Turning The Mundane Into Fascinating with Melissa Brown

Ladies Choice is an ongoing series highlighting female artists working in New York City and beyond. This series honors the power and ingenuity of women in the arts. Women have traditionally received much less exposure and recognition in the art industry. In their support of one another, these women stand as a testament to furthering the careers of female artists.

Melissa Brown merges interior and exterior realms in her eye-catching, textural compositions. Brown layers imagery and processes to create scenes that though imagined, remind the viewer of a familiar and often comforting space. In this way, Brown at once entices all of the senses while inviting you in to explore what exists beyond the surface.

You are part of a young generation of female artists hustling and gaining recognition in NYC. What does being a part of a strong female community mean for you?

There are so many women artists that I deeply admire here in New York City, who also happen to be some of the best artists working at this point in history. It’s a boon to be able to have an in-person dialog via studio visits, openings, organizing and curating shows, and from just roaming around the place. So – on a personal level, being a part of a strong female community means having access to these women as fellow working artists, where there’s a natural give and take. On a broader level, when women artists are the subjects of solo shows, represented by galleries, discussed critically and their work is highly coveted – those are further benchmarks that evidence a strong, recognized, female community.

Which female artists, living or dead, inspire you most?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Joan Brown recently. Her graphic, symbolic style has always appealed to me, but she has an innovative way of transforming her personal narrative into a larger archetype.  For instance, Post Alcatraz Swim depicts a real event in her life – swimming across the San Francisco Bay – and in the painting she includes specific details, her dress pattern, the interior of her home, her emotional state. The result is that a very specific event in her personal life feels relatable on a human and universal level. The vulnerability of a hero. Kathy Bradford’s work impressively evokes a similar effect and sentiment. Additionally, I would list Georgia O’Keefe, Agnes Martin, Hilma af Klint, and Lois Dodd as long term inspirations.

Have you experienced firsthand the underrepresentation of female artists in the art industry?

This phenomenon is plainly observable, if you look at artists associated with art historical movements, auction records, exhibition lists.

Have you noticed a change in opportunities available for female artists since you first entered the art world?

Yes. There is a sudden change in conversations that are happening around the subject and this includes both women and men.

If you could change one thing about the current landscape for working female artists what would it be?

That there would be less of a need for discussing the current landscape for working female artists.

Can you tell us about your background, specifically your relationship printmaking and how it finds space in your work?

For a long time I’ve been incorporating print into painting in various ways: using stencils, painting with rollers, making ridiculously oversized woodcuts. I like the look of graphics being scaled up and blown out to the point where the mechanical application starts to fall apart and becomes painterly. Print has a very different sensation than paint.

When you start a work do you intend to create a build-up of different layers of medium on the canvas?

My most recent paintings collage photo-silkscreen, airbrush, stencil, and oil paint. Aerosol, photograph, print, cut-out, and liquid bits of paint are knit together to make a seamless scene. Each technique holds a different sensation for me. It’s parallel to how I experience daily life as a mash of sensations: hard edged, escapist, virtual, mechanical, analog, otherworldly.

What source imagery do you use as inspiration for your work?

Mundane things I knock into on a daily basis: eBay, reflections, lottery tickets, someone’s twisted expression, manicures, the weather, hotel curtains, synchronistic events, an emotional outburst, nostalgia, slot machines, woodgrain, incense, patterns, paintings that I love, a tarot reading, a horoscope, boredom, candy crush, color.

Much of your work incorporates landscape elements in a blending of interior/exterior scenes. Can you explain how you choose the perspective that the viewer adopts in your work?

A lot of the paintings I make are from a first person perspective. The experience that I enjoy most about looking at other people’s paintings is when they provide an escape hatch, a transportation through someone else’s mind’s eye or world view. It’s a form of visual empathy. In my pictures I’m often showing you a frame from a real experience. But as it develops as a painting it pulls in much more than the reality it came from. It includes memory, distortion, randomness, fantasy, fact, fiction. Someone like David Lynch is a master at presenting what seems ordinary as uncannily strange, almost terrifying. I think about him a lot.

How do you stay inspired in your practice?


At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

Sarah Peters! Her recent show Figureheads was a revelation.