Living between Athens, Andros and New York, writer/sculptor Amalia Melis talks about her life as an artist in Greece.
By Amalia Melis
I have a vivid imagination. When I was a kid, I wanted to live on the bottom of a Spanish olive jar eating olives and drinking brine to survive. It’s true. I live in my head: I think more than I do on this earth at times. I still observe clouds and watch ants in the dirt.
I love to write. I have practiced almost every form of writing there is to earn a living in New York and in Athens. News reporting, features, essays, poems, short stories, speeches, ghostwriting. I always felt like an oddball and writing gave me voice: it allows me to role play without appearing anywhere in person. I have interviewed dictators, drug traffickers, award winning writers, for newspapers and magazines and found I can plow through any situation.
I grew up in a chaotic household in the Greek immigrant neighborhood of Astoria (New York) with my younger sister and two very hardworking parents who also made things in their spare time. My mom is a self-taught painter and my dad is a creative mad genius who makes things from nothing. His family films were entire productions and I was often his helper, so all this activity rubbed off on me.
I started making assemblage sculptures about 10 years ago. I find discarded metal and wires thrown on the side of the street or near garbage cans and I drag them home to see what new life I can breathe into them. The assemblages I ‘ve been making are my three-dimensional stories. I am a hunter of many things; metal, wires, sea glass, sea pottery, rocks, whatever strikes my fancy.
I just listen to what comes out of me and go to what attracts me. I listen to what is happening in nature around me. I listen to what happens between people. I walk the path the energy around me takes me on. I feel like I am at the right place right now in my life because I see how connected everything and everyone is around me. Maybe it is how I best process and express pain.
When I write fiction I am sculpting a story that hides a real pain or truth. It has many layers and the more I work on it the more it takes on a life of its own. When I cover a news event as a reporter, I report the facts. I do not embellish.
The Aegean Arts Circle writing workshops are my pride and joy. I created them when I needed a writing community. I was alone in a new country. I brought the talent to me and from the experiences in these workshops I flourished as a person and a writer. I was working on my first novel, which took years to write and finish and I was privy to stories emerging from other participants who came from all over the world to be part of these small annual groups in Andros. We have made friendships that span the seas. Many of us publish, work professionally as writers. I have published short stories, essays and poems many of which were worked on in the workshops.
Andros was the first exotic experience for me as a child. We visited my great grandmother, a grandmother, stone houses my parents and generations before them were born in. In Andros, all my senses opened. Lemon blossoms, dirt, chickens, fresh eggs, ballo dancing, violin and other traditional instruments, stories; piles of stories about the past- the seamen stories, island stories.
From that moment on I became a gatherer. I gathered these stories filled with failure, struggle, harsh conditions and I let them incubate inside me. I used them to write my own novel about three generations of women from a Greek island who search for home; to belong, to be.
Andros has had the luck to have the Goulandris Museums (archeological and contemporary ones) the Kydionefs Foundation and, Adamantia Art Space, a lovely gallery in Nimborio, among other spaces. I see as much as I can each summer on the island. I participated with my assemblages in several group shows in Apikia at Blue Enigma. Visitors should explore all art events organized in Andros. There is also hiking, roller blading, biking, skating, scuba diving, boating and more. They can come to write or swim and visit precious monasteries maintained for generations with great care. Andros is unfolding as an island. Just exploring the island gets us to explore ourselves.