Even though she studied Modern Asian studies, and spent years working as a language teacher, it was when Mel Robson took a pottery class that she knew instantly how she wanted to spend the rest of her life. Not long after that she quit her job and began life as an artist. “Thankfully, things have taken a fairly smooth path since then - confirmation for me that I have been on the right path,” she says. Taking a mentorship program with Patsy Hely through the Australia Council was key to helping her find focus with her art practice and connecting her to a network of supportive artists and educators. “I think that early period after graduating can be a really crucial time,” Mel says. “It can be tough trying to get yourself and your work out there.” While she was born in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, most of her life was spent in the Northern New South Wales town of Murwillumbah. About five years ago Mel moved to Alice Springs with her family. She works in the art department at Charles Darwin University and continues her studio practice. “We love it here,” she says. “It’s a remarkable little town full of remarkable people and a landscape that just gets under your skin.”
Which five words best describe you? Self-disciplined, motivated, curious, love a good laugh, and a wee bit shy.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? My first degree was in Modern Asian studies and I spent many years after that traveling and working through Asia. I worked as an English Language teacher and then in my late 20s I took a pottery class at the local Tafe and that was the end of that! I’ve been studying and working as an artist ever since. I did an advanced diploma in ceramics at Southbank Tafe in Brisbane where I got such an amazing grounding in the technical aspects of making ceramics. After that I did a degree in contemporary arts at Southern Cross University in Lismore, which helped me refine a lot of my ideas and approaches to making. Since then I have basically been working as an artist, making, teaching, public art, commissions, exhibition work, retail work, collaborations. The main thing for me is to work on projects that keep me interested. I really enjoy the diversity of the projects I work on. It keeps me engaged and stimulates new work and new ideas. I’m pretty open to where I go with my career and am interested in trying a lot of different things and approaches rather than focussing on any one strand.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Ask questions, work hard, strive for balance, keep things in perspective and don’t take things too seriously. Sometimes as an artist you can get a bit caught up in it all. Enjoy what you do. Also, it’s really good to do things that freak you out. It’s the best way to learn and the best way to really discover your capabilities. When I’ve jumped into things despite trepidation, or feeling overwhelmed, they’ve often ended up being the most rewarding and unexpectedly good experiences.
What’s your proudest career achievement? Hmmm, maybe the fact that I’m still here doing it Being selected for the third and fourth World Ceramics Biennale in South Korea was pretty nice too.
What’s been your best decision? Moving to Alice Springs. It has enabled me to develop a good balance between making, teaching, researching and experimenting. I’m probably in the most satisfying and rewarding phase of my career so far. Inspiring, meaningful, balanced and challenging. There have been some really rewarding and satisfying projects I’ve worked on out here and I’m enjoying seeing how living out here is slowly coming through in my work, my approach and my attitude. The work-life balance is good and the community out here is an inspiration to me.
Who inspires you? Anyone who gives it a red hot go.
What are you passionate about? My family, hiking, ceramics, textiles, traveling.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? My grandmother. She died before I was born, but has loomed large in our family and in my work. She was the most fascinating woman, not of her time, and I would just love to be able to sit down with her over a cup of tea.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? Oh, I have a very simple little dream of a beautiful light-filled studio in the hills somewhere. I’d love somewhere where I could invite different artists to come and work and collaborate.
What are you reading? I’ve just started re-reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Poetic and beautiful. I rarely re-read books, but this one deserves it.
images courtesy of mel robson