Today we’d like to introduce you to Melissa Vandenberg.
Melissa, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I am a 40-year-old artist, educator, and curator living in Eastern Kentucky. I was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1977. Detroit as place, and even as an energy, had a significant role in my development as an artist. Detroit was this forbidden fruit, but as soon as my friends and I could drive, we spent every free moment downtown. I took my film camera everywhere, trying to capture the people and the architecture of the city. I hate how corny this sounds, but Detroit was my muse. Its history, both tragic and hardworking, tormented by economic and political upheaval, set a stage for my desire to generate socially engaged artwork.
My parents were both creative, especially my mother. My father was more craftsperson. In turn I was raised in a very hands household, with a prevalent “do it yourself” attitude. My mother was always sewing and making something, which slanted my interest towards textiles and soft sculpture. I also looked at my Swedish heritage, and what sorts of “woman’s work’ were responsible for the art throughout our own home–I was surrounded by handmade tablecloths, embroidery, quilts, and clothes. Its impact was inescapable.
My full CV is on my website for educational history etc.
Here is a brief bio:
“Born and educated in Detroit, Melissa is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and curator living in Eastern Kentucky. Her studio practice explores the political landscape using national identity, folk art, ancestry, immigration, and the perception of a homeland as points of departure. She gravitates to everyday materials like matches, fabric, stickers, wood, and commonplace objects. Her work has been exhibited in Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, Iceland, and extensively throughout the United States. Melissa received a BFA in 1999 from Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan and an MFA in 2005 from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She has been the recipient of numerous grants including a Kentucky Foundation for Women Artist Enrichment Grant, the Al Smith Fellowship, Great Meadows Foundation Travel Grant, and was shortlisted for the Luxembourg Art Prize in 2016. Melissa is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Eastern Kentucky University.”
Melissa is represented by Maus Contemporary in Birmingham, AL.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
Below is my existing artist statement and a meaningful quote that sheds some light on my artistic practice. Most recently I have spent a great deal of time letting current events, national and global politics, and mortality/fear of death become metaphors in the objects and performances I create. I work in all media available to me. Granted, I gravitate to textiles, but I also draw, paint, collage, photograph, and perform some of the projects. I have shown my work through the US and internationally. I am about to depart for a month-long artist residency in Gothenburg, Sweden where I will research my ancestral homeland for new inspiration.
“Beautiful like the chance meeting on a dissection table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.”
– Compte de Lautréamont
Permanence is an illusion and power an apparition. After enough time passes, the most any of us can hope for is to leave artifacts behind.
With ordinary materials my work addresses the fleeting nature of power and a lack of permanence with both the tangible and metaphysical. Inspiration is garnered from Americana relics, eastern religious practices and an overall nostalgia for vintage materials. We impose a lot of metaphors on objects and possessions, which affects my chosen iconography. Flags, maps, Buddha silhouettes and gravestones are altered into somewhat antagonistic forms. Questions surrounding patriotism, pride and partisanship begin to emerge in work that is both satirical and idealistic. The results are overwhelmingly about mortality, but not exclusively dark or negative. Subtexts touch on resurrection, reincarnation and even recycling.
Much of the work is made with ordinary supplies like matches, quilts, stickers, popsicles, temporary tattoos and other domicile goods. I am partial towards the “familiar,” in hopes of making the challenging subjects addressed in the work more accessible. There is not one mode or material that is preferred over another, but I often find myself gravitating towards sculpture in addition to working with drawing, collage, photography, installation and performance.
My upbringing in the suburbs of Detroit, a northern “Rust Belt” metropolis, combined with Southern “make do” perseverance, has had an enormous impact on my art. Repetition is a predominant motif, reminiscent of assembly line manufacturing from my Detroit origins, but this is combined with the hand-made (aka woman-made). Nationalism, particularly in the US, motivates work that questions the notion of a “homeland” and how national identity intertwines with individual identity.
The sterotype of a starving artist scares away many potentially talented artists from pursuing art – any advice or thoughts about how to deal with the financial concerns an aspiring artist might be concerned about?
Find ways to put your practice first. Live small… smaller apartment, older car, less fancy clothes… to enable more time in the studio and more money to support that practice. If needed, work a job totally unrelated to the arts if it enables you to make work. Worry less about what others might think about your artwork, and keep making the work you believe in. You cannot guarantee you will make money off your work, but you can design ways to ensure you can make that work. I still maintain a studio in my own home for this purpose. It’s cheaper than renting a separate space and I can steal studio time with more regularity.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
I have gallery representation in Birmingham, AL through Maus Contemporary Gallery. Information about recent projects can be found on his and my website:
I can also be followed on Instagram @movanart I think the best way to support artwork, not just mine, is to collect art! Buy original art by artists from your community and region. Understand how meaningful it can be to invest in your local economy, by invest in your local artist. If you are not able to buy art, simply attend exhibitions and performances. Visit your museums. Make the arts part of your routine, and you will not be disappointed.
- Address: Richmond, Kentucky
- Website: www.melissavandenberg.com
- Instagram: @movanart
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/melissa.vandenberg.1276
- Twitter: @movanart
Headshot Credit: Erica Chambers Photography