Melissa Meyer in Black and White
Works on paper, 1984-1994
New York Studio School
8 West 8 Street
New York City
212 673 6466
December 14, 2006 to February 3, 2007
traveling to the Wiegand Gallery of Notre Dame of Namur University
January 20 to March 3, 2008
By JENNIFER RILEY
Melissa Meyer Triptych #2 VSC 1992
oil stick on paper, 30 x 67-1/2 inches
COVER March 2007: Untitled, Diptych (1991)
oil stick on paper, 30 x 45 inches
What is it to exhibit the black and white works on paper of Melissa Meyer made between 1984 and 1994? What is it to momentarily gather and present this work apart from the current color-rich, exuberant, work that the artist is known for? And what are it to do so when these works were initially adjacent to but not the main body of work at that time? Among many possible answers, one is that in doing so, viewers are shown something akin to the back-story; the back-stage efforts, investigations and private discoveries that Meyer was engaged in. Some of these discoveries have been transformed and reappear in the current work.
These varied works show the many formal possibilities at Meyer’s disposal. It is tempting to try to identify parts of the language such as calligraphic lines and luminous scrims of paint that we see in her work to date and to anticipate which of those possibilities might resurface in future works. And we see that these discoveries have as much to do with form as they do with color.
Many of the works on view are drawings done in charcoal or oil stick on paper and read as exploratory efforts while some monumentally scaled pieces, made in oil or oil stick on paper, are robust statements. A range of compositions and image types signal the influence of past masters such as, Matisse, De Kooning, Pollock, yet ,each have information reflecting this artist’s searching and critical process that was underway at the time. The work registers influence or influence is noted but only in the way that is analogous, for example, to the way we think see a masked face in a cloud one second that shifts into a belly dancer the next. In Untitled, Triptych #2, 1988 and Triptych#2 VSC 1992, there is a familiarity to the high contrast, cut-out-like positive–negative interlocking forms, but as we follow the forms we discover the image resists being locked into simple association. It seems to change as we view it or is it we who change as we view it?
These works evolved as a secondary part of her practice. They were made concurrently with colorful paintings that she was developing for exhibitions at the time. Meyer has remarked, “After working in watercolor and oil, in the end I would do something in black and white to check the tonality and activity of the forms to see if they had strength.” In an untitled drawing in oil stick done in 1986, Meyer has brought several types of marks and speed to bear on the surface. A swoop of calligraphic line falls from the top left of the page and stops just short of a ghost-like, grayish vertical form that is partially covered by a solid black bug-like form made with thick, forceful strokes. In this piece one can see the antecedents of Meyers horizontal-vertical rhythm, positive-negative shape-making, decentered composition, calligraphic line and veils of color; characteristic elements of the artists work today. In this case the attitude and aim of Meyer’s abstraction seems to have more in common with her contemporary peer, Bill Jensen, than with those of earlier generations. In this drawing there is a range of force, variety of stroke, and ambiguity of scale which together hint at a notion of time, distance and continuity to suggests a view that is at once cosmic and microscopic.