Fine art

Magical realism

Mel Scully's 'mythical and iconic works of nature'


It is always such a pleasure to see an artist’s progression and Mel Scully’s work is certainly no exception. Where many an artist tends toward abstraction after sojourning in more figurative periods, Scully says in the last decade she has shaken the dust off her heels from traveling the long road of abstraction and actively courts her allegorical soul, which she feels she has neglected through decades of fine art training.

“When I went to college it was in the early ‘90s – and everyone was teaching abstract expressionism,” she said about her Bachelor of Fine Art painting degree from Michigan State University in 1993. “So to be a ‘serious’ artist I had to be an abstract artist.” But by the time she went back for her Master of Fine Art in painting from Utah State University at Logan in 2003, everything had changed.

“No one was teaching abstract expressionism! It had somehow switched and there was realism, and even magical realism.”

She realized after all that her own sensibility was actually more like that of a fairy tale. She looks back at art education and trends and feels abstract expressionism was more a symptom of male domination of the arts, rather than any bonafide requirement for being a “serious artist.”

While her oils of the early 2000s were highly abstracted trees, leaves and other of nature’s largesse, her use of gold leaf and glitter throughout are clearly romantic, purely beautiful and even “fey,” as in the fairy world.

“Over the past few years,” she says in her online artist statement, “I have been creating a body of work I call ‘Mythical & Iconic Images of Nature.’ Personally, I am a spiritual slacker, never quite fulfilling my plans to meditate or make it to yoga class. But when I am in nature, I feel like I can glimpse some type of higher self … Some type of beauty and mystery in life.”

Further illuminating her current state of being as an artist, she includes this gorgeous quote by the modern Greek poet and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis: “I said to the almond tree, ‘sister, speak to me of god’ and the almond tree blossomed.”

Her use of negative space is stunning – huge swaths of black or gold or just white space, smack the eye against the huge arc of a deer’s neck or the extending antlers of tree limbs and chimera into stratospheres of wonder; each a geometric, abstract shape in itself.

Since becoming a wife and mother here in Taos, over the past 10 years she has expanded into fanciful animals, notably highly stylized deer and birds, occasionally a cow skull. She takes familiar objects and creates a wholly different world of new objects.

“Love, Death and Guns” is one canvas with a gorgeous, snowy white, cadaverous ruminant skull with two revolvers resting at the base of the antlers – a protest against the Orlando, Florida shootings she says.

“I mean, come on, as a mom – can we just do away with assault rifles?” she asks almost rhetorically.

Most of the canvases are large, three-feet and four-feet square, often with fairly flat colors laid on the canvas in a thick, staccato impasto, creating subtle transformations in her creatures that defy common biology and erupt into tree branches of showering gold and flowers of light.

Actual lace borders run the length of some canvases, while blooms of vintage lace doilies in equally curious patterns tether portions of collage paintings.

“I just started doing the doilies a couple years ago,” Scully said. Chancing upon the lace circles in second-hand stores caught her fancy and she bought all she could find near-about. She just put out a call on social media for more.

Coming upon the old lace in the paintings brings up untold associations in me and obviously her too. The old-fashioned cloths recall cultural structures from some arcane past, forms and phenomena from mysterious depths, lending poetic richness and depth to her work.

She just recently came out of the gallery at El Monte Sagrado’s Resort & Spa where she was represented for years until the recent ownership change. Having been in many Taos commercial galleries since moving back to Taos in 2003, she’s taking a break and shopping her alternatives throughout Northern New Mexico and beyond.

For more of her exquisite imagery or information, see