Derek Eller Gallery
300 Broome Street
New York, NY 10002
Reviewed by Emily Burns
Melissa Brown’s exhibition Between States featured seven large paintings in her first solo show at Derek Eller Gallery. The paintings float above the wall on dibond, the paper-thin front and back of the aluminum sandwiching the interlaced interior like hardened industrial lace. The surfaces are smooth and beautifully level, which further accentuates the epic flatness of Brown’s work. The many layers of acrylic and flashe are applied variously via silk screen, spray, and direct painting. Her methodology is curiously indecipherable, beckoning the viewer to solve the mystery of the application of the various media.
Each composition is unique—like dreams, visages of travel, or past glimpses as seen through the lens of the artist. Common threads between the paintings are the presence of reflections, which provide allusions to the melding of the worlds, as perspectives and viewpoints collide on the surface. Brown’s mark making is uniquely her own, and her earned process becomes part of the outcome, as the projected drawings and stenciled areas converge in a colliding of perspectives and interpretations of reality.
The tiled effect of patterned grass is mesmerizing in Swamp, the largest painting. The horizontal canvas features a gesturally painted oval swamp flanked by an alligator. Combining experiences from a residency in Florida, with dreams and visions, and newspaper clippings profiling the death of Stephen Hawking, the painting emerges as a time stamp with clear provenance but no certain conclusion—a felicitously corralled soup of the unconscious.
With a background in printmaking, the singular style is indebted to her attention to process and eye for the uniquely ubiquitous. In Tom and Di's Rustic Inn, we peer through the reflection of a neon Schlitz Beer sign in a window while a stuffed badger keeps watch on the sill. The soft red glow permeates the interior of the room, the canvas becoming a peep hole for the voyeuristically inclined. Collecting reference imagery from online and Ebay, Brown combines and distorts what she finds, inventing new objects like a prop master dressing a set. The scene she describes could unfold as peaceful and ruminative or ominously creepy, and many of the works utilize this disorientation to titillate the viewer between various states of apprehension and repose.
The line work of Brown’s preparatory drawings linger in the final works—this element most successful in the features of the figures in California Common Law, as they ensconce in their clubhouse perch overlooking the California mountains. The faces are minimally expressed but loaded with bored affectation, the screen printed lines humming with a gradient produced from a split fountain pull of ink.
The works are tied together by a mystic aesthetic and the presence of enigmatic vantage points like glittering omens in paint. In i, 25, Brown packages her uncanny penchant for keen social observation with a sharp cut to the ego in a self portrait depicting not only the road ahead, but our blurry past and the desires that distract us from both.