Mel Prest

San Francisco, California, USA

My recent oil paintings chart language, light and sound. The hues arise from the study of shadow and light.

I have used two Japanese syllable-based scripts, hiragana and katakana, in several series of work. The structure of the newest series is based on one pair of lines crossing and the katakana symbol “ro.” This symbol can mean opening, door or exit, and it reminds me of a wheel—in motion and generating energy. These oil on panel paintings are non-objective and process-driven, and allow for contemplation, study and open, varied interpretations. In this way, the lines have shifted, no longer existing in parallel, and the asymmetrical compositions allude to another type of place/space.

On paper, I use a grid to chart names and phrases with colored lines. These drawings began as translated Led Zeppelin songs, each drawing a unique song spelled letter by letter in gouache. On a square I plot a grid of 26 dots that correspond to letters of the English alphabet. I connect the points as I spell out words and map relationships. When mistakes are made, that word appears as a single, discordant color. As the English alphabet became predictable to chart on a grid, I began charting Tokyo, Seoul and Osaka metro lines in hirigana script, plotting a grid of characters based on my ability to remember how to write them. The subsequent grids of 70 dots correspond to the hirigana characters using a limited color palette on 300 lb. Fabriano paper.

My most recent drawings are a mash-up of techniques developed from the song and metro drawings. I phonetically transliterate the Led Zeppelin songs into hirigana. I follow my hirigana map, and then chart each word/character as a series of hand-painted lines. The further I travel from the original reference, the less prescribed and aesthetic the drawings become, creating the opportunity for developing something I cannot completely predict or control.

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