Asheville, North Carolina, painter Kreh Mellick’s keen eye for the constant and the moving was birthed out of long hours of studying an unlikely subject: old machine drawings.
While flipping through those sketches, Kreh noticed the images were always printed in two colors – black for the stagnant mechanized parts and red for the components in motion. The simple and symbolic colors struck Kreh immediately. Black for what is and red for what might be, bridging the chasm between the living and the dead, all within one picture. The sketches captured Kreh’s imagination, and the color palette never left her brush.
“Initially just the graphic quality of those two colors attracted me,” Kreh says. “Then I started playing with the idea of the constant and the changing, and I started using a lot of imagery of ghosts. I played with black as representing something alive and unchanging, and red representing the non-living and ethereal.”
With that key in hand, admirers can unlock the meaning in Kreh’s paintings. There are gray, stoic faces, thin ghostly figures, and the ever-present feeling that the characters she draws are filled with secrets. She uses gouache, a ink-based watercolor that can be manipulated to be solid or transparent, much like the themes she addresses through the brush.
Far from traditional, but not so removed from reality to be called abstract, Kreh realizes her work requires viewers to maintain a sense of liveliness. In the vein of Flannery O’Conner, Wes Anderson or her favorite illustrator Edward Gorey, Kreh’s paintings are simultaneously whimsical and theatrical, even while stirring something uneasy within.
Kreh strikes that delicate balance by keeping a strong sense of humor about her work. Over the years, Kreh has gathered inspiration from serious Victorian portraits as well as a quirky sketchbook her great-grandmother kept for painting designs on lamps and furniture. It’s all a part of Kreh’s mode of operation – using what you have at your fingertips and always returning to what inspires.
“I can’t do a realistic painting…I don’t work that way,” she admits. “So I use what I’ve got and try to do the best I can. I’m not trying to be a modern artist, and I’m not trying to be a realistic painter. I’m trying to tell a story or show something that comes to my imagination, and I hope that someone else can make a connection to it.”