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Interview with Melinda Heal

Textile Artist

In February, 2019 I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Melinda Heal, an Australian textile artist who has studied Japanese Katazome stencil dyeing and Yuzen dyeing in Japan for several years.

Pease watch the interview!

(c) Melinda Heal. Katazome stencils and resulting artworks. Images used with permission.

Melinda moved to the ACT from South Australia in her formative years and credits her interest in Japan and Japanese to her early primary school teachers in Adelaide. Later in life, her love of Japan and art took her to the Australian National University (ANU) to study a double degree in Visual Arts and Asian Studies. The ANU had an exchange program agreement with Kyoto Seika University so Melinda spent a year in Japan as part of her studies.  It is there, in Kyoto, that she first learned the technique of Katazome stencil dyeing.

In the 1600's Katazome was an effective method of transferring repetitive patterns and shapes onto bolts of fabric for kimono that was both cost effective and had the benefit of being able to be used over and over.

Melinda's first few weeks in the studio were spent drawing and generating ideas for Katazome stencils. It was several weeks before the teachers were happy with everyone's designs such that they were allowed to cut the design into stencils onto the washi paper but, eventually, Melinda was able to realise her very first Katazome designs. That year in Kyoto went quickly and hooked her in to this unique Japanese art form.

Click here for more information on Katazome stencil dyeing.

Melinda was able to return to Kyoto after her Bachelor degree to undertake research, with the assistance of a Monbukagakusho Scholarship from the Japanese government and, four years later, complete a Master of Arts through Kyoto Seika University. The university had decided that, as Yuzen dyeing was also a traditional Japanese fabric art, they would offer instruction on Yuzen dyeing in addition to Katazome, so Melinda was able to research, create and spend time learning and perfecting her skills in both Katazome and Yuzen during her time in Kyoto.

(c) Melinda Heal. Australian Magpie Noren 2017. Image used with permission.

Yuzen opened up opportunities for Melinda to not only experiment with a different Japanese style of fabric dyeing but a broader range of colours and a greater flexibility and freedom with the designs themselves.

Further strengthening the grassroots bond between Australia and Japan, Melinda's Katazome and Yuzen works often feature Australian flora and fauna, and she has exhibited her work in Japan, Australia and overseas.

Many backdrop settings for her flora and fauna are distinctly Australian scenery and the bush. One comissioned noren wallhanging for a Japanese tea house has Australian magpies sitting on a barbed-wire farm fence.

She commented to me that the Japanese people did not believe her when she tried to explain how vibrantly colourful are our native birds, particularly parrots, so she began showing them by painting parrots, budgerigars and galahs in all their colourful glory!

(c) Melinda Heal. Call of the Crimson Rosellas. Image used with permission.

Plans for the future...

Melinda enjoys reconnecting with friends, fellow textile artists and professors from Kyoto, Japan and while there are no plans to return to Japan just yet, Melinda has some up-coming solo exhibitions in Newcastle and Canberra. Stay tuned for updates on this humble, and extremely talented, young artist!

Where can you learn more about Melinda Heal?

Melinda has a website where she also has an online shop, an Instagram handle and a Facebook page. 

(c) Melinda Heal. Her graduation furisode kimono. Yuzen on self-patterned silk. Images used with permission.

Melinda Heal's previous exhibitions

  • Solo exhibitions in Kyoto, Galerie H20 in 2013, 2017 
  • Solo exhibition at the Japan Foundation in Sydney, Australia 2016
  • Solo exhibitions in Canberra, Australia at M16 Gallery August 2015, ANCA Gallery Dickson 2017
  • Selected for Wangaratta, Australia Contemporary Textile Award Exhibition in 2015
  • Group show with Japanese dye artists at Medialia Rack and Hamper Gallery in New York, USA in 2014 and 2017
  • Various group and juried shows in Australia and Japan.

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