Jim Melchert was born in 1930 in Ohio. After his undergraduate studies in art history at Princeton he taught English in Japan for four years in exchange for the rich experience of living there. Returning to the States he earned degrees in painting at the University of Chicago and afterwards ceramics under Peter Voulkos at the University of California, Berkeley. Finding the Bay Area to be receptive to artists in the way that watering holes are to migratory birds, he settled in Oakland and thrived on the interaction among his colleagues and young artists at UC-Berkeley where he taught. In 1977 the National Endowment for the Arts brought him to Washington, DC to direct its Visual Arts Program for four years. From 1984 to 1988 he joined the American Academy in Rome as Director.
One can see from the diversity of Melchert’s art work that he is a maverick who disregards many of the canons that define disciplines. His travels throughout the Mediterranean in the 1980s introduced him to ceramic tile as a medium ripe for further investigation. Among the places where his work has been exhibited are the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Art and Design in New York; the Museums of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles; the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston; at the Museums of Modern Art in San Francisco, Tokyo, and Kyoto; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Documenta 5 in Kassel, Germany.
Melchart’s use of process and gestural ‘acts’ open interpretations into the fabric and structural beauty of a material, the artist often seeking a revelatory moment of chance discovery which — on subsequent reflection — can uncover truths about the person as well as the act and the art. “Park Forest” is a piece formed from action often returned to by Melchart; a slab of stoneware heated until hidden weaknesses crack under stress, then decorated or refurnished based upon them. Melchart posits that the resulting set of hairline fractures — and therefore the resubmitted form — is a result of chance and yet also not, the possibility of a fault’s fruition having always been embedded in the clay at an elemental level, set to wait for the artist’s .