Brush with Greatness

Written by Dolores Tropiano Category: Valley News Issue: April 2015
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After four decades selling art nationwide, renowned Southwest artist Ed Mell finally opens his own gallery in the Valley.

Ed Mell managed to skip the starving artist stage on his way to becoming one of the most successful Southwestern artists of our time. The native Arizonan set out to become an income-generating artist in the '70s and has been selling strong ever since. “He was successful from day one,” says Mark Sublette, who represents Mell in his Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson.

Mell admits that in his first year as a fine artist, his income was an indication he was on the right track. He made roughly $11,000 and sales continued to grow each year. “I guess I had the right thing at the right time,” he says.

The “right thing” was a rare rendition of nature. Mell capitalized on capturing Southwestern skies and their sunsets, storms and other settings in a way that had never been done before. His influences range from Pablo Picasso to Maynard Dixon. Both sharp modern lines and realistic strokes combined with contrasting colors are part of his signature style, making subjects ranging from landscapes to flowers appear both softly brushed and edgy. Mountains and mesas are often minimal, setting the scene for his stunning skies.  

Now, after 40 years and 4,000 paintings, Mell has finally decided to open his own gallery. In April,  he’ll start selling his art (by appointment only) out of The Ed Mell Gallery, a few doors down from his studio in Central Phoenix.

The 1920s-era building is small and sweet, like the rest of the cottage-style homes and buildings on 10th Street in the historical Coronado District. Mell reworked the front of the commercial building with the help of architect John Douglas (Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Desert Botanical Garden), adding windows and a 1920s restoration-style front door along with an overhanging awning made of galvanized steel and trimmed in a crisp gray blue. The building’s staircase-style side walls with red stars add a subtle Southwestern touch.

Mell will still be represented by Sublette, The Owings Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., and Altamira Fine Art in Jackson Hole, Wyo. He opted for his own gallery after the Overland Gallery of Fine Art in Scottsdale, which represented him for 14 years, closed last August. “The Overland was a good fit for me,” Mell says.  “But I still show in other galleries, so it’s not like I am pulling out of the gallery world completely.”

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 The new gallery is just blocks from the hospital where Mell was born and the home where he grew up. He attended The Arts Center College of Design in Los Angeles (now in Pasadena) and then worked as a junior art director for a major ad agency and a freelance illustrator in New York City. But Mell missed the West and returned to teach on the Hopi Reservation. He befriended helicopter journalist Jerry Foster, and together they soared through Arizona skies, swooping down on areas rarely seen. Those scenes stuck in his mind and became the muse for many of Mell’s paintings that depict specific places, as in “Lazy Clouds” (selling for $5,800) and more abstract scenes such as “Glowing Storm” ($27,500).

Mell, who sometimes works six days a week, also created the Arizona centennial stamp design and a painting in the visitor’s center of Kartchner Caverns State Park. His sculpture, “Jack Knife,” is the centerpiece for Scottsdale’s art district. Right now he is creating a scenic design for the Arizona Opera. His work can be viewed at edmellgallery.com.

But at 72, Mell has an eye on the distant future as much as his most recent canvases and creations. The Ed Mell Gallery is part of that picture. “The gallery will give me more control over my art,” says Mell, a Paradise Valley resident. “And down the road when I start winding down and not producing as much, I may just have that one gallery.”  

And while Mell’s productivity may wane in the future, Sublette says his popularity never will. “He is a unique Arizona voice that will have longstanding legs,” says the avid collector. “His art work is going to be collected and talked about long after I am gone.”

What’s up on the Walls, Doc?
Ed Mell appeals to a range of collectors as vast as the panoramic mountain scenes he sometimes paints (his patrons include actors Diane Keaton and Arnold Schwarzenegger).

And the Arizona artist also has a healthy following in the medical community. Mell’s paintings are on view in the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale and on the office walls of many Arizona physicians, including Richard D. Anderson and Jack Friedland.

For years, plastic surgeon Friedland had one of Mell’s large landscapes of mountains and ominous clouds in his Phoenix office. “He is able to describe not only what you see but what you feel when you look at a mountain or beautiful flower,” he says.

Hematology and oncology doctor Stewart Silvers has Mell paintings and a sculpture. “Ed Mell is one of the foremost Southwestern painters,” he says. “There is nothing like his art. You can tell an Ed Mell painting 10 miles away.”

Mark Sublette, a former sports medicine doctor who represents Mell through his Tucson gallery, effuses over Mell’s work. Buying a work of Mell's art has been on Sublette’s to-do list every year for 20 years: “He has an original voice and portrays the West in a way that I see no other artist do. I never get tired of looking at my Ed Mell paintings and sculptures – ever.”
– Dolores Tropiano