I have noticed of late that I am particularly attracted to artists who continue to reinvent themselves year after year, some of them decades of years, always with fresh insights. They are not just flittering around with art. Their lives are devoted to making art. Their vocabulary remains consistent, but they keep seeing new ways to present their visual ideas.
Brother Mel's "Alphabet"
Cases in point: Brother Mel, of course; April Street; John Baeder; Denise Stewart-Sanabria; Leonard Piha; and Norman Lerner. Each of them in their own ways operate from a central compass, but are always making art about something new they are thinking. They are not artists who simply express themselves through artistic technique. They are artists at their core. They think visually.
Literally, they help the rest of us see. They make things so that we can know more. They respect new materials and new approaches as constantly offering them new ways to present their ideas visually to those of us who are receptive. We will be talking about each of these artist later in this year, but for now, this is Brother Mel’s month at The Arts Company.
Brother Mel "A Lifetime of Making Art" in book sconce
Brother Mel Meyer, a Marianist brother who lives in a Catholic community, has been making art large and small for public, commercial, and private spaces around the world for over 50 years. What he has done all of those years—the variety and substance of it—you can read in a book-length monograph of his lifetime of making art.
What equals his productivity throughout all of his 50+ years as an artist is matched by what he has been to accomplish in his 83rd year. As he approaches his 84th birthday, one can simply look at the highlights of his accomplishments just within the past year to appreciate his contributions as an artist. At the end of the book, Brother Mel: A Lifetime of Making Art (Anne Brown, 2009, The Arts Company Press, Nashville), Brother Mel pointed out that the art he had made to that point was over, but that his expectation was that “the best is yet to come.” Unwittingly, the best of many things unknown to him at that time were yet to come—not just his prolific output as an artist, but also the accolades in the form of high honors that have come his way in less than one year, just since May 2011.
This small update serves as an addendum to the book-length story of his life and work, designed to keep Brother Mel collectors and admirers updated on the work and life of this one artist in the short one-year span of his 83rd year.
To sum up Brother Mel's year:
- An honorary Ph.D. in fine art from St. Louis University- A new sculpture park in downtown St. Louis devoted exclusively to his work
Brother Mel in academic attire when St. Louis University conferred an honorary Ph.D. in fine art on him in May 2011.
- Dozens of special commissions from individuals and institutions
- A museum retrospective: Providential Journey: The Art of Brother Mel now in progress in the St. Louis University Museum of Art
- A group of new sculptures completed and installed at the entrance to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
- More sculpture purchased for additional downtown St. Louis installations
- An art heist in the middle of all of this that made him feel he had “arrived as an artist,” since someone wanted to go to the trouble to steal one of his very large sculptures
- And now, in May and June, 2012, his 14th Annual Artistic Pilgrimage to Nashville, his annual exhibition at The Arts Company in Nashville
With one note added to all of this activity: He has had seven stays in the hospital, with a couple of follow-up rehabilitation residencies. Even in the hospital, he kept thinking visually. Through all of the rigors of his body giving him troubles, he has remained focused on his artwork, which is his way of expressing his spiritual faith and his faith in the value of his life’s work. His work, you might say, continues to sustain him and lift him up.
This recent small icon was inspired by the ceiling tiles in one of his hospital stays in recent months.
For Brother Mel, all of the events, accolades, health challenges, and artistic production are all providential. Things happen as a result of what you do. In that way, his faith is his unwobbling pivot, the center of his spiritual and artistic commitment. His art is what he makes to express that commitment and to connect his visual ideas—whether trivial or intense—with the rest of us.
We welcome you to come sit in Brother Mel’s Reading Chair that we commissioned for this exhibition. We might even roll you up and down 5th Avenue of the Arts in it—in Brother Mel style.
A few of these very recent tissue paintings will be part of Brother Mel's Nashville exhibition.
This exhibition offers a quick survey of the highlights of Brother Mel’s 83rd year. And remind yourself of how neat it is to have such an artist living and working among us, eager to keep bringing new visual insights to us six days a week, 52 weeks of the year.
Brother Mel in his "Reading Chair"