“I have no idea what I’m doing,” begins illustrator Melek Zertal on the topic of how she discovered her practice. “I like drawing, but when I do it I get bored and wonder if I wouldn’t be better off making clothes or music videos.” The Algerian-born, Parisian-raised artist has a nonchalant attitude towards her practice that belies the work itself, which is at once soft and striking.
Graduating with a master’s degree in illustration from Les Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg, Melek has since built a strong portfolio. Shades of pink and blue dominate many of her drawings, which bounce between sketchy and solid line work. Made exclusively with pencil and alcohol marker, Malek creates humorous situations where her characters often make quips and tease each other over being too materialistic and vein.
The characters within “are all me – all the voices in my head,” Melek says. As such, no males feature in her work, and she changes skin colour, eye colour and height only to differentiate between the various versions of herself. These iterations of the artist go on dates, shopping sprees and trips to In-N-Out Burger. “I think it’s really important to show people that are non-white/straight/cis without this point being the centre of the story,” she continues.
Seeing her work more as curation than drawing, Melek says she is simply pulling different elements from different areas of inspiration and bringing them together: “I put the characters in clothes, colours and environments that I would love to be in myself.” With a wide range of reference material, from books on Matisse and Hockney to films by Lynch and Varda, Melek modestly thinks of it as nothing more than a joining of these elements. After listing her influences, Melek says that although 98% of them are men, “because of that, 100% of my characters are women.”
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