Interview with Melanie Yazzie

A Collaborative Interview by Melissa Bob and Chanel Matsunami Govreau

1.What projects are you presently working on? What are current challenges you experience in your work?
I am currently participating in a couple of folios and making pieces for them. They are about hair farming and helping others who are in need for hair for wigs. The other is about making a connection to a group of artists in Korea.
I have been invited to do another one that requires me to work with a former student. That one is going to be really fun to collaborate on and I am working to finish printing that. There are others, but I will keep this short. The challenge I face most often is finding funding to keep my work going. All these projects cost money and for some reason it’s always a challenge. I am always working on how to make each one happen. And the next and the next... it’s hard but I love what comes back so I keep doing what I do.

2. Animals seem to hold an important presence in your pieces. What inspires your use of animal imagery?
I have had many pets in my lifetime. When I was young I use to walk to the dump in our small town and find abandoned puppies and kittens then try to bring them home. I was always told, “Do not hide animals under your bed. They are dirty and a lot of work.” I always loved them, and somehow once thought I could be a veterinarian. But, when we had to have our Saint Bernard, Chubba, put down because of cancer I felt it would be too hard to be a vet. So, I aspired to work at McDonald’s since they always were smiling on the TV. My recent love affair has been with my chow chows, Luna and Sombra. Luna past away last year and that is still hard for me. I wish there was a way to see her again. So, I make work about animal critters to remember them and to honor them for sure!

3. Was your goal in life to be an artist and teach art? Are there any other pursuits you would like to explore?
I believe that I never knew quite what I wanted to be. I know that I always was creating and loved making art from a very early age. It brought me happiness like no other thing. Well, besides eating too much. Both eating and making art are my obsessions - I must do both and I try hard not to do so much eating but it really is a problem.
I am too sheltered at home but the love in my life, travel, is getting harder and harder to do. I have fears that I cannot explain. I get worried and freaked before travel now. Yet, I love going into new art stores in new places that have new or different art stuff. I also love papers. I love pens and pencils too. Okay, and all things cute. Sorry about that, but it is very true. They make me happy and that helps me create and get into a place of comfort.

4. How has the printmaking community changed since your introduction into it?
Printmaking when I began in high school was just about some friends and I making art together. I stalked the graduate students at my undergrad school. I did not know what it meant to be a grad student but I knew they were the other people always in the shop just like me and I loved being with them. As I have become more and more aware of the print community, I believe it saw it as a way to fill me with connections I wished I had in my own family. We love seeing each other and always have something to share. It’s very much like a family - often yes with weird ones that are on the fringe:)

5. How would you like to see the print community change or expand in the next 5-10 years?
I would love to see more of my international family of print makers and be closer to what is important to them. Just learn from them about their ways and their processes. I have so much to learn from them. But my growing fear of travel keeps me from wandering about as much as I use to.
Conferences are fun, but often I feel like it can be like high school. There are the popular kids, the new kids, and the ones just trying to break into the scene. It’s hard. I try to find the new ones and the nice ones and just have coffee and sandwich with them. We then sit and watch the others. Then I go home and create a project to collaborate with the fun new printmakers I've met. I would love for the printmaking community to become more open and welcoming to everyone! In 5-10 years it would be nice to see more events happening locally. I wish that travel would become less expensive so more of us could travel and meet each other. I think that Hawaii or an island place should always host an event so we can make art then go swimming or snorkeling:) More conferences in which we go and make stuff together would be great. Making and connecting...

6. What times are you inspired to take an idea and organize it into a folio exchange rather than a personal piece or series of work? What makes a folio exchange successful?
Well, often the folios come out of me seeing an idea or thought and wishing I could converse with other artists about the idea. Then I begin to send out the call. After people start responding and the 1st set fills up, if people are still saying, “Please, please let me participate,” then that leads into another set. Before long, I have many ideas in motion. I also have a great helper, Kathryn Polk, who makes all my colophons and that make the projects happen so much more easily. She is an amazing artist that everyone should know, look her up! What makes it successful? Well, first when people respond with yes. 2nd they pay their fee - if there is a fee. Then they make all deadlines with no excuses. This one is huge - making deadlines= great artist/printmaker. The bigger tell of something being successful is when one or more people decide to exhibit their set without me begging them to do it. This is the cherry on top for sure! It shows me that people are giving back and it’s not just about being in and sitting back with an awesome set of prints. Do not get me wrong, that is totally okay. But, when one or more does the next step = creating and exhibiting. Well, that is so awesome. That I believe is a huge success for any folio.

7. How should Grapevine Ink work to establish itself as vital and necessary to the printmaking world and distinguish itself from other printmakers’ collectives?
It can engage with the people that follow it or just keep doing what the mission is no matter what. Love and follow the mission. It will make itself important by just doing it and doing it well. Watch the others, but most importantly just do the real work everyday. That takes love and when you love anything it will grow! Do it for the important things that feed you and know that we are human and there is always someone else who is hungry for the same stuff out there and they will find you! Like good chocolate or good Indian food... everyone will begin to talk about it! Then watch out because everyone will want in - so many that one day you will wish for this day again. You say, "wow - Melissa lets do an interview and then talk about it" - later your people will have to call her people etc. then we will say, “Wow remember how it was in the beginning...”