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issue 14 - June/July 2013
CURVE magazine cover June/July 2013
    

ME, MYSELF AND MY ALTER EGO

The Many Faces of Melissa Cooke

THE RICH REPERTOIRE OF MELISSA COOKE FEATURES NO SPECK OF COLOR, ONLY HER COLORFUL IMAGINATION AND TECHNICAL PROWESS INSTANTLY COMMAND ATTENTION. AND THE YOUNG ARTIST'S GRAPHITE DRAWINGS CAN EASILY COLOR UP A CONVERSATION. UNNERVING YET MASTERFULLY APPEALING, HER WORK STRADDLES THE REALMS OF PHOTOGRAPHY, PERFORMANCE AND DRAWING IN PORTRAITURE. YET COOKE'S IMAGES DEPART FROM THE FRAMING OF TRADITIONAL PORTRAITURE, ZOOMING INSTEAD INTO CLOSE SECTIONS OF THE FACE. HER FACE READILY LENDS ITSELF AS BOTH A CANVAS AND INSPIRATION, REFLECTING AN ELEMENT OF FETISHISM AND SELF-PLEASURING THROUGH SUBJECT MATTER - AND THUS RECOGNIZING THE INHERENT NARCISSISM OF SELF-PORTRAITURE.

’THROUGH THE DRAWING PROCESS, I AM CONTINUALLY FORCED TO CONFRONT THE ISSUE THAT INSPIRED THE PIECE’


Cooke strips herself bare, exploring such issues as primal instincts, darkness, sexuality, memory, loss and change in arresting, large-scale artworks. The Wisconsin born, bred and schooled artist - now based in New York - creates her provocative drawings by dusting thin layers of graphite onto paper with a dry brush and without a pencil in sight.

What attracted you to drawing with graphite?
I started using powdered graphite in January of 2008. I was at a point of my work where I was feeling stagnant and confined, making these tedious, small pencil drawings. I knew I had to make some changes. My solution was to visit an art store and leave with an armful of new supplies, including a can of powdered graphite. I tried watercolor for about two days, and was miserable.

Aggravated in the studio ..., I grabbed a can of powdered graphite and a huge sheet of paper. No one had ever shown me how to use the medium; I just grabbed the nearest brush and started feverishly dusting the graphite onto the paper. Within four hours, I had a new drawing and was pulsating with excitement from this new process. I was immediately addicted.

Melancholy, suffocation, distortion, confusion and other intense states prevail in your artworks. Does your exploration of such strong elements stem from personal experience or are you exploring women’s collective experiences?
The process of creating my work is very personal, intimate and reflective. It starts with an inspiration, usually a reoccurring thought or memory. I reenact that scenario and conjure feelings surrounding that situation while photographing myself. Through the drawing process, I am continually forced to confront the issue that inspired the piece.

The meditative nature of drawing lends to contemplation and an eventual acceptance of the feelings associated with the image, an intense self-reflection. This very private experience is then released into the world, which lends to a sense of purging, a letting go.

Much of your work is unsettling yet so striking. How do you manage to do that every time?
I always try to push myself, my limits as well as my comfort level.

Your alter ego continually surfaces in your work. Could you define your alter ego, and does he/she have a name?
Arthur C. Cooke is my mustached alter ego who surfaced in my work from 2009-2011. Arthur was an attempt to make myself whole and complete. At the time, I was examining gender roles and the expectations that they traditionally carry, while acknowledging the complexity and fluidity of identity, sexuality and desire.

Why did you choose to chronicle your work from 2008-2011 in both a catalogue and a book, and yet burn the work you completed from 2001-2006?
My work from 2001-2006 was created in school while I was still searching for my voice. My parents essentially had a gallery of all of that early work in their basement. Visiting it was like reliving growing pains. So for my birthday in 2010, I asked for one thing: a commemorative bonfire. Reluctantly, my parents agreed. It was quite freeing, standing there on my birthday and watching over fifty pounds of paper burn down to a gallon of ashes. The lessons of that work live on, but now I can move on from that past. All of my archives fit into an urn, which serves as a reminder of where I came from.

Did you sense a dramatic change in your art since moving to New York?
My work has definitely grown over the past year. I am very influenced by my community. I look to the amazing creative people around me for inspiration and support. The environment I live in definitely impacts me too. My neighborhood is filled with artists, murals, graffiti and galleries. All of those elements are continually stirring in my head.

’Wunderkammer’ was the title of your latest exhibition. What did you create for this show?
Wunderkammer is a group exhibition organized by Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Los Angeles. It showcases miniatures and oddities, which are things that have always intrigued me. For the show, I created a milky, visceral drawing of a nose.

What is currently tickling your curiosity?
I'm currently thinking about the relationship between the figure and landscape. My drawings have been abstracting the figure more and more. Zoomed in sections of the face becomes a landscape of pores, hair and fluids. I envision myself moving more and more in this direction and into landscape and still life.


        
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