Less than a mile from Route 44’s constant stream of commerce lies the jewel box home of artist and retired Rhode Island College educator John deMelim. Moss covers the roof of the studio, trees protect the house from the road and two statues of Buddha watch over the gardens. In the backyard, an expansive view of the reservoir unfolds.
As beautiful as the house and setting are, it is the collection of art and artifacts inside that truly wows. Large wooden figures and small stone figurines from Mali and Papua New Guinea are everywhere. Shoji screens are used as curtains, light fixture covers and shower doors. Posters from Japan and Greece line the walls of a bedroom. And tucked in between the traveler’s treasure trove are the two- and three-dimensional collages of John deMelim.
An educator at RIC for nearly 40 years, deMelim was an integral force in the creation of the college’s art department with an art major and a Bachelor of Arts degree. For several years every student that attended RIC was required to take his class “Visual Arts in Society,” the only art class the college offered. Now the college offers degrees in studio art (ceramics, digital media design, graphic design, metalsmithing & jewelry, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture), art education and art history.
deMelim loves teaching and he loves traveling. He and his late wife Mary explored the world and in each location, the deMelims found something to bring back. They stuffed bags full of the aforementioned figurines. deMelim cut pieces of graphics, calligraphy and designs from old billboards and brought the heavy fragments home in a suitcase.
Much later he would soak them, then meticulously separate and dry the fragments for use in his own collages.
He started using collage as a graduate student at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico as a way to enhance his painting. Later, he focused on collage as an art form in itself.
deMelim explains his connection to the medium:
“In our daily lives, one is visually assaulted by a million different realities. They collide, merge, blend, overlap, crumble, flash and disappear, from which some semblance of truth is created momentarily in the conscious as a montage of living experience.” The medium of collage, deMelim feels, is the most cohesive way to represent the myriad of differing realities we experience each day.
His collages work on both visual and emotional levels. deMelim plays with space using abstract shapes, colors and letter forms. Sometimes the palette is muted and quiet, even black and white. At other times, the collages are punctuated with strong bright bursts of pure color.
Then deMelim really starts to play. He includes fragments of art he created long ago, screen prints and embossings rich with texture. In go pieces of the lovingly collected graphics of other cultures and small curious 3-dimernsional pieces gathered here and there.
For over sixty years, the spry 89-year-old deMelim has explored the world through the prism of collage. His work is both a celebration of life and a siren song that evokes the collective human longing for something more. Somehow through this multi-tiered and all-inclusive approach, deMelim creates a cohesive world that mirrors the human condition