Ask an artist. A gallery visit with Mel Kolstad. - Ep. 13
[Dana Coyhis] Ok... I don’t know... I never know where to start these things. So sometimes I just like to start in the middle. *laughs* Hey… hi internet. How’s it going?
[Mel Kolstad] I’m short...
[Dana] I’m tall… You know, we learn as we go, right? And the last couple of interviews, the heights have been the same. You know, I probably just need to be further away. That’s probably what needs to happen here. *laughs*
[Mel] Now it almost looks like a performance art piece. If you need to adjust the Manfrotto, I don’t mind.
[Dana] No, that’s probably fine. You know, we should probably just get right into the interview. This is over the shoulder interview if we can’t get that thing right. Maybe it’s best if I’m off camera. Normally, I’m in the frame, so it’s a little bit...
[Mel] We can actually make fun of the fact that our height is so different that poor Dana is relegated to behind the camera today because I am so short you guys. So I apologize. Hi Dana, you are here.
[Dana] Hello! *waves from behind the camera* Hi!
[Mel] But when you’re 5’1”, what what are you going do.
[Dana] Oh my gosh, I’m a foot taller. That’s why, that’s what it is. Ok, we’ve figured it out. So, to start it off, who are you?
[Mel] I am Mel Kolstad. I am a print maker and collagist, and I make my home here in Fond du Lac.
[Dana] You’re a print maker and collagist, and I saw in another interview that you said that you didn’t start right away. It’s something that came later.
[Mel] I never studied art in high school or college like a lot of people do. I was in my late thirties when I started. I had a very latent art career, and I am still amazed that I get to do this for a living. It’s incredible.
[Dana] Do you think that starting later influenced your art in any way?
[Mel] I think I never went through that period where I took pictures of my feet or drew a lot of horses. I think I came at it from a purely nostalgic standpoint because I started with collage that I would make from vintage ephemera that I was collecting, and that was a lifelong hobby for me. I started doing that when I was 14, and stamp collecting even earlier than that. I was using the materials I was collecting my whole life. And then when the vintage craze hit in the mid to late aughts is when I started doing that, and then that just got me into everything else. I just started taking classes in anything that interested me, and it’s informed my work ever since.
[Dana] What are you challenges in creating your art?
[Mel] Space, I think is probably the biggest challenge.
[Dana] All of your stuff is tiny.
[Mel] It is, and that actually is by design. I love working small, so that is not a hindrance for me. But because my space, my studio is in a bedroom in our house, so it is small, and I don’t have a work sink in my studio, or anything like that. So I do have to utilize our kitchen in our home for anything that has water in it, but I’ve always loved working tiny. Since I was a kid, I have always been drawn to miniature everything. When the opportunity arose to do this show here at the Thelma, I was actually asked to do this back in January of 2018, I knew immediately that I wanted to do a lot of something that was small. I didn’t want to do like some of my friends do seven feet tall by three feet wide, that’s not who I am. And I didn’t want to ruin this opportunity, or quelch it in any way doing something I wasn’t comfortable doing. That’s why they are all small. I thought, alright, I’m going to challenge myself to do 200. I’m sticking to it because I can’t disappoint anyone. I’m not going to ruin the opportunity and then fall short and just get 100 done. So this was my 2018. This was basically from April 1 until literally I finished the last piece on New Year’s Eve, so this was my 2018. This defines my year.
[Dana] With all of these little pieces, is there one bigger story?
[Mel] The reason the show is called “200 Days: A Life in the Quotidian", and quotidian means daily, so that is why I specifically chose pieces that were just things that happened during my day. There was an instance with my mom where she became gravely ill, and so that was June 5 through the end of June and that absolutely informed my month because we were spending a lot of time at the hospital, at the nursing home, and things like that. That certainly did define my month, but other than that if you look through some of the pieces, one is of a Pop-Tart because my friend Amy and I were at the Colectivo in Grafton, and decided she was going to have a Pop-Tart. One is of a snake plant we were gifted and now resides in my living room. It’s just very ordinary things and that’s what I liked, because every one is completely different and there’s not a week long of an event that happened or anything like that.
[Dana] And they are all in order by day, right?
[Dana] So as you walk through here, do you find yourself reliving some of last year, 2018?
[Mel] Absolutely. And I can tell you if somebody says “Oh I really love July 23rd”, I can tell you what that is. Because you are working so intimately with these pieces, that you can’t help but remember where you were when it happened and all of that kind of stuff. And, what’s weird, I didn’t work sequentially when I was watercoloring them or printing them. It wasn’t like I was doing an entire print every day. I would scratch the plexiglass, and then I would wait until I had 50, and then I would do two days worth of printing. I could be working on a July day in October. And that’s why it took me through New Year’s because there were so many pieces there was no way I was going to get one a day done. While I was scratching the plexiglass or printing, I remembered what I was doing on those days. It so weird, the whole year is...
[Dana] It’s a diary of sorts?
[Mel] It’s absolutely a timeline, and that’s why I did the pieces like this, why they are in a straight line. I wanted it to be sort of a literal timeline of a journey of my days, of my 200 days.
[Dana] Most years, I forget about. Most days in most years, I forget about. If something bad happens, I repress it and I don’t want to deal with it, or I deal with it and it’s there. Having a diary, or witness to every moment of 2018, how do you think it’ll be five years from now when you’re looking back?
[Mel] I love the weather. I call myself a weather-weenie because I’m that person who was like “Oh yeah, it was cloudy that day”. It’s weird. So when I look back at some of these, and some of them absolutely deal with the weather, because we had that weir snowstorm in April, that was bizarre. There’s about three of them that deal with that weird April weather, so five years from now, I’ll be like “Oh yeah, I remember that”. Everyday things, like I have a piece that I believe is May 1st, about watching Netflix, something that all of us do, right, but I’ll remember taking that photo and watching Netflix that night. It’s so random and weird but I love it.
[Dana] Wow. This took me away from my questions. I’m into the story. I’m just thinking...
Complete transcript forthcoming.
Mel’s work is showing at Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts from March 7 through April 20, 2019.
Mel’s TEDx talk - https://youtu.be/D1TdS71N6tY
Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts is located at 51 Sheboygan St., in the heart of Downtown Fond du Lac’s Arts and Entertainment District. THELMA is a member-based, privately-funded non-profit 501(c)(3) organization enriching our community through the arts. Intimate concerts in the Great Hall, street concerts with major performers, indoor films, and art from world-renowned artists are available at THELMA. THELMA also offers a stunning backdrop for weddings, meetings and all social and corporate gatherings. Learn more about THELMA at thelmaarts.org