Native aesthetic

Melissa Melero's Numu (Paiute)

Artist Melissa Melero shows off one of her pieces in her current show, <i>Numu</i>, at ArtSpace.

Artist Melissa Melero shows off one of her pieces in her current show, Numu, at ArtSpace.

Photo/eric marks

Numu (Paiute) will run until Feb. 28, 2015 at ArtSpace, 144 West St. The exhibition is open 4-8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, and by appointment only during UNR's winter break from Dec. 17-Jan. 20.

Many artists find inspiration in the natural landscape of Nevada, and it manifests differently depending on medium. Some, like Melissa Melero, incorporate actual elements of the landscape into their art. Melero is a Nevada-based painter and mixed-media artist, whose latest show Numu (Paiute) opened Dec. 4 at ArtSpace on West Second Street.

Born in San Francisco, Melero is a Northern Paiute—also referred to as Numu—and part of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe. Melero has lived in several Western states, including California, Oregon, New Mexico and Nevada.

“I have ties to the Northwest and the Southwest, but the Southwest was a great hub for Native American art, and they have great connections, so I moved out there,” she says. Melero made her way back to Nevada several years ago so her son could be closer to family.

“I wanted him to be in Nevada with his family, and also see the Native art scene because there are a lot of Native artists here, but no one had ever heard of them,” she says.

She studied at Portland State University and the Institute of American Indian Arts. Although she initially studied photography, it was painting that caught her interest. Within her paintings, Melero incorporates three-dimensional objects collected from the area.

“I love texture,” she says. “I’ve always put a lot of textures into my work. I love nature and being outdoors. I bring back a lot of things from outside. I bring back things from Pyramid Lake, and shells [and] willow from certain areas.”

This is reflected in her ArtSpace series, which features paintings that are bold, layered and abstract.

“The series is called

Paiute because that’s the general theme.

“I was calling it the Basket series, which was sort of a new direction for where I was going with the organic materials—with the cattails and the dots that sort of symbolize water, colors that symbolized the surrounding landscapes, mostly water areas that I gravitate toward,” she says. …Water being life, and the different imagery would be the circle, the cycle of life.”

Finding a way to integrate the items she’s collected while exploring can be difficult, she says.

“I had all of these things sort of hanging around in the studio, and I kept thinking ’I want to use it, I want to use it,’” says Melero. “I took baskets—I had tons of baskets and willow—which are so related together. They come from the land and from the people. I took all of those things and organized them and magnified them and sort of contrasted and abstracted them. … Even though I’ve been doing this for a decade, [mixed media] keeps artists challenged.”

Part of Melero's mission is to bring attention to other Native artists. She’s founder of Great Basin Native Artists, a group she’s shown with for more than a decade.

“There’s a group of us who have been exhibiting together because we’re the only [Native artists] that people know of,” she says.

Since January 2013, Great Basin Native Artists have appeared as an official group, and they have upcoming shows in Elko and Reno. More about the collective can be found at

Melero’s ArtSpace exhibit materialized after she contacted the University of Nevada, Reno’s gallery director, Paul Baker Prindle, who took an interest in her work.

“Most of it’s inspired by the local landscape and the Paiute culture,” she says of her latest show. “I personally like the different landscapes and the area, like the marshes and the rivers and the lakes, and when I started this particular series, I was thinking about how the land and our cultural art interrelate with each other.”