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New Art Writing by Craig Francis Power, on the work of Kevin Melanson

Thoughts on Kevin Melanson’s Making Ends Meet

by Craig Francis Power









While a seeming smart-ass one-liner on its face, Kevin Melanson’s Making Ends Meet—showing at Eastern Edge’s rOGUE gallery until March 16—presents a series of modestly sized embroidered works that explore not only the demeaning drudgery of labour as a way of mere survival, but maps the shifting nature of what it means to be a contemporary artist in Canada, and how we, societally, determine artistic (and personal?) value. 

These handmade works strive for a near machine-like precision and depict a series of paycheques and letters from funding-bodies the artist has received—money awarded, at least in part it would seem, to complete the work on display. Rather than a vision of the artist as some sort of romantic hero enthralled and suffering at the hands of their muse, the free-thinking political radical ready to burn it all down, Melanson presents a rather more factual if less exciting reality—the artist as governmental, bureaucratic pencil pusher.

I first got to know Kevin Melanson and his work while he was employed in the meat department of Sobeys on Merrymeeting Road, a company for which he’d worked—if memory serves—for 10 years or more. On his ten-year anniversary, he told me, he received a cheap, gold pin from head office. It was a gesture so comically un-noteworthy as to make one wonder why they’d bothered in the first place, as though they were offering a commentary on his years of labour through the presentation of a piece of junk. Having worked as a server in restaurants for decades to supplement whatever meagre artistic income I could scrape together, I identified with this story, and with Kevin’s approach to both his life as an artist, and his work—the apparent meaningless carousel of working a job and applying for grants in the hopes of attaining the lofty heights of the official poverty line. 

One thing they don’t prepare you for in art school is the magnitude of administrative work one must put in to have much hope of continuing as an artist post-graduation—unless, of course, you do an advanced degree and become a prof, marry a rich person, or are one of those lucky few who find themselves as the child of one. Nevertheless, as Making Ends Meet would seem to suggest, the nature of the Canadian art-world is such that its goals pertain more to filling out forms, than to filling hearts.