Meet Our Artist: Melissa Paré

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Could you tell us about your history as an artist?

I come from a family of crafters, they could pick up most anything, understand the pattern, hone the skill, then make it their own. They were working class Midwesterners who made crafts on the weekends between house maintenance and grocery shopping. My grandmother made her living in the later part of life selling crocheted ornaments and toilet paper holders at craft fairs. Her daughters by her side selling their quilts and ceramic ashtrays. In the seventies my father owned a business airbrushing scenes like snakes coiled around women on the sides of vans. My mother crocheted afghans and baby clothes, entering them into state fair competitions, eventually taking home a few ribbons. They never used the word artist, so when I decided to focus my efforts in that direction they didn’t really see it as practical - for them,making things was a fun thing to do in your free time with a promise of a little extra side income.

I went to a public art high school sort of like the one in the movie Fame. There were a lot of kids from very different backgrounds and experiences and the culture of that environment really opened me up creatively, realizing there is more than one way to be in the world.  In college I focused on photography but also studied painting and graphic design. My photography professor introduced concepts of meditation in art, themes that have stuck with me. I went on to graduate school at the University of Illinois - Chicago, focusing on photography. After getting my MFA, I moved to Brooklyn and spent a lot of time going to art openings. The paintings I saw really inspired me and I started painting more and more. Eventually I decided I needed more space to make work and live.After a cosmic trip to Santa Fe I moved to New Mexico where I taught painting as an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico. The colors of the desert made their way into my work: ocres, oranges and browns. But the dryness of the desert was harsh and caused random physical issues, so I moved back to the midwest to be close to family. I bought a house, and here I make work.

What are some ideas that motivate and form your art practice?

The transcending ability of color, line and shape. Georgia O'Keefe said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way – things I had no words for.”

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Could you tell us a little bit about working in different mediums and why you like them?

The work I make with photography helps inform what I’m making in painting and vice versa. Switching back and forth between mediums is part of my process. If I’m working in photography and hit a wall, switching over to painting can loosen me up. I like photography because I feel like I have a lot of control over the final outcome. Photography has things like lighting, photoshop and other technical advantages that for me painting doesn’t have. With painting I like letting the paint and brush stroke do its thing, sort of giving up control and seeing where it takes me.

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Who are your artistic heroes?

I’m attracted to mysticism in art, so Hilma af Klint is my queen. Like others, I have felt the pull of O’Ḱeefe to the southwest. The book Writings, by Agnes Martin is close to my bed, always finding something new when I come back to it. When I was a teenager I was really into Madonna – a Midwest girl who moved to New York to have her artistic talents realized. She made it seem like moving to NYC was a natural trajectory for any woman living in the Midwest who wanted to be closer to the cultural centers.

“The Ten Largest” (1907) at the Museum of Modern Art Stockholm, 2013 Photograph: Åsa Lundén

“The Ten Largest” (1907) at the Museum of Modern Art Stockholm, 2013 Photograph: Åsa Lundén

What is the difference between craft and art?

I would say each has its own market with its own set of rules. Where you chose to put your energy depends on past experiences, education, skill and the confidence that you will survive.

What are some things inspiring you right now:

Meditation. The other day after spending several hours working on a painting I sat down to meditate. I was trying to empty my mind of thoughts and realized most of the thoughts coming to me were of visual elements like line, color and shape. The meditation practice I’m studying asks the meditator where those thoughts come from, and really I’m not sure. Its inspiring to confront the mysteries of creativity through meditation practice.

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You live in Milwaukee where you mentioned that you have a great community of people who support you. Could you talk a little bit about the importance of community and what it means to you?

If I lived in a cornfield in the middle of nowhere I think, for me it might be hard to stay artistically energized. Luckily, Milwaukee has a community of people who are dedicated creatives: poets, musicians, experimental filmmakers etc. Being around creative energy, having meaningful conversations and attending events keeps me motivated and pushing forward.

You and your husband have an incense business, Zouz Incense! Tell us about the role that ritual plays in your life and practice?

I use incense as part of my creative process - fragrance can be very inspiring. Incense, like music, can be used to create a mood and delineate time. We are so busy moving between tasks in daily life it can be difficult to jump from responding to emails to making a painting. When I need to switch gears incense helps create a sensory marker to set the tone and vibe where creativity can happen.

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Tell us a bit about the piece “Land” one of your paintings on silk, that we are using as our inspiration for Summer 2019…

Working on a precious material like silk adds a seriousness to imperfections or gestural marks that happen during the application of wax and color. What I like about working with silk is that once applied, I can't change the marks. Allowing the marks to occur without correction creates a space for a candid exploration of both traditional and contemporary textile motifs. It’s an intuitive process of what works and what doesn't, and when it comes together it just feels right. With this piece, inspired by the history of textiles as ritual objects, I wanted to create something that radiates positive thoughts and a bright future.

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Feature, Summer 2019Hillary