Topanga artist Melanie Rothschild has 75 paintings— yes, 75— in an exhibition at FP Contemporary Gallery in Culver City. Out of those, 65 are from a series of 100 tiny paintings she set out to complete before turning 60 earlier this year.
“Tiny work is intimate,” said Rothschild. “It forces a closer look at small areas than is generally the case with larger pieces, where your eyes often do a quick scan and miss a lot of important detail and subtle pleasures.
“Setting out to work on so many pieces creates freedom, a sort of abandon. No one piece is that important and so each one can be approached without any restraint — feeling at ease with recklessness. It’s okay to take chances because you’re not concerned about straying from a grand plan. After finishing a few dozen at least, I could go back and choose just the ones I felt were the best of the bunch to be part of the final collection.” The tiny paintings sell for between $300 to $600. The larger works are $1,800 to $7,200.
Her elaborately painted picture frames, boxes and tables were sold in stores and galleries throughout the United States for 20 years. Her fine art was also regularly shown and sold. Then, a mistake led Rothschild to finding a new source of creativity and artistic expression.
Ten years ago, Rothschild—who has lived in Topanga for 25 years, where she and husband Larry Garf raised their twins, Henry and Evie Garf—accidentally spilled an entire gallon of paint in her workshop. It changed her life. All that gloopy paint was too much to deal with when it was wet, so she left it alone for about a week, figuring it would be easier to manage when dry.
“When I came back to it,” she said, “I figured I’d just chisel it off bit by bit. Instead of coming off in chunks, the whole thing just peeled up in one sort of glorious skin. It astonished me and I started deliberately pouring paint on nonporous surfaces, letting it dry and setting it back up to be hung from metal bars. I called the work “Paint & Air.” Since then, I’ve poured paint on purpose.”
Rothschild’s newest odyssey sent her back to school, not to study art, but to study the deliberate practice of creativity, specifically the importance of mistakes in the creative process. In 2014, North Light Books published Rothschild’s acclaimed book, “The Art of Mistakes: Unexpected Painting Techniques and the Practice of Creative Thinking.”
Rothschild believes creativity is not just about art. Sometimes it has nothing at all to do with art. She says creativity is about how we think, the possibilities we allow into our thinking and our ability to follow through with action. In just about anything we do, we can think creatively.
“Creative thinkers, whether they be artists or not, are willing to fight conformity and are willing to take on the continuing need to re-evaluate what defines conformity,” said Rothschild. “They don’t need a degree in anything from anywhere to do that. They just have to believe in their gut that it’s what they must do.”
It frustrates Rothschild that there’s a need to categorize artists and that they often need to have credentials before they are taken seriously. She recalls being moved to tears by an exhibition of the quilts of Gee’s Bend, because the work was so exquisite. “One art critic expressed surprise that these quilt makers—who had no education, no access to knowing about the luminaries of 20th-century modern art—could produce such amazing work. This infuriated me,” she said.
The quilt makers were mostly slaves or worked in cotton mills, but had access to cast-off fabrics or “mistakes.” Sometimes they used fabric from their own tattered clothes and made quilts that are like big modern paintings. “They are fabulous and they are great art,” said Rothschild, who wrote her book to encourage people to awaken their inner artist, who may have had previous attempts at creativity criticized or think they aren’t good enough to even try, and for those who feel they don’t belong in the art world but have a burning passion to be creative.
“Art is there to remind us that we can think for ourselves,” said Rothschild.
FP Contemporary Art Gallery Summer Group Show featuring 75 paintings by Melanie Rothschild runs through August 12 and is open Tuesday to Saturday 11am-6pm 5835 Washington Blvd. Culver City, CA 90232. melanierothschild.com; fpcontemporary.com.