Eastside Culture Crawl: Vancouver artist Pilar Mehlis connects magic with realism

Pilar Mehlis creates works of art that mix imagination with reality.

She then puts intricate details into her paintings and sculptures that make it easy to believe in the supernatural.

The Vancouver artist likes to put together human and animal forms and draws inspiration for the latter from the salmon and the rock swallow bird.

Mehlis describes her influence as a “language” she learned while growing up in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia.

“My grandmother was a great storyteller and she wanted to tell myths from ancient times,” Mehlis says in a telephone interview with Just.

Her grandmother admired her with tales that “often involved something inexplicable or mysterious or magical”.

“The magic was embedded in ordinary life,” Mehlis says.

In literature, it is a style called magical realism.

“It was a kind of pattern, a saying that was already ingrained in me, so it was very natural to channel the same aspect into my work,” Mehlis says.

In addition to the stories her grandmother told, Mehlis also captured the intoxicating atmosphere of the many street festivals or the carnival of Bolivia.

She remembers dance troupes or comparisons marching to exciting music on the street.

Mehlis remembers artists with masks and colorful attire that combined “angels or devils or animal forms”.

“They’re very organized and choreographed dancers, and the costumes are just amazing,” Mehlis says.

As an artist, these elements came “just in a way”.

“It was not something conscious; it was something natural that developed, ”says Mehlis.

Educated in both Bolivia and Canada, the artist settled in Vancouver in 2001.

Pilar Mehlis remembers that her grandmother was a great storyteller who admired her with tales.

In his early works, Mehlis played with a lot of animal tales, like mammals running with fish.

Sometime around 2016, she started drawing and painting pictures of half human and half fish for what she now calls her “anthropic” collection.

About three years later, Mehlis began making half-human and half-bird creations, currently forming a separate “ornithropic” set.

The Vancouver artist continues to produce new paintings and sculptures for these two collections, partly as his way of telling his own story as an immigrant.

She chose the salmon and the rock swallow as models because these are migratory creatures.

But Mehlis finds animal migration a gentle phenomenon because movements occur in the course of nature.

“There are no boundaries,” Mehlis says. “They just have patterns in the world that they follow. And they are always the same patterns, and they come and go in those patterns.”

People move around too, but it’s different.

“Because we have these boundaries, they get complicated on many levels,” she notes.

Mehlis shows off his work as part of this year’s Eastside Culture Crawl. Her exhibition is in suite 315 in Parker Street Studios (1000 Parker Street).

The second set of screenings for the 2021 Art Festival takes place from November 18 to November 21. For details, see here.

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