International Caribbean Art Fair (ICAFair)

Martiniquan Artist Bela Talks About Caribbean Identity And Diversity in Her Art

By Marina Vatav

Posted: November 3, 2009

Beatrice Mellinger

Béatrice (Bela) Mellinger,Rhythm in White, 2008 Courtesy: Wah Fine Arts


Beatrice Mellinger is a modern artist from the Caribbean island of Martinique. She has Asian, African, and European origins that are reflected in her art.


Q: Why did you choose to sign your paintings as Bela?


Bela uses the first two letters in my first name, Beatrice, followed by the first two letters of my maiden name, Lampla. I first signed a painting using Bela in 2002.


Q: Do you know the meaning of the word Bela in Spanish?


In Spanish it means beautiful, but I didn't do it on purpose. (laughs)


Q: Did you start painting at an early age, or did you discover the passion for it later?


Art has always been a part of my life, but it was not the visual arts. I was involved in jazz dancing and a little bit of theater.


When we used to live in Brazil, I started a ceramic class. I discovered in the process of molding the clay, that what I enjoyed more was when I had to create the drawings and to paint the piece. After that, I went back to school to take a few art classes. Later, in France, I took more classes at an art center in Nice (Centre de Diffusion et d’Action Culturelle).


Q: What did you do before you started painting?


I was 17 when I left Martinique. I went to study Marketing in Paris at the French University of Creteil. After that I attended a private school where I completed my diploma as an executive assistant.


Before doing art, I was working as an executive assistant at a civil works company. I worked there for 15 years. When my husband received his assignment to Brazil, I left my job in Martinique and moved there with my daughter to join him. After this, I didn't want to work in an office, nor for a company any more. My daughter was just 7 years old, and I wanted to spend more time with her. That's why I chose to do something else and took the ceramic classes.


Q: It is a big jump from marketing to art!


True. It's very different, but I enjoy it very much. What I do like is the interaction with people. I like to meet people at the exhibitions, people who love art. To me it's very important to understand what people think about my work.


Q: How do you use your marketing skills in your art career?


Every time I travel, I carry a small portfolio because you never know who you will meet. I take the time to visit galleries, museums...I always have business cards on me.


I have my personal website, which I think is very important. What I also did before working with Marcel Wah at Wah Fine Arts, is to talk about my art to people I meet.


Q: You say in your artist statement that you have African, Asian and European origins. Who is who in your family?


I was born in Martinique, a French island In the Caribbean, and lived there when I was a child. My father is part French and part African. My mother is part Chinese and part Indian. In fact, Martinique is a place where you will see many different cultures interacting.


Q: How does your multicultural background reflect in your paintings?


All of my art reflect the colors of my country Martinique, which is depicted by the use of bright colors in my works. I think it's a combination of my European and Caribbean backgrounds.


Q: Do you feel like a citizen of the world?


Actually, yes. What I want to do in my paintings is to fuse my personality, the emotions I go through when I paint, and my creativity to achieve universal resonance. Since I lived in many places throughout my life--Martinique, France, South America, and now in North America--and because of all those experiences, I can't do something related to just my birthplace. Indeed, I carry memories and cultural references from each place I have lived in, which are present in my paintings.


Q: What do you want to express through your paintings?


All of my paintings are about the way I feel at the moment. Visual art is a silent language, and for me a successful painting is one that allows you to communicate to the viewer without any conversation. You have to express your feelings through color, line, shape and texture.


Q: Can you describe what your painting environment is like?


Usually I listen to music when I paint, especially classical music. Sometimes I can feel that the energy in my painting changes, based on the kind of music I'm listening to.


Q: Do you sometimes paint the music?


In one of my works I just did that. The painting is called "Rhythm in White." While painting it, I was listening to Beethoven Symphony no. 5 played by Glenn Gould. I used hard-edge painting technique which consists of rough, straight edges that are geometrically consistent. It encompasses rich solid colors, neatness of surface, and arranged forms all over the canvas. Then, I added some soft edges to create a more interesting composition. After I finished the painting, I felt that it contained the rhythms of the music.


Q: What is the story behind your "Blue like an orange" series of paintings?


The series "Blue like an orange" was inspired by the poem "Earth is Blue" written by the French poet Paul Eluard in 1929. This story was a representation of the concept that the Earth is blue, and round like an orange. I like this metaphor because our planet, with three quarters of its surface covered with water appears to us as blue, while it is lightened by the orange radiation of the sun.


In my paintings, I wanted to express that colors could be shapes. For this series I used bright, strong, warm ranges of color. The contrast and depth were made in cool colors, and at the end I added some circles to create a more attractive composition.


Q: Romania's greatest poet Mihai Eminescu, after writing his poems and even after they were published, always wanted to go back and change a word, or at least a comma, to make it perfect. Do you feel something similar about your paintings?


If the painting doesn't convey the feelings I want to transmit to the viewer, I return to the painting over and over again until I achieve that final idea or emotion. I have a lot of unfinished paintings.


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