Interview: Melanie Vote

Melanie Vote, Place Like Home (2008-16, oil on linen on panel, 26″x18″)
Melanie Vote, Place Like Home (2008-16, oil on linen on panel, 26″x18″)


SFA: I’ve long admired your fresh take on a rather old fashioned artistic practice: plein air painting. How much of your work is painted outdoors? What is it about plein air painting that appeals to you?

MV: For my show at Hionas Gallery in 2016 there was only one or two pieces that had, in part, been painted plein air. Both are part still-life, as well. One small piece, Posted II, began the previous summer while visiting a writer friend’s overgrown farm. The piece was created while sitting in the shade, painting the long un-mown grass during afternoons over a few consecutive days, and then painting a small Kewpie doll atop of a sign afterwards, indoors. I included this exact same sign in a painting a few years earlier, while it was attached to tree near the property. The land became public, and when my friend heard of this she took the sign down and gave it to me as welcoming gift upon my next visit.

As do most people, I love being outside in the summer. I grow restless, cooped-up in the studio on warm summer days knowing those moments are fleeting. I grew up in rural Iowa and first painted outside to reconnect with the landscapes of my childhood after living in NY for about a decade. Painting outdoors creates a sense of urgency, it pressures me to focus in a way that painting inside rarely does. These faster, more energetic paintings then inform my studio paintings.

Melanie Vote, Excavation of Life and Death (2016, oil on canvas, 84″x102″)
Melanie Vote, Excavation of Life and Death (2016, oil on canvas, 84″x102″)

SFA: You employ a number of unusual practices to develop your works. You’ve cast your childhood toys in plaster, you’ve buried objects, you’ve excavated sites…

MV: Yes, all of this is part of my visual research process. Sometimes I have only a feeling of what I am after visually, and even if I think I know what I wish to achieve, that changes with outcomes that present themselves.

I created a “Growing Bed” for the Hionas show. It too became a part of a painting, and informed some later studio pieces.

Installation detail, Overgrowth, Hionas Gallery
Installation detail, Overgrowth, Hionas Gallery

SFA: Please tell us about your painting, Other, currently on view at SFA Projects’s exhibition Getting Personal.

MV: This piece, Other is a culmination of experiences.

In the spring of 2016 a friend, at the time about 8 months pregnant, offered to pose for me. After many sketches and photos I chose to concentrate on this image because I loved the way the shadow of the large money tree cascaded across her body and obscured her portrait.

In early 2017  I began the piece, not yet certain of what type of environment the figure should exist in. At first, I imagined she would be placed just outside of a closed garden gate, referencing the Western world’s origin story of expulsion from Eden. Later that year, while in residency in the Grand Canyon, I found the landscape that spoke to me, which now serves for the environment for the figure. While there I began to realize just how much the land is entrenched in politics; a historical and contemporary battleground between preserving natural lands versus using them. This piece intends to question whether the human relationship with Earth is a symbiotic or parasitic one.

Melanie Vote, Other (2018, oil on wood, 60" x 30")
Melanie Vote, Other (2018, oil on wood, 60″ x 30″)

SFA: You recently opened another show, this time as a co-curator. What can you tell us about the show?

MV: The show Natural Proclivities, opened Thursday May 24th at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center in lower Manhattan. It is a cocuratorial project with Kim Power, initially conceived of while preparing for the my artist talk for my show Overgrowth that Kim facilitated at Hionas Gallery in 2016.

In preparation, we contemplated inviting other artists who also incorporated the natural world in their work to contribute to the conversation. But it was difficult to decide on which ones to ask because the list just kept growing.  We decided to save this list for a curatorial project sometime down the road and here we are two years later.

All the work in Natural Proclivities examines the complex relationship between humans and the natural world. There are 31 artists in the exhibition exploring varying perspectives on the topic, some from a more scientific depiction of matters at hand and others more poetic.

The show will be on view untill July 27th and there will be an artist panel on June 13th. For the complete press release please visit: [Link opens to Facebook Event Page]


This interview originally appeared on ART[inter]. It has been updated and republished here.