By Elizabeth Harry
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To give some context to her Freewheelin’ Series of linocut prints, Barbara Mellin points to this dictionary entry:

Freewheeling verb [no obj.] “to ride a bicycle with the pedals at rest, especially downhill -(usu. as adj. freewheeling) act without concern for rules, conventions, or the consequences of one's actions.

This series repeats the same image, ¼ of a bicycle wheel, in endless combinations of patterns, colors, and orientations. The effect is transformative. Spokes become butterfly wings, flowers, and juicy slices of grapefruit. Mellin explains, “I love to experiment with elements of the printing process: plates, color, materials, composition. I become intrigued with the idea that one very simple, small pattern could offer endless possibilities of design, much like a piece of material in a quilt.” Imagine Mellin’s hands coasting through stacks of multicolored prints, arranging and rearranging until something magic happens.

Read more about the artist, in her own words:

 Who are you and what do you do? Include a little about your background.

I relocated from the Boston area to NC about nine years ago.

I am a member of the Printmakers of North Carolina, Women Painters of the Southeast, Oil Painters of America, Associated Artists of Winston Salem, Muddy River Art Association, Yadkin Cultural Arts Center, the AFAS Group, and Winston Salem Writers.  My art has been exhibited throughout the United States.  This month (July, 2017) I have prints in three national juried shows: at the Attleboro Art Museum in Massachusetts, the Houston Bicycle Museum in Texas, and the Visual Art Exchange Gallery in Raleigh, NC. In 2018, I have two one-woman shows scheduled, one at the Alamance Art Council in Graham, NC (Jan.-Mar.) and one at the Hiddenite Arts and Heritage Center, Hiddenite, NC (July).

I teach college classes in Humanities and Asian Art. I am a columnist for Renaissance magazine and write about art and travel in Winston-Salem’s For Seniors Only. I have had hundreds of articles on art and culture published in national and international magazines. I was the teaching director for more than 20 years of The Young Artist Studio in Reading, MA.  In addition, I’m currently working on a book about the American artist Frank Vincent DuMond, based on my thesis from Harvard University, for which I won the Crite Prize in Humanities.

My art passions are printmaking and painting.  I am thrilled to have received the 2017/18 Arts Council’s ArtPop Award which showcases my art on a billboard for one year.


What would you like to highlight about your pieces on display at GreenHill? 

I become intrigued with the idea that one very simple pattern could offer endless possibilities of design. I wanted a subject that was familiar to many, but that could be lost in the composition, something simultaneously simple and complex. The base image is one-quarter sections of a bicycle wheel that I carved in a lino-block and hand printed in four colors. Those printed images were then reproduced in multiple photographs that I collaged into the final art pieces. All of the square artworks in the series are made up of 16 small 4” photo squares, but the effects are intriguingly different. For the larger rectangular pieces, I use images with a thin border. This gives the illusion of a window pane, allowing the art to take on a stained glass quality. And, as I mentioned, the possibilities are limitless.


How has your practice changed over time? 

I have been involved with art all my life. I taught studio classes to children and college courses. Since relocating to North Carolina and establishing a studio with a small press in my home, I have really focused on printmaking.  I love all aspects of the printmaking process from mezzotints, to dry-point etchings, to linocuts, to collages and monoprints. There is a physical connection with the final image in printmaking that engages me.  I also conduct workshops and offer talks in printmaking, Chinese brush painting and the local arts scene. (I will be teaching a workshop, Block Printing on Fabric at the Yadkin Center for the Arts, Yadkinville, on September 23, 2017).


What is integral to your work as an artist?

I think variety and change are integral. I like to explore many avenues of art. As an art historian, I really delight in reinterpreting historical processes and subjects for contemporary audiences. I love a new challenge.


What themes do you pursue?                                                                                                                                         

I have a hard time settling on one thing. I find inspiration from travel and observing different cultures, colors and customs of the world. I am inspired by art history and find I want to recreate the deep velvet blacks of Baroque mezzotints and wild color splashes in more modern prints. I love nature, especially trees and flowers. And I enjoy experimenting with pattern variations.


What is your dream project? 

Once I get an idea, I want to explore all of its possibilities. That’s what happened with the Freewheelin’ series, which started out with a brief reference and a 4-inch square print. Right now, I’m especially interested in white line prints. These were developed by a group of women in the 1920s/30s, known as the Provincetown Printers, who wanted to created multi-colored prints using one block, similar to the then-new Japanese woodblocks that had just been introduced to the U.S. I am reinterpreting their ideas using linocut blocks as well as wood and employing newly created water-based, non-toxic inks, such as Akua. Rather than cutting out shapes, only the outlines of the work are cut away (leaving a white-line, much like a drawing, when printed). Then each color is added separately to the print using a registration system that my husband created and built for me. I’ve been thinking I’d like to develop a series based on my travels (to China, Egypt, Europe, NW Canada, Peru, Thailand, etc.).


You can find a selection of Barbara Mellin's Freewheelin' Series prints in The Shop at GreenHill.