By IRENA JUREK, NOV. 2015
Melissa Brown is a New York based artist who creates mixed-media paintings and animations that explore what is supped-up and otherworldly about ordinary experience. Her images freeze material conjunctions – other artworks, drawings in scratch-off lottery ink, found materials, airbrush and observational painting - in order to present a multi-registered view of reality.
IJ: Your fascination with the lottery is an ongoing theme in your work. How did your attraction to the lottery begin?
MB: I’ve always been interested in the line between fantasy and reality and how that gets represented. Lottery tickets are the public version of that.
IJ: There is definitely something fantastical about the lottery, and what it represents. It never seems like anyone will ever win the lottery, and yet someone always does!
MB: The mechanical function of it is that there’s a code under the picture and you need to dig through it to find your answer. I think this is pretty close to how reality really works: the answer is always floating in front of you, but under the surface. It’s hidden but someone always manages to find it.
IJ: You also collect money from around the world. Would you say that you could tell a lot about a society based on looking at its money?
MB: Yes, I have a large collection of international currency. Different cultures put different people on money; for instance, South America puts writers, poets, and philosophers. Eastern Europe has a lot of scientists on their money. The U.S. has politicians on our currency whereas across Europe there are more cultural creators. Formerly, that’s no longer true with the Euro.
IJ: That’s fascinating; I never realized how much money reveals about a country.
MB: Yes, it reveals what a country values at a certain point in history.
IJ: Mythology seems to play an important role in your work. You seem to have a strong connection to Indian mythology, miniatures, and advertising, too.
MB: I like looking at throw away, culture, especially throw away paper ephemera! I like how it has a reference to old mythology, but it’s also the most casual reference to it.
IJ: Your paintings also seem to have an otherworldly, ghostly quality to them. Although they talk about material things, they almost seem more transcendental in a way.
MB: Yes, just like flipping over the eight ball, or throwing a coin, there’s this moment of anticipation, between having the idea of something that you want, and whether or not it comes true.
IJ: The anticipation that you’re describing is a lot like that Oscar Wilde quote, "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."
MB: Yes, I think that’s really linked! The lottery is just one example of that. It happens on so many different levels in the smallest ways every day. I think there is an ocean of difference between knowing what you want and being prepared to handle it once you get it.
IJ: Your work has this Eastern sensibility; the nonlinear complexity you create reminds me of Chinese paintings. I’ve always admired your compositions, because they’re hard to break down.
MB: I’ve always liked Byzantine paintings for that same reason. The hierarchy to the picture plane doesn’t have anything to do with perspective; it has more to do with how you think about it. Whatever is more important to you could be bigger rather than what’s closer.
IJ: That’s much more exciting than blindly following what you see and perceive.
MB: There’s reality, and then there’s psychological reality, and they’re distorted in comparison to each other.
IJ: Your use of transparency is also really interesting, it dematerializes these concrete objects. There’s a sense of impermanence and mystery in your work.
MB: That’s how we perceive reality; there are parts that are unclear, and parts that are concrete. The concrete parts are going to flow in front, and other aspects are going to disappear into the background. WM
Irena Jurek is an artist, writer, and curator based in New York. She has contributed to Art F City, New York Arts Magazine, Whitehot magazine, and others.
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