We paid a visit to artist Mel Kadel’s bucolic home studio—a log cabin tucked deep into the woods in a canyon in Echo Park, which she shares with her boyfriend and fellow artist/frequent collaborator Travis Millard. It is in this fairytale-like structure that Mel creates her intricate, whimsical drawings. While touring her home and the surrounding grounds, we chatted with Mel about recurring themes in her work and what keeps her on the west coast.
You’re known for creating images of “childlike characters exploring, opening up, and overcoming peril with fierce determination.” Why is this theme of determination so prevalent in your work?
No matter who you are or where you are from, there is struggle. The struggles themselves are different for each of us, but how we get through them is what it’s about; that is the part that ties us together. I gravitate towards that mental journey when it’s you against yourself, trying to find strength. The tools to get through it are within all of us, and tapping into that is a never-ending challenge. I’m focused on these ideas because they are personal to me, they make us relate to one another, and overcoming obstacles is a large part of what keeps us all going.
You often incorporate the same androgynous character in your work, and you’ve stated that this person is you. Has this character changed along with you?
It’s not completely me, but I’m in her somewhere. She (the character) is the constant, while the story around her is ever-changing. Small things have changed about her over the years, but she has remained androgynous, sensitive, and feisty.
What was the draw to LA that brought you here from New York? Do you feel your work as an artist has taken a different direction since living here?
I was looking for a temporary change, maybe one year, just to get far away from where I was. Now it’s 16 years later. My work has definitely taken a different direction. It might just be that so much time has passed and naturally things progress and change. But, what I found here, and couldn’t find in NY at that time, was a strong sense of focus and commitment to my work. I was younger and less confident back then, but I also was completely distracted in that awesome city. There is nice calm here to stay home and work and not feel the world pulsing out my window.
If you could live and create your art in any other place in the world, where would it be?
I miss the east coast, so maybe upstate NY, or Mexico.