Women's Lib: Melanie Reese Talks Abstract Art

Her art will meld your mind, in a very good way.

Melanie Reese makes art that uses the mediums of drawing and painting to question the roles of women in society, and it's a real great trip. Inspired by Jacqueline Rose’s, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath, Melanie explores the way in which women can be understood as ghosts of our culture and how we, as a society, are haunted by our repression of them.

Her art will meld your mind, in a very good way. 

You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

Image: Chantel Jeffries

The Kind: Where does your inspiration come from?

Melanie: I am inspired by my everyday life: by what I experience walking down the street, riding the subway, eating at restaurants, talking to friends, or grabbing a drink—the life of a woman in a city where both sexual harassment and the objectification of women is rampant. I am inspired by the gut-wrenching stories of abuse and rape on social media and by the fact that sexist rhetoric is still common.

The Kind: Describe your creative process.

Melanie: I try to be as intuitive as possible. I often impose some initial restrictions, like choosing a specific color-pallet. I then use my intuition, which has been refined over the years and informed by my training in color theory and art history, to make something that speaks to me (and I hope to others as well). I also try not to have a final image in mind; I like to let the paintings evolve naturally. I find this to be an incredibly challenging but ultimately rewarding process. I also try to have as much fun as possible! As the artist Macon Reed once said to me, “if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?” When I’m not creating, I’m gathering material––by reading, by conversing, and by looking at art as much as possible.

The Kind: Why abstract art?

Melanie: This is a great question! It’s one that I am still trying to answer. I am new to abstraction, but it has always intrigued and inspired me. Until very recently, I was painting and drawing direct, figural images. These images, while aesthetic, were also abrasive and confrontational. This was something I did purposefully in order to elicit strong reactions from viewers. I am now finding that abstraction can also be a powerful tool. Color creates a mood; shapes and textures create an environment. Placing a body, at any scale, within that environment creates a story. And the story I want to tell is a difficult one about the challenges women face in their everyday lives. The aesthetic beauty of abstraction makes the work initially approachable; it obscures the difficult story I am telling. Only later does that story come into focus. The cognitive surprise of this discovery invites the viewer to reinterpret my work in light of that story and to reevaluate their initial attraction to it.

The Kind: What is it like being a woman in this space?

Melanie: Being a female artist in the current art world can be frustrating at times. Enrollment in the art courses I have taken throughout my academic career have been mostly women, but the artists we’ve studied have been mostly men. The artists comprising the canon of art history? Mostly men. The art historians interpreting this canon? Mostly men. The artists enjoying elite gallery representation? Mostly men. The artists who are highest paid? Mostly men. The art world is still dominated by men—but why is that? The current state of the art world seems to reflect much larger, systemic issues regarding women.

The Kind: If not art, what would you be doing?

Melanie: A helicopter pilot.