ONTARIO – Eddie Melendrez paints in his living room.
Sometimes his wife scolds him when she finds paint spots on the floor.
That’s fine with Melendrez.
Painting in acrylic on canvas with his family nearby – either watching television or in the kitchen – sparks Melendrez’s creative juices.
“I tried to create a studio in my garage. But I feel better around my family. It is more inspiring,” he said.
Melendrez, a member of the Ontario City Council who also works at the Oregon Food Bank, recently learned he was selected as one of four artists to receive the Fields Artist Fellowship sponsored by the Oregon Community Foundation and the Oregon Humanities.
Melendrez and three other artists will each receive $150,000 over two years to cultivate social change in their communities.
Melendrez said the announcement he was selected was a “huge relief.”
That’s because the Ontario resident had applied twice before without success.
“It was overwhelming. I felt very excited. I was super grateful,” he said.
As part of the fellowship, Melendrez said he will attend workshops and other gatherings with his fellow artists to “learn more about art and how it can have a social impact in our communities and create social change.”
The grant “will also allow me to focus and dedicate myself to my art. On a personal level, I want create more art and conversations around issues I’ve seen in the community,” he said.
Melendrez’s work – which he labels as Chicano art – is a key piece of his personal, community activism. Melendrez spent a great deal of time over the past years focused on youth in the local community and other key issues such as homelessness.
He has a clear goal for his art and personal growth in the next 24 months.
“I’d like to of focus on child poverty we have in eastern Oregon. The other things I’d like to focus on is the history of Mexican-Americans and, connected to that, the workers coming in now, the newcomers from Mexico, South America,” he said.
He said raising awareness about nativism and xenophobia are aims for the future.
Yet his social agenda rotates around his art.
Melendrez said he captures ideas for his art pieces in different ways.
“Usually it’s stories that I hear or people who inspire me. It could be something like a person going through a difficult time or a youth going through a tragic situation,” he said.
Sometimes, he said, he will see something interesting and take a photo. Eventually it may end up on canvas.
“It might be a year before I paint something and sometimes it is right on the spot,” he said.
“There are times where I don’t paint in six months and then, in a month, I will do six paintings,” he said.
Then he might choose a theme for a painting right from the headlines, such as the series by the Enterprise on child poverty.
“I do that to bring the story further or create more momentum to find solutions to a social issue,” he said.
When he stands before the blank canvas, though, he said he “usually has an idea in my mind of what I want to paint.”
Great art can’t be rushed and Melendrez said he doesn’t work on a schedule.
“The actual painting itself will take about eight hours. But from the time I have an idea or take a photo it could take three years,” he said. Melendrez began to paint at a young age, spurred by an uncle and school teachers. He eventually set aside his art and began to compete as a professional boxer. In 2015, he came back to painting.
He said his painting schedule is varied.
Sometimes he paints in the morning, sometimes at night.
“I’ve gone all night. Done that many times,” he said.
Melendrez, 40, said, he believes in his art.
“I think that if you dedicate yourself to something with all your heart it will help set you free,” he said.
His art has been featured in exhibits at Four Rivers Cultural Center and at the Nampa Hispanic Cultural Center. He often does family portraits for local residents. He also sells his art and price range from $300 to $1,500, depending upon the size of the piece and the amount of time he puts into its creation.
He said along with dedication to his art it is also important to cultivate a dream.
“A lot of us are artists or dedicate ourselves to something when we are young and then somewhere along the way we let it go. Because of work or we become adults. But I’ve been drawing since I can remember and I never gave up,” he said.
Melendrez said he hopes people see his art is made with a lot of love.
“I hope to inspire folks with my heart,” he said.
Melendrez said in his civic work he wants to lead by example.
“Instead of telling people, I want to show them. I want to get involved and do my part,” he said.
Melendrez said civic engagements is about more than criticizing.
“Instead of complaining about law enforcement, I want to support them and give them what they need so they can provide safety to our community. Instead of complaining about the parks, I want to go to the parks and help,” he said.
One goal dear to his heart, he said, is to motivate young Hispanic youth to get involved.
“My dream is to inspire them to be leaders in the community,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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