Melissa Brown


Images from Past Present Future at Magenta Plains

June 15 - July 27, 2016

In her installation at Magenta Plains, Brown will display large-scale, double sided paintings on corrugated aluminum in a configuration which discloses her personal Past and Future but hides her Present. On June 20, the spread will transform and reconfigure, aided by a performance conceived by Brown which involves a collective fortune-telling and divination reading for the public.

Past / Future (Present Facing the Wall), June 15-June 29

Past / Future (Present Facing the Wall), June 15-June 29

Present (Past / Future Facing the Wall), June 29 - July 13

Present (Past / Future Facing the Wall), June 29 - July 13

Animation Stills from Game Changer

LINK to Animation


Melissa Brown’s paintings and animations, take influence from playing cards and other fantasy-related paper ephemera such as money and lottery tickets.

During the 2009 Nuit Blanche, she hosted ‘How To Win The Lottery’ in the Toronto financial district, a performance whose goal was to win the lottery with thousands of other people by playing identical sets of numbers.

Ms. Brown currently organizes winner-take-all poker games. The players are artists & collectors, the pot a new art collection formed by chance. These poker tournaments have taken place at the think tank Where, Nada New York 2015, Essex Flowers and Safe Gallery. The players used cards she designed called The Tabloid Deck, which assigns symbolic Supermarket Tabloid headlines.

She has been the subject of solo exhibitions in New York City at Magenta Plains, Bellwether, CANADA, Kansas, Essex Flowers and, internationally, at Kenny Schacter, Rove in London and Roberto Paradise in San Juan.  She has exhibited as part of group shows at Mass Moca, Musee International des Arts Modestes in France, Loyal, Petrella’s Imports, Andrew Edlin, Gavin Browns Enterprise, Klaus von Nichtssagend, and Winkleman. Her work has been reviewed in the New York Times, Art Forum, Art in America, Hyper Allergic, Art News, the Art Newspaper, Time Out New York, White Hot Magazine, to name a few.  She was awarded the Joan Mitchell grant for painting in 2012.


Q&A with Melissa Brown
by Emily Burns

Hi Melissa! Do you use any reference material when planning compositions?
Drawings for the most part, also some of my iPhone photos, found pics and collected ephemera, paintings from art history.

Does collage play a part in your work? Do you draw in preparation for a piece?
You could say that all contemporary painting is a collage of influences. This is definitely true in my case. I use simple line drawings like a puzzle in which a variety of painting techniques, (silk screen, flashe, airbrush, oil paint, resin, etc.) are collaged in to the drawn shapes. The picture works only when all the parts come together to form a single experience or atmospheric space.

What interests you most about the types of paper ephemera (playing cards, money, lottery tickets) that you reference in your work?
I’ve always collected these kinds of ubiquitous prints. They’re images you see hundreds of time but also take for granted, that have become so absorbed in our collective consciousness they’re also invisible. Playing cards, lottery tickets, and paper money all contain universal symbolic languages. I’m fascinated by how these familiar, pictorial languages are used to tell stories and convey ideas about value, worth, potential, fantasy, and mood.

Why paper ephemera specifically, as opposed to other materials?
I’m interested in these specifically because they come from a timeless, democratic canon of symbolism. I want to adopt these styes and symbols in my paintings to communicate my own narratives; but instead of the images being purely diaristic, I want them to feel like strangely familiar or archetypal.

How did you first begin using the scratch-off ink? Is there a story behind why you use it and where you find it?
I find scratch off tickets fascinating since their value changes so rapidly in the space of a few seconds. You walk up to the deli counter and are drawn in by potential value: $5,000 a week for life, then you pay five bucks for it, then if it’s not a winner it instantly becomes trash. Art also can have a similar fluctuation in it’s value. It’s all a matter of perception. I buy the scratch off ink from the same manufacturer as the New York Lottery.

I noticed that you credit the scratch-off area of your work to other individuals, can you tell us a bit about their part in the work?
I collect losing scratch off tickets and it’s interesting how people make various kinds of “drawings” in the ink to find out if it’s a winner. Some gamblers are very systematic, others frantic. The scratch off areas in my paintings are parts that I don’t control. What other artists scratch into the image activates the painting in a way that I can’t. They are leaving their mark, collaborating with the image and revealing what is hidden all at the same time. I’m obsessed with this fluctuating tension between mystery, potential and failure. The scratch also serves as a catalog of my relationships with other artists; they reveal who has visited my studio during the time that I was working on the painting.

How long have you been making animations?  What excites you about animation/video as a medium? Do they relate to your paintings or touch on something that the paintings can’t or don’t?
I’ve started making animation in the last couple of years. Most of what I do is analog stop-motion. When you’re working under the camera you knock into hidden jokes and narratives in a still picture that form because suddenly there is time and sound. 

You often paint on aluminum—what attracts you to aluminum as a surface? Do you have to manufacture the structures or are they repurposed?
Aluminum is a commercial surface. The kind I am using is designed for outdoor signage, so it’s very durable and designed to be public. I want to convert personal motifs into a universal symbolic experience, so it seems logical for me to use a material for signage. I want to be dealing in signs.

What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of your practice?
I have always listened to a huge variety of music while in the studio. I’m a big fan of latin jazz. I’ve also followed the career of Vicky Bennet and I often listen to her podcast, People Like Us Hate People Like You, which is all collaged and sampled sound. I also make my own recordings of ambient sound: trips to casinos, street musicians, birds chirping, squeaky doors, fans, overheard conversations and I listen to these recordings also and sample them for animation. Sound is so transporting, it goes hand in hand with painting and thinking about atmosphere.

What are some of the artists that you look at the most often or most recently?
Roger Brown, Karl Wirsum, Sigmar Polke, Jamian Juliano-Villani for their images and Shana Moulton and Marie Lorenz for their immersive, all-encompassing performance practices.

Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
Right now I’m reading Jodorowsky’s The Way of the Tarot. As a filmmaker, he has an interesting take on reading cards and he has deeply studied the numerology behind it. I also was blown away by The Roots of Coincidence, by Arthur Koestler. Theres a lot about ESP but he describes how prediction and future knowledge works from scientific perspective.

Any advice to recent grads who are interested in getting their work out there and exhibiting?
Don’t underestimate the power of hanging around and showing up. Some of the most meaningful creative relationships that I have formed in New York City have come from meeting other artists in random circumstances. Random connections are the most significant, they arise purely out of like-mindedness.

Any advice from your past that has stuck with you or helped you?
The time a project takes is exactly as much time as you have left. Learn to manage time well and you can get a ton of shit done in short order.

What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
Stuart Davis at the Whitney, Goulding The Lolly at Gavin Brown, The Female Gaze at Cheim & Read

What is your relationship with social media? Do you have a favorite or least-favorite platform?
I love instagram, but I also hate it. It’s totally addictive. It gives me access to what I crave: a window into someone else’s mind’s eye.

Do you have any news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
I’m doing a show of “Money Prints” that collage artists portraits with currency portraits at Roberto Paradise in early September. I’m also designing a Tarot suit for a deck published by the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. The deck will feature artwork from many different contemporary artists.

Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!

To find out more about Melissa and her work, check out her website.