Neoncubicle

Melissa Hamlyn (Neoncubicle) is a visual artist who treats her studio like a laboratory. She works with digital pattern making, projection and textiles, using abstract motifs to produce conceptual mind maps of her travels and connections with people. Two years of overseas travel brought new inspiration and experiences that gave her the courage to finally look at what she was always drawn to – art. Since then she has gone on to study visual arts at CAE and RMIT, launch an online store with Redbubble, feature as an artist at Found Festival and Space Between Light Festival and join the White Rabbit Collective in Brunswick, where we interviewed her.

You’ve just joined the White Rabbit Collective – can you tell us a bit about that?

I studied with one of the girls who runs White Rabbit, Jen, at RMIT. I contacted her about having some of my Redbubble products in store – I think it’s important for people to be able to see them in person, to feel and touch them, put them on. So now I have a little space here amongst other independent artists and designers, and I also come and volunteer.

What got you into digital textiles specifically?

It started in 2015. In the studio I’m creating substrates, places to start from and keep creating on top of that. My process is very experimental. One day I got some acrylic paint colours, mixed them together, poured them on ground and let them dry. Once they were dry I stitched and glued them together, so they became a tapestry.

The tapestries were disintegrating because they were just dried paint, and I wanted to keep a record of them. So I started scanning them, and had about 50 scans. Someone suggested printing them on to fabric, and I experimented with cutting the printed fabric and painting onto it.

I like found objects and mixed media, and tried incorporating those. Some things work, some things don’t. But often the things that don’t work I put back into the work, reusing and repurposing existing works. It becomes a map of my process in the studio.

Do you have a particular set up that helps you create?

Music definitely helps. It stops me thinking so much about what I’m doing. If it’s a silent studio, I become too critical. Music makes the process more fluid.

What do you love most about digital design in particular?

It’s limitless. I did a projection work for the Space Between Light Festival last year using digital images of my paint tapestries. It was at the Richmond housing estate. The guys from Testings Grounds let me borrow a backpack projector so I could wander through the parks and pass the houses and project onto these different textures – buildings, grass, people. This beautiful old gumtree was my main site, and its bark was starting to drape down, so when I projected onto it people thought I’d draped fabric onto the tree. And people get really excited, they really interact with it.

What I like about digital art is that it can be applied to so many things; you’re only limited by your imagination.

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What are some of your sources of inspiration?

Nostalgia is a big one. And travel. I find inspiration from my travels in the form of correspondence I’ve kept. I have a lot of emails from people where English was their second language, so when they write it’s a bit disjointed. You get these phrases that would work in their language but not English, and really odd ways of expressing things. I really like that; I like language, I like text. I find wordplay interesting.

These fabrics that I make, they’re kind of like a banner with embedded narratives from that correspondence – psychological geographies, representing a particular time and place.

I like a lot of Islamic art for similar reasons. It involves beautiful geometric designs that are perfectly, mathematically correct, and they represent things by abstract motifs rather than a realistic manner.

I’ve always liked abstract art – 1940s/50s, Pollock, automatism – so I’m not really interested in thinking too much about what I’m doing in the studio. I don’t ever really know an outcome. As I’m going, I figure out how this might work or not.

Also textile artists like Sonia Delaunay – she did a lot of colour experiments, large geometric paintings, played around with colour combinations. But her work wasn’t just paintings, it was clothing, cars, outfits for the Ballets Russes – her output was just insane.

What does art mean to you?

In the studio, it’s a kind of meditation. I love my studio at RMIT, and being there alone on weekends. It’s this space where I can be myself, there’s no one judging you, and you don’t have to be harsh on yourself either. You just go in and make things. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But I never feel that it’s a wasted day.

What’s one of the hardest lessons you’ve learnt so far?

Working with digital works, you really need to save them. That’s probably one of the hardest – being diligent enough to save everything, back it up, email it to yourself to 2–3 different email addresses you have. Keep a record of everything! Otherwise you’ll lose something that you really, really wanted to use.

In theme with magpies and all things shiny, what’s your favourite shiny thing at the moment?

I got donated a ginormous roll of gold contact paper. It’s probably tens and tens and tens of metres. I haven’t used it yet, but it was a pretty nice donation.

Photography © Elly Freer