Melissa Meyer: Close attention to familiar surroundings

Melissa Meyer, Summer in the City I, 2018, oil on canvas, 80 x 60 inches

Contributed by Sharon Butler / A Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts colleague once told me that taking a new route each day was the most creative approach to commuting, but I firmly believed that walking the same route, from 30th Street Station down JFK Boulevard to City Hall, was more fruitful. Since I didn’t have to think about directions or feel compelled to marvel at fresh spectacles, I could spend more time thinking. Taking the same route each week encouraged close attention to familiar surroundings, and I began to notice finer details that I’d overlooked on previous trips. This quiet revelation helped bring me to a deeper appreciation for the lyrical and visually delightful work of Melissa Meyer, who for years has confined her artistic investigation to a familiar language of jangly improvisational brushwork and underlying geometric shape.

Melissa Meyer, Summer in the City II, 2018, oil on canvas, 80 x 60 inches

Art writers have oft noted that Meyer paints with thinned but highly pigmented oil paint that approaches the luminosity of watercolor, and that she works on the floor so that the brushstrokes don’t drip. Her canvases, like Adolph Gottlieb’s early myth-maker abstractions, are divided in loose grid formats, sometimes delineated by a blocky series of squares and sometimes by large brushstrokes that echo the feeling of Chinese calligraphic characters. The characters, like letterforms, feel as though they might signify something. Or their real significance may lie in Meyer’s action–her disciplined improvisation and decisive application. Either way, when you look at her work cumulatively over the span of her career, you get a sense that continuity plays an important role. Her titles provide context and (sometimes) existential coordinates.

Melissa Meyer, Getting in Line, 2017, oil on canvas, 78 x 80 inches

The two most recent paintings in the show, Summer in the City I and  Summer in the City II, feature a field of hard, roughly drawn characters that are often overwritten but never erased. The effect doesn’t appear as effortless or lyrical as earlier work in the show, such as Getting in Line, and the claustrophobia of the crowded characters seems more in sync with the zeitgeist. Getting in Line was a departure of sorts, and after a brief flirtation with continuous monochromatic line, Meyer seems to have moved back to the highly saturated color palettes and gridded compositions that she explored in previous work.

Melissa Meyer, Double Take II, diptych, 2018, oil on canvas, 16 x 24 inches

With each exhibition Meyer asks us not to assess a new approach or image, but rather to pick up the conversation where we last left it. In this way, seeing her work reminded me of the argument about taking the same route to school each week. At a glance her work feels familiar, but it requires attention and rewards a closer look.

Melissa Meyer: New Paintings,” Lennon, Weinberg, Inc., Chelsea, New York, NY. Through January 12, by appointment only.

Related posts:
Newness: Melissa Meyer at Lennon, Weinberg
Melissa Meyer’s FASCINATION
Adolph Gottlieb lamented the end of the underground –in 1966

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1 thought on “Melissa Meyer: Close attention to familiar surroundings”

  1. Love the reference to your steadfast repeat route, Sharon, and Melissa’s work definitely generates a wonderful sense of familiarity while being endlessly engaging. I found “Getting in Line” to be an interesting departure that hopefully hints at further explorations. Great show!!!

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