Link between humans and earth

Estelle Sinkins - Weekend Witness

The intimate connection between humans and the earth is the foundation stone of all Lara Mellon’s work. “I grew up on a small farm [outside Springs on the East Rand] hence my strong connection to the earth, which is also a strong focus of my work at the moment,” the artist tells me when we meet at the KZNSA Gallery in Bulwer Road, Durban. “My work is all about connections between the earth and people.” Mellon, who lives in Durban North with her husband, Patrick, and children, Andrea and James, works mainly in mixed media and oil on canvas, although right now she’s concentrating on photo collages on an oil painted landscape base. “The people in the pictures are placed in such a way that it appears that they are emerging from the paint,” she explains. “The mood that comes across in Africa in all its uniqueness, its vibrancy.”

To capture these images, Mellon has beed driving around with her camera on her lap, taking photos of ordinary people going about their daily lives. “They are strangers in a sense, but, at the same time they aren’t because they are part of my life at that moment,” she says. “I have this intimacy with people and yet I don’t know them.”

The idea for the new works, some of which will form part of the exhibition “Scratching Surfaces” – alongside works by Renee Leslie, Lesley Magwood-Fraser, Joan Martin and Maggie Strachan – at the Kizo Gallery in Umhlanga from March 26 to April 26, emerged following her preparation for a landscape exhibition at the Coningsby Gallery in London last December.

For the exhibition, entitled “The South African Connection” and staged alongside Maggie Strachan, Mellon travelled to Clarence and took pictures – 1 172 of them to be precise.

“I captured people during the journey and it got me thinking. People move in and out of landscapes … I think it shows the frailty of human beings compared to landscapes which seem timeless. The pictures are magnitized and can be moved around the landscapes. It’s interactive art – you can move the pictures around or remove them completely.”

After her stint in London, the works continued to evolve in preparation for an exhibition in Berlin entitled “Rich Terrain”, alongside artist Roz Cryer: “I worked with images on oil paintings. The pictures wouldn’t stick properly, they rolled up at the edges. It made me think again of the frailty of people … we are not going to be here forever.”

That frailty and the need to care for the earth was also the focal point of her entry in this year’s KZNSA Member’s Exhibition – “(Green)(Bar) Code: Red Alert!”

“I really love the earth and particularly frica,” she says. “My piece is about that love for the earth and the belief that instead of being complelled to do something about protecting it that we shold all learn to live in a natural system. It would make us more empowered.”

But the artist was also worried about the reaction she would get to the mixed media work: “I felt I was going out on a limb. It is not a traditional painting where people can admire the technique. I was following my heart and could easily have been told it was junk and that I should take it away.” Her fears were unfounded and she was rewarded with third prize in the competition. In 2000 Mellon decided to go professional. “If I am not painting or being creative I feel off-balance. I also believe the process keeps you humble with its physical work, its thoughts and emotions.”

Mellon has one other passion – Shepherd’s Keep, an Umbilo-based charity that cares for abandoned babies – and she puts her money where her mouth is by giving a portion of her sales to the organisation.

For more information about Shepherd’s Keep telephone 031 466 6106 or log on to