Ventured over to Brooklyn to see what visual awesomeness Melissa Brown was up to in her studio. Melissa had the studio organized for making large-scale prints. She’s known for working with a variety of media including: used scratch tickets, oil paint, lino-cuts, wood-cuts, drawing, mail art, video, and performance. The color in Brown’s prints and paintings is what initially drew me to her work, but I admire her work for its openness and psychological generosity. Talking with Melissa was really fun. I actually got a little dadarhea of the mouth and started talking about philosophy, which in retrospect is embarrassing. Melissa is in a bunch of cool shows, one at Canada called Dadarhea which runs until March 20th, and two upcoming shows: Paper A-Z at Sue Scott, and the upcoming show at Zieher Smith in Chelsea.
“I’m interested in using and thinking about repeats. What it means to make a repeated image. Or, use that to some sort of advantage, or meaning, or significance. I started as a printmaker.”
Melissa gave a performance about how to win the lottery a couple of years ago in Canada. She told me that around 3am it got pretty crazy, and people were tugging at her arms and asking for her secrets.
You can buy used scratch tickets, wrapped in brown paper, in bricks of 1,000. Melissa uses them to make collages. Used scratch tickets bring up ideas like (bad) luck, desperation, magic, and rituals.
A lot of Brown’s work can be folded into Mobius Strips or Cootie Catchers. I asked Brown: What about folding?
“That relates to repeating too. I like the idea that an image isn’t necessarily what it immediately presents itself to be. But that you could somehow like crumple it up, or cut it up. I mean it’s sort of related to collage, in that it has an additional significance. I was obsessed for a really long time with that folding trick with the 20 dollar bill, that conspiracy folding trick. I made a print based on it.
You know this trick right? The 9/11 conspiracy of the twin towers falling down. Right after 9/11 this came out. If you fold a 20 – it looks like the twin towers on fire. Basically, I took that same bit and repeated it four times. It’s called “Four Twenties.” I like the idea of this image being something everyone carries around in their pocket on a daily basis. It may or may not have been premeditated. But, it’s an image that you can’t take for granted, it has this secret meaning.”
I loved this razor-wire-patterned ATM with the blinging gold card.
When looking at Melissa’s work my imagination goes into overdrive, and the terms aren’t dictated. It’s more like the images serve as the place for the imagination to act. She spoke about infrastructure, and while I’m writing this I’m wondering about how big that idea could get, and exactly what she meant. These prints feel like scaffolds for thoughts – in that they suggest things but don’t force specifics on you, it creates an expansive “place” for the imagination. I really enjoyed looking at Melissa’s work, hearing her talk about it made it richer too.
Brown had some cool technical stuff to say about this printed triptych. She spoke about taking a source image, and inverting some of the highlights and shadows in that photo or sketch. In the process you create an image where the brightest parts become the darkest and vice versa. Also, if you look at the two raking detail shots below you can see that the ink on these prints is juicy like paint. It results in some thick optical funkiness.
It was interesting to hear Melissa talk about what inspired some of her work. For instance, the large painting above was inspired by a woman’s awesome fingernails Melissa spotted on the subway. To Brown, the painting on the woman’s nails seemed like a landscape, and this painting is what resulted from that idea. I love work like this.
This drawing was inspired by the wood paneling in the basement of the house where Brown grew up. There’s actually a word for recognizing images like this: pareidolia. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote about it: “If you look at walls that are stained or made of different kinds of stones you can think you see in them certain picturesque views of mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, broad valleys, and hills of different shapes. You can also find in them battles and rapidly moving figures, strange faces and costumes, as well as an infinite number of things.”
Since the visit Brown has moved on to a new location in another neighborhood.