On the surface, Las Vegas artists Mark Mellon and Heather Hermann couldn’t be more different. The former specializes in surreal, aggressively strange paintings of architecture and landscapes while the latter strives for enchantment with her art deco-meets-’80s-cartoons approach. Together, though, their work speaks to the issues of our time—construction stasis and crumbling real estate, and an expanding “mash-up” culture, old and new blended into a beguiling whole.
“Mark and I started a conversation online when [Blackbird owner] Gina Quaranto said we’d be showing together,” Hermann says. “We struggled at first to develop the show in a collaborative way, but it has turned into something really exciting for us, and hopefully for people who come to see the show.” Actually, this isn’t the first time Hermann and Mellon have shown together. In November, local indie-rock band Halloween Town played in the Twelve21 Gallery on Main Street, where the two artists, plus Biscuit Street Preacher, displayed some strong pieces. Songs about characters being beaten up by—and yet somehow clinging to hope in—Las Vegas reverberated. Indeed, the raucous guitars enhanced Mellon and Hermann’s artworks, imbuing them with raw, pop energy.
“We both have that element to what we do,” Mellon says. “Heather’s method is a more refined Steampunk look; mine is bit rougher.” By “rough,” Mellon means primeval. His towering, abstract temples and dilapidated, futuristic cityscapes reflect a fascination with and intense study of ziggurats. These massive structures of prehistoric Mesopotamia were said to be gateways for human consciousness, spiritual forms and gods. Some of these fantastic gods appear in Mellon’s non-cityscapes, like “Backwards in the Shadow of Your Reflection,” in which a three-armed giant wields fire.
“I had these temples and beings in the back of my mind as I worked on this show,” he says. “I just let my imagination go where it wanted, and these popped out.”
Mellon, a creative odd-jobber who does private and corporate commissions, lacks formal training other than painting classes at Las Vegas Academy (LVA) where he graduated in ’98. He has no explanation for the colorful and gorgeously epic mega-town of “The Universe Has Begun Its Process in the Twilight of Creation,” other than that he enjoys reading philosophy and relies on the automatic drawing, or surrealist automatism, to create forms. He expresses his subconscious by letting his hand move “randomly” across the canvas. Chance and accident are integral to his mark-making process.
In addition to his elaborate, large-scale paintings, Mellon’s half of the Blackbird show, titled Misplaced Faith in Gravity, involves 15 sketches mounted to scrap wood. The sketches are of cartoonish, feisty “little guys,” who Mellon suggests symbolize humanity’s tribalism.
“We’re still the same as we’ve always been, trapped in our tribal mentality, wearing our loincloths, fighting other tribes,” he says, laughing. “It’s a commentary.”
The weird sketches complement the unpopulated paintings. And they’re in perfect harmony with Hermann’s adorably interstellar works. Her half is called Decaying ‘Deco’Dence and Sweet Curiosities.
“Ours is a true collaboration for a two-person show,” Hermann says. “We went back and forth on color schemes, and we looked for connections and patterns.”
Hermann, a.k.a. Calliopie, is preoccupied with making paintings and sculptural toys of creatures that “live behind your wall sockets.” With their creepy (and real porcelain) teeth and thrones of light switches and fuse boxes, they resemble ready-made movie tie-ins for a Gremlins-like popcorn flick. Her paintings, meanwhile, are cosmically inclined. For example, there’s “Metropolis Transformation,” a sweeping homage to Fritz Lang’s film masterwork Metropolis (1927) and artist Osamu Tezuka’s 2001 manga variation of the same name. Indeed, gazing into this piece is like being sucked into a dense, exquisitely rendered whirlpool of film and literary references.
Hermann, 23, is also an LVA grad, custom-toy fan, ’80s cartoon junkie and Steampunk aficionado. Her website includes photos of her posing in a leather aviator helmet and flight goggles, armed with an 18th-century, ivory-handled parrot flintlock (essentially an old pirate pistol). One gets the sense that she’s nothing less than a living encyclopedia of pop culture. But that’s only one side of her.
In her teens, Hermann interned and attended workshops at the Royal London Ballet, and worked as a professional ballerina before immersing herself in costume design. “I was always into costumes even while dancing,” she says. “My forte is 1920s period—art deco, vaudeville and fantasy design.”
It’s an interest that she has incorporated into her art, which makes her stand out. Her dancing background comes in handy, too when it’s time for Hermann to perform a belly-dancing or vaudeville routine at her show.
“As a performance artist, I get to complement my artwork by offering a living, breathing example of a vintage performance. It gives people a different appreciation for and perspective on 1920s American culture.”