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.
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.
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.
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.