Melanie is a Brooklyn, NY-based artist who works primarily in abstract oil painting. She was born and raised in Columbus, IN. She holds a master’s degree in architecture from Indiana University, where she was part of the inaugural cohort. Throughout this program, she participated in dual architectural and visual art studios. Melanie has shown her work in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York. Currently, her work explores the relationships between the built environment and people. The city plays an integral role in how her works develop, reflecting her personal experiences through the lens of the urban fabric of Brooklyn.

Can you tell us about your background and how it has influenced your journey as an artist, from growing up in Columbus, IN to now being based in Brooklyn, NY?

My background began in business and project management, but I had always been a creative kid with crafty hobbies and interests in creative work like architecture and art. In 2018, Indiana University began a new master’s degree in architecture based in Columbus. It was unique in that it did not require a bachelor’s degree in architecture, so my peers and I came from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. This program also included visual art studios alongside the architectural studios – fundamentally integrating the two practices. It was here that I truly fell in love with painting. By the time I graduated from the program, I knew that I had to commit full time to my painting practice, and I felt that the natural next step was to immerse myself in a new urban context. That new context turned out to be Brooklyn, and once I got there, I fell in love with the city and its people.

Your work primarily focuses on abstract oil painting. What draws you to this medium, and how does it allow you to explore the relationships between the built environment and people?

I began my practice in acrylic paint, but through the architecture program was introduced to oil paint and I never quit the medium. It is a rich medium that gives me the flexibility, textures and finishes that I feel make my work my own. Oil paint allows me to create immersive layers and atmospheres that capture the multifaceted aspects of my experiences and observations derived from within the urban context around me.

Could you elaborate on how the city of Brooklyn plays a role in shaping your artwork, and how your personal experiences influence the development of your pieces?

Living in Brooklyn allows me to witness the constant changes in the built environment, shifts in weather, moments in time, seasonal changes, density of people, different neighborhoods, sound, and even nature. I often walk around the city and these walks provide a vast array of inspiration for my paintings. I am often drawn to shadows, edges and barriers, unexpected objects, people, and natural elements. I often capture my experiences via quick sketches, notes, and photographs. Sometimes my paintings are directly derived from impactful individual moments and sometimes they develop over repeated exposure to those shifting elements.

Your artist statement mentions exploring transitional zones between public and private spaces. Can you explain how these themes manifest in your paintings and the techniques you use to represent them?

As someone with a background in architecture, I am often drawn to it and the built environment overall as a foundation of human experience. In the city, one of the first things that I noticed was just how public much of my living experience was and how fluidly my home experience bled into the city. I was drawn to things like large windows, spaces between buildings and the sidewalks, balconies, outdoor dining, and the constant trade of objects set outside. These moments that I find at the edges between public and private then manifest themselves in my paintings through density (of paint as well as composition), barriers, translucency, fluidity, color biases, layering and gesture. I treat my paintings as almost a form of two-dimensional origami. Through my process the spaces that inspire me get “folded” and layered in a way that help me to process the world and draw out of it a reordered visual experience.

Tension, density, and physical interaction are some of the themes you often explore in your work. How do you convey these concepts visually, and what do you hope viewers take away from experiencing your art?

Living in a dense urban environment, density and tension are a common occurrence. It is difficult to ignore the world and people around you when living in an urban environment because of this. I look at this through rose colored glasses, and I choose to see the beauty of living among diverse people and an ever-evolving physical environment, and I strive to capture the beauty I find in the mundane moments that are so easy to overlook. Composition is key to this aspect of my work. The interactions of each form and the layering of opacity and translucency help me to translate these themes into the paintings. I hope that my paintings provide a new perspective, one that brings hope and optimism. I also hope that this body of work causes the viewer to pause, even briefly, and be present in that moment.

Your paintings often feature unexpected color palettes, various scales, and compositions. Can you discuss how these choices contribute to the overall message or mood of your artwork?

My color palettes are twofold. I begin with a limited palette derived closely from the moment that I’m trying to capture. As the painting unfolds, I allow my intuition to introduce color that captures or enhances the mood that I’m striving to capture. The scale of the pieces as well as the compositions come from the layering and folding of space and elements, built, natural and human that I have observed. The merging of color, scale and composition helps me to express these seemingly mundane moments through a different perspective.

Lastly, how does your immersion within the city of Brooklyn inform and inspire your creative process, and how do you express the city's ever-changing qualities in your paintings?

Brooklyn has fundamentally changed the way that I look at the world around me. I am fascinated by the impact of the built environment on humanity as well as the impact we have on it. The details, diversity, density, and constant surprises keep me exploring the city and looking closer at the things and people that make Brooklyn what it is. The city feels like a living thing to me, and I am constantly trying to capture a form of short-term history. The paintings that I make capture the city from one day to the next, always looking back and peering forward simultaneously.