Words of encouragement are inspiring, motivational and uplifing. Caryne Mender will tell you that support you receive from others could have the power to change your life.
"Before entering high school, I did a beautiful chalk landscape for my parents," said now Miami-based artist Caryne Mender. "My mother was very proud and surprised at just how good it was. She was from the United Kingdom and belonged to a English club with around 15 friends, 10 who were artists. One day, these women came to our home for tea and crumpets. While hanging up their coats they noticed my art rolled up in the corner. They pulled it out , looked at the piece and were astounded that an eighth grader could do such great work. Of course, a big smile came across my mother's face, and she said, 'Oh, yes. My Caryne is quite talented.'
"As a result of all this, these women took me under their wings and welcomed me into their studio where a women named Eileen Anderson (an established artist in that community)served as their mentor. I was their youngest student ever! With Eileen's help, I began to show my work during the Ann Arbor and Wyandotte art festivals. I knew then I wanted to be an artist.
"My mother has since passed on because of Parkinson’s Disease. I rolled that initial (chalk landscaping) piece back up and sent it with her to Heaven. It was that work that meant the most to me."
While Mender continues to create work that holds special meaning for her--as well as those who view it--her approach has changed significantly. She worked figuratively for years, then painted landscapes for another few years. At CCS, Mender's instructors introduced her to contemporary art. She started experimenting with mixing media together while taking classes with Professor Snowden and dabbling with printmaking and sculpture in her other courses.
Today, most of Mender's work is presented as artifacts of "something pulled from the contemporary landscape." She selects discarded man-made objects such as items found in and around abandoned houses, junkyard rusted car parts and flea markets as well as items she discovers along the roadside to incorporate in her assemblages. The work is on steel, canvas, wood, and other flat surfaces, with added pieces such as cigar boxes, old tools and sometimes aged signs and billboards.
"The purpose of my work is to make the viewer wonder," she explains. "I want people to think, 'I've seen something like this before, but where?' No longer are these items part of our everyday life, lost in our everyday routine. I use such artifacts as inspiration to create a history of artistic creativity, giving them a renewed sense of what was from our past.
"As far as I can remember, I would pick up discarded items laying in the streets, abandon homes and factories--a rusted piece of metal, a broken door jam, old maps... it was all waiting for me to take a small part of history and make into a refurbished piece of art. One of my favorite places to go was Phish Scrap in Grand Rapids where they would tear down places (such as in the neighborhood of Heritage Hill where I lived) and then sell the beautiful details of these homes and buildings at their shop. Today, I can say I continue to learn through every piece of work I do."
As a professional artist, Mender has promoted her work for multiple gallery events and solo shows in South Florida, San Francisco, Michigan and Philadelphia.
"Moving from Saugatuck (Michigan) to here in Miami, I had to meet new artists, kind of start all over again," said Mender. "This month alone (September 2012), I had three shows, one a solo event. On the night of one event, there were at least 50 other fantastic shows in Miami the same time. I was grateful that so many people came to the show. And from those established artists who made it to the event, I learned and heard just what I needed to keep up the good work.
"Eventually, I'd like to get some experience as an assistant gallery director to give me more of a perspective from a gallery's point of view so I'm better able to understand what directors are dealing with. I like selling the work myself, and I have so far relied on other artists to help get my work in galleries. One tactic that I learned from Professor Mary Malm at MIU (Miami International University of Art & Design) that has helped is to keep detailed records of my work. I never take work to a gallery without taking copies of a complete inventory CD that stores everything they have plus the new work with all the necessary information. Every gallery has remarked on the value of this kind of professionalism."
To better enhance her work, Mender earned a MALS in theater design from the University of Detroit, Mercy. She has taught at Grand Rapids Community College and aspires to join the faculty at one of the colleges near Miami and to work with people like artist John Germain, who she considers one of the best critics of her work at Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH).
"Some artists say that you don’t need school to be an artist, I never argue that," Mender said. "I do believe as artists we're all on a road to creativity. As part of a lecture I once delivered on multiple intelligences, I set up tables with one equation and each table labeled as one of those intelligences. Since all of us were artists, we scored as visual thinkers yet differently in the other areas. My point, creative for sure, we are completely different in other areas.
"So for me, I needed to continue my education to keep me focused."
Critique was the most important part. Because of colleagues such as Professor Kerri Ware and Artist Kristen Theile, I have found direction in my work."
Mender appreciates the knowledge she gained from her fine art and art history classes; she still often finds herself referring to her notes. She also credits the school for instilling in her the confidence to accomplish her dreams and then showing her the way.
Mender offers these words of advice to those following her path, "Work hard (nobody said it would be easy!), and when being critiqued, take notes. Don’t complain to fellow students about teachers and what they say about your work. Keep those notes and stay on top of it! Try to do what they suggest--it will only help. After all, you can experiment in college. As my parents always said, 'You don’t have to go to art school, you get to.'
"And remember those who support you most. Without my daughter Lin-z and her husband, my grandchildren Nevaeh and Martin, and my life-long best friend Terri, my dreams may have ended."