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Behind the “Vessels of the Avant Garde” with Artist Melanie Van Latum

by Erin Darling 1 December 2009 2,224 views 7 Comments E-mail Erin Darling

Melanie Van Latum is a world-reknown fine artist and street painter, and starting December 10th,  Angelenos can see her newest work at the Deborah Martin Gallery. THE POP FIX’s Erin Darling had a chance to catch up with Van Latum to see what makes her tick, and to talk about her latest inspirations for her “Vessels of the Avant Garde.”

Vessels of the Avant Garde. New Paintings by Melanie Van Latum

Deborah Martin Gallery 209 W 5th St. Los Angeles, CA 90013

December 10, 2009- January 2, 2110

Melanie Van Latum

Melanie Van Latum

Looking at Melanie Stimmell Van Latum’s work you would never guess she began the first eight years of her artistic career as a Technical Director for Comedy Central’s South Park. She is, however, a Graduate of Art Center College of Design and a Signature Member of the Pastel Society of America. She has shown at prominent Southern California Galleries such as La Luz De Jesus, The Brewery, The 57 Underground, Spring Arts Collective, and Deborah Martin Gallery. In addition to her Fine Art, Melanie is also a leader in the Street Painting world. A hobby she began while on hiatus from South Park, she is now the only female street painter to have the title of Maestro and several gold medals in both Italy and Germany. Co-Founder of two influential organizations in the street painting world, Street Painting Society and the Street Painting Academy, Melanie has consulted, painted, and held soft pastel painting workshops for clients in Turkey, Holland, France, and Canada and throughout the U.S. She continues to paint for select clients and recently directed a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling on the streets of London, Canada. Melanie is a strong supporter of Arts in Education and Therapy and shares her love of painting with the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles Music Center, Cal State Fullerton, Irvine Valley College, and her own Street Painting Academy.

Q. How did you begin your career as an artist?

A. I started my career, just after college, as a Lead Technical Director on the feature film “South Park; Bigger, Longer, & Uncut,” which was rather random considering I was a painter. Studying Illustration at Art Center in Pasadena, I took a few animation classes for fun and ended up working for South Park for 8 years. During those years, however, I would paint any chance I could. Hiatus was a great time for me to street paint in different cities around the world, mostly for fun. Within the first year, I was receiving requests to travel to different countries and U.S. cities to paint for festivals and cultural events. After hiatus was over I’d head back to South Park and sketch ideas for new paintings in between work loads. The hours were long so I needed that escape. After a few years I had a few street painting medals and titles, and a series of fine art paintings that I was ready to show.

Q. Did you always know you wanted to be artist, when did you know this was your calling in life?

A. My favorite past time as a child was coloring. I loved to color with markers. Anything with color was fantastic and my parents encouraged it. But it wasn’t until high school that I realized it was what I wanted to do. My original career idea before that realization was court stenography. Can you imagine? I can’t sit still to save my life. I would never be able to sit in a quiet court room all day behind a tiny typewriter. But, if I’m painting, I can spend hours and hours in front of my easel & completely zone out.

Q. I’ve read that your inspirations range from religion, to Victorian art, to the singer Madonna. That’s really interesting. Can you elaborate how these influences contribute to your unique style?

A. I was always drawn to the sweet and whimsical imagery of children’s fairy tales. Nursery rhymes and riddles drew me in with their enchanting damsels and magical creatures. It wasn’t until I worked as a technical director for Comedy Central’s South Park that I began to explore the darker realm of these fairy tales. Surrounded by taboo themes and raunchy humor in a predominately male workplace, the need for me to express my own female viewpoint seemed imperative. My personal work began to portray images of very sensual feminine figures. Drawing inspiration from the master works of the Baroque, Rococo, and the Italian and French Classicists, I’d spend hours salivating over the luscious paintings of artists like Adolph-William Bouguereau and the incredibly fluid Art Nouveau. Teetering atop my inspirations are the influences of my own virtuous milieu and the natural relationship that I easily find between the idea of beauty and femininity in art, from the Madonna and Saints to glamorous Hollywood starlets. There is such longevity in the image these women represent.

Painting figures that represent the ‘Eternal Woman’ as domestic goddess or the vintage idea of feminine beauty as provocative ornamentations is what I was born to do. Superficially, they are decorative vessels of fertility. Beneath, however, they are haunting heroines leading my exploration of a woman’s role in the survival of tomorrow’s humanity. My Vessels, illuminated and adorned are accompanied only by the creatures that dwell silently, in their midsts.

Q. In regards to your background as a street painter, what came first; fine art, or the street painting?

Painting, in general, is what I love to do. Oil painting came first by way of college. I enjoyed it so much but really wasn’t confident in the subjects I was painting. When I started street painting, just on a whim, I was recreating the works of the old masters. Famous paintings that people would instantly recognize or have a connection with really took my painting techniques to a new level. I learned so much at Art Center but having to reproduce a famous piece of art, that everyone is familiar with, really leads you to study every nuance of that artists process so that you know exactly how to recreate it. Once I felt I knew how to paint on the asphalt, my technique on the canvas improved and everything else followed. I was inspired and confident in new ways that lead to explorations in my personal work. Now I am able to do both, which keeps me busy and constantly evolving.

Q. Considering you’re experienced in many different areas, and different styles, what can we expect to see at your upcoming show at the Deborah Martin Gallery?

A. Well, the series I will be showing at the Deborah Martin Gallery is my most personal and provocative work to date. All the imagery was created without a preconceived idea of what the work should be. I just let my sub-conscience lead the way. Bringing together my two passions, you will find both soft pastel portraiture and large dramatic oil paintings with a baroque flair. I think both are haunting with a hint of whimsey. I’ve also created a 13th painting to auction off for PAWS/LA. They are a wonderful charity that helps people with terminal illnesses care for their pets, who are sometimes their only companions.


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  • Stephanie Stephens said:


    You are so talented…. What more can I say.

  • Tim said:

    Great paintings!

  • Bruno Fabriani " Madoner" said:

    Bellissime Opere, Maestro!!
    Grande Maniera.


  • Ann Hefferman said:

    Proud to know you Mel! Sorry I am missing your show.

  • Jan Smelser said:

    Melanie.. thank you so much for all the hard work you have put into our festival. You are an incredible artist and your organizational skills are fantastic. The Sistine Chapel ceiling was your project and you pulled it off. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.. your artwork never ceases to amaze me.. Jan

  • Remmie said:

    Kiss! Love you. Your show is Fenominabel!

  • Trina said:

    Gorgeous work.

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