the painting.
Lionheart was a part of the same set as Stretch. Lions are often portrayed as being big – a strong, stoic presence. But this guy features a patchwork heart and a quiet acceptance of his right to be sad. McGrath writes that she painted Lionheart while her “heart was torn.” This painting was pure catharsis. McGrath believes that art, both the process and the sharing of it, is therapy. She states that everyone has an artist inside them; it’s just a matter of tapping into it.
Having grown up by the ocean, the artist feels a strong connection to the sea. She’s inspired by it and its ability to demand our full attention. Whether we’re standing in front of the ocean, or diving into it, we can completely lose ourselves.
I’d Rather Be Here is one of a very small number of Mel’s paintings where the title came right away. Naming her paintings can take days of taking photos of the finished product and sitting with the piece until it comes. But all she could think through the process of this piece was that she wanted to be inside the painting. The ocean – empty on the surface, with the consistency of waves rolling through – fixes everything, especially for those of us who grew up there. Mel nails that calm, that sense that this vast thing can reset us, in the bold, unforgiving black lines that pull her ocean, this ocean together.
Inspiration can be found in the strangest of places. Pinnacles was inspired by a travel blog centered around a couple who went on a weekend escape and decided to pack up for 3 months and just go. The near Dr. Seuss-ian mountain scene is about that feeling we grab on to when we really allow ourselves to be lost in nature. It’s about standing at a peak and feeling small, floating, and both taking in our surroundings and becoming a part of the landscape. There is solace in the natural world – and there is nature in our own unnatural perspective as we become a part of it.
One of Mel’s personal favorite paintings is Night Seas. It’s simple. Minimalist. And yet the vastness that the blue/navy/black piece manages to fit into a single canvas keeps the viewers eyes tracing the big swirls of moonlight on water for far longer than expected. This is the ocean on canvas. This is a simplicity that complicates itself in the most calming manner.
In 2012, Carmel quit her 9-5 job and started up Mel Design, her digital gallery. In the years after, she became a Resident Artist at Bondi Art Lounge, exhibiting every month with a handful other local artists. This collaborative effort led to some phenomenal growth, both personal and artistic, as the two so often go hand in hand. Her first exhibition led to a huge shift in thinking. The process of creating art had been therapeutic for a long time, but sharing her art quickly became the best part. There was a sense of validation at the first exhibition. She writes that as artists we judge our work harshly and are often our own worst critics. To have a complete stranger say that they loved her work and connected with it was huge.
McGrath feels very privileged and blessed to be able to do what she loves, but growing the business of art hasn’t been easy. She has spent the last couple of years building up a presence on social media. She states that if she could, she would purely do commissioned work. The challenge of bringing other people’s ideas to life is a remarkable thing that, whilst always a little different, always results in a very heart-centered piece. The feeling of collaborating with clients to create unique works that are going to hang in their homes to be loved and appreciated is quite special. This is even truer in her recent work with murals, crafting massive pieces that have heart in every inch.
To date it’s all been about original works, but Mel has new designs in the pipeline, with a limited print range to be released soon. Carmel McGrath’s work can be found in her Bluethumb Gallery and also on her website, Mel Design. Don’t miss this opportunity to connect with the artist!