Coffee in Kelowna: Melissa Dinwoodie
Story by Shane Collins
Photo credit and copyrights to Shane Collins & Gonzo Okanagan
To begin. How to begin? It’s a perplexing question to ponder when beginning any artistic endeavor.
To stare at a blank canvas and to know that somehow, in some way, the canvas is staring back, taunting, fucking daring you to begin. And whether it be music or the written word or a painting, you’re not really sure what will be discovered. What will be unearthed. It’s like archeology. You’re not sure what’s beyond the blank canvas but you know that there is something there. Archeologists dig. Artists, like Melissa Dinwoodie, well, she paints.
When I saw Melissa breaking away from her figurative art and showcasing a series of celebrity portraits, I reached out and asked if she’d be interested in having some coffee and chatting about her career. It always makes me a little nervous asking folks to meet with me for these articles. To my delight, she agreed.
It was another hot morning of August here in Kelowna and as I walked into PULP FICTION CAFE, I saw her sitting in the corner, sipping a frappy concoction. She looked up with azure blue eyes and that big smile of hers greeted me. Born in the small town of Armstrong, Melissa has been painting since she was in high school. With a Bachelor in Arts under her belt and over 25+ years in the game, she has worked away at creating and formulating a style all her own. Wild, vibrant colors splash her canvases. Her techniques on lighting, structure and illuminating the facial features of her subjects within her paintings are unmistakable.
Melissa informs me that she is getting ready to set up a series of her pieces for a show in Penticton.
“Are you showcasing these celebrity pieces at the gallery?” I asked.
Melissa brushed her hair to the side and rolled her eyes a little. “Yes. At first I shied away from doing the celebrity thing because I thought it wasn’t creative enough. Like a sell out thing to do but I’ve been taking online courses and I’ve been advised by a few of my instructors to try it out and reach a broader audience. If you’re going to make a buck as a painter these days you have to draw from an online audience. This show is the first time I’ve displayed a collection of famous people.”
I take notes while we chat. “How do you select who you’re going to paint?”
“Honestly, I just select whoever I’m vibing with or I’m commissioned to paint an actor or musician. I just thought I’d give it a go and I guess we’ll see how I do and so far it’s going well.”
She shows me a selection of her work on her instagram page. I see portraits of Bob Marley, Bill Murray, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Betty White amongst many more.
“I like it when I connect with the subjects I paint. Either through movies they’ve starred in or the music I grew up with. Strong female figures like R.B.G. as an example. They’ll all be on display for ART WALK in Lake Country next month. I prefer to paint on larger canvases but I have a bunch of smaller pieces for that show. Something a bit more affordable for the people who come into that kind of exhibit.”
As a commissioned artist, Melissa has worked on all sorts of projects. From large murals to small paintings, figurative works to celebrity portraits, her talent has brought her from humble beginnings to the well known artist she is today. Influences like Lucien Frued, Andrew Salgado, Ashley Longshore, David Hockney and Lewis Rossignol have helped shape her approach to the canvas.
It takes a colossal faith to forge a path through this life as an artist. And it hasn’t been easy. Melissa has tasted both success and failure along the way but like anyone who perseveres over adversity, she doesn’t quit and keeps on her heading towards a life where she works for herself.
We talk about art in today’s world. Challenges of AI now creating images via verbal command is a future that is now here. “One day an authentic painting like mine might be obsolete if everyone can create their own images through voice command on their phones.”
As a photographer, I worry that the cameras in our phones these days rival anything my camera can do. But, if you don’t create a style all your own, it’s just a photo, no matter how good your camera might be. Same thing with her art. Maybe a voice command can create an image of Elvis, but it won’t have the time, the texture on the canvas, or her style. For now, there’s still a place for artists like Melissa.
As we finish our coffee she informs me she is excited to paint. “Who are you painting?”
“I’m not sure. I’m just looking forward to getting to it.”
I ask her to take a few photos of her studio for me and to send a photo of the final piece whenever she is done. We part ways and I drive back home in the sun and as I do I realize how important artists like Melissa are to our community. We have been creating art since humans stood upright.
As AI advances, it threatens the works of artists everywhere. However, I don’t think it’ll ever replace the passion of the artist, the courage, the desire, the will or the pride of an artist putting pen to paper, voice to song, hands to clay, spice to cuisine, movement to sound, lens to landscape or brush to canvas. I have a feeling the artist is here to stay and that puts a smile on my face.
Check out Melissa’s show in Penticton at Long Gallery & Studio and Art Walk in Lake Country September 10 and 11.
Later that day, I received a few photos of Melissa’s studio and a shot of her painting. Then, she sends me the final image. And it’s a portrait of one of my personal heroes, too. Amazing work, Melissa. No matter what, keep doing what you’re doing. The world is a better place where anything can happen within the hands of the artist.