We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Melanie Reese. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Melanie below.
Hi Melanie, thanks for joining us today. I’m sure there have been days where the challenges of being an artist or creative force you to think about what it would be like to just have a regular job. When’s the last time you felt that way? Did you have any insights from the experience?
Oh, yes, those challenges of being an artist are real. But, without a doubt, I am much happier as an artist then I ever was working a 9 to 5. And I always knew I would be.
I never have to wonder what it would be like to “have a regular job” because I know exactly what it’s like. For 3 years after grad school I worked as a full-time Executive Assistant on wall street.
The job was a sharp left turn from how I spent the previous 2 years getting my MFA at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). I had just graduated, and I felt completely lost; terrified about how much time and money I had spent on a degree that guaranteed me nothing other than bolstering my creative thought. So, I turned away from the artist life. I told myself I had to suck it up for a few years and work the dreaded 9-5, cubicle job I knew I’d struggle to be happy with.
I ended up working as an Executive Assistant for a company that dealt with bankruptcy litigation and liquidation. Suffice to say I was way out of my depths–it took me a full year of working there to even begin to understand what they did. But it wasn’t all that bad; they “let me flex my creativity” by asking me to do things way outside my job description like design, build, and maintain their company website and design & execute entire marketing campaigns. Through it all, I made a decent living and was able to save enough money to feel like, after 3 years, I could finally step away and build a life as a full-time artist.
Now I have been a full-time artist for close to 2 years and I could not be happier! Sure, the day-to-day financials are more stressful, but it’s worth it for doing what makes you happy day in and day out. And I have never looked back or wondered about that ‘regular job’ alternative life again.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your background and context?
I am a visual artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. I describe myself as an observational painter inspired by formalism. Which, for me means that I am constantly looking; and in that looking, I am breaking everything down into lines, shapes, colors, and textures that I then reconstruct on the canvas. My observations are a particular confluence of quiet distilled down forms and loud symbolic patterning.
My most recent work is heavily influenced by my life as a young woman living in the US, focusing on the increasingly tethered connection between bodily autonomy and our natural landscape. Embracing the body as the vessel and nature as the foundation of human existence, I seek to expose the complex yet innate connection between human rights and climate justice in present day America as a means of generating conversations of sustainable choice through the lens of bodily autonomy and landscape.
I create my paintings by pushing the boundaries of the act of painting itself. Through my methodology I have developed an entirely unique painting by way of multi-layered mono-printing. Through precise layering of minimalist forms, I am generating a lexicon of intrinsically human gestures that––when combined with bold, vaginally-inspired, and historical patterns––my paintings become narrative.
I am also utilizing spray paint and stenciling to create the patterns found in my paintings. It is rare that I put a paintbrush to canvas, rather my entire process of creation exists within the realm of working the negative space to create positive forms.
Have you ever had to pivot?
I feel like being an artist means to constantly pivot. I don’t mean that in the sense of pivoting what you are creatively producing, but rather that an artist is constantly pivoting between roles. I feel like you put it so aptly in your first question, artists are themselves creative forces.
These days, to be an artist means to be many things: a creative, a small-business owner, a marketing professional, a social media master, an accountant/bookkeeper, and a guiding educational hand… to name a few. For me, the act of actually putting paint to canvas is minimal on any given day––living a creative life often means doing a lot of work “around” the creative production in order to make the creative production possible.
You are constantly on a swivel. You are constantly pivoting to make an artistic life work within the limits of a capitalist society.
Learning and unlearning are both critical parts of growth – can you share a story of a time when you had to unlearn a lesson?
That asking for what I want is not being pushy or annoying, rather it’s the only way I am going to actually achieve my goals.
For years, I never reached out to galleries or applied to certain opportunities out of fear; fear of being annoying, fear of not being good enough. That self-doubt would hold me back from a lot of opportunities. It wasn’t until recently that I truly came to realize and appreciate that I was the only one who was hurting from that thought process. ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ is a saying for a reason!
Never hold yourself back from being who you want to be.
- Website: www.melreese.com
- Instagram: @melaniereese
All images courtesy of the artist, Melanie Reese.