Melissa Manfull

Studio Location: Melissa’s studio is located in Lincoln Heights. However, we met up in her apartment; a classic Silverlake bungalow complete with wrought iron light fixtures, built ins and Winchester Mystery House-like functionality.

light_fixtureYou know her drawings from: Three solo shows at Taylor de Cordoba as well as shows at The Armory, Mount Saint Mary’s College and Marx & Zavattero.

Fun Fact: She is the part of a hiking group called The Hiking Cult of which she is its benevolent dictator.

The following is excerpted from a conversation from 5/1/16

S – The first time I saw your work was at Taylor de Cordoba in 2010. Your work has changed a lot since then, your palette, your source material but it still looks like your work.

M – I did three shows there. My second show, I was doing architectural work. After grad school I was making lots of sculpture and I didn’t have the focus that I wanted so I went back to the way that I doodle which was very structured and gridded and it turned into these architectural forms that were about control and chaos. I was really obsessed with Gothic architecture. I get these obsessions about an aesthetic and I let it inform my work in a poetic way. I was interested in what architecture would look like if you removed gravity. How floating transforms it.


M –  That got me more interested in platonic solids and crystalline forms. Because they are a recursive, repetitive structure that moves in gravity environments, like in underground chambers.


S – There is a structure to them too but they are also wild.

M – I’m always interested in flowing chaos and structure.


M – My new pieces are based on these three fragments that I found in Quartzsite’s rock and mineral show. When I saw them, I thought I could spend years staring and drawing these.


M – They are all agate.

S – Do you look at them through a loop?

M – No, I don’t want it to be too literal.


M –My friend brought over this from an estate sale.

S – All those layers. It’s a great metaphor for time

M –That slice


S– I like how your pieces turn it into a maze though. We aren’t given the logic of the actual object.

M – I just react to it. It doesn’t have to be anything. It’s forms and lines.


(ink on paper mounted on wood)

S – Do you look at psychedelic art, op art?

M – Yeah, that’s definitely an influence. I also have a lot of books on utopian and constructivist architecture.


I’m also into, although I hate the term, outsider art. I bought a piece by Helen Rae from Good Luck Gallery recently. She makes colored pencil drawings based on Vogue photos. She’s older and deaf and very prolific.


S – I can see why you connect to it. She’s taking the images as a jumping off point and creating this other world. It’s not about Vogue anymore but it is about elegance and strength.

M – The upcoming show at FOCA is a sculpture show and I’m getting mounts made for these new pieces. They’ll be on pedestals against the wall. It’s pushed me to think about drawings as objects.


(detail, ink on paper, mounted on wood)

M – I’m also less interested in conceptual work and more in process. Which is a little taboo to say.

S – Is it? I talk about intuition with people a lot. It seems that once you’ve been doing this for awhile, you can trust yourself to do your research and thinking, absorb it and then push it back out with all of that information and not have to plan and worry everything so much.


(detail: ink on paper mounted on wood)

M – Exactly. And then when I’m working I make all these connections, like Jungian totems. The idea that we have these disparate parts of our personalities, these fractures or stand alone segments that are part of your unconscious. That came after I’d been working on a couple of them.


(detail: ink on paper mounted on wood)

M – Looking at these shards, all the parts are so tiny. I come out of it some days where I can barely be around people. It’s a form of meditation.

S– Do you listen to stuff as you work?

M – I listen to audio books. I did a series on Moby Dick last year and that was about listening to a text deeply. With these pieces, I listened to one book and then I felt like that was too disruptive. So now I listen to music and I’ll put a song I’m responding to on repeat for hours.

S – How funny. I do that too. I don’t know why that works. It’s the repetitiveness of it that puts you in another realm. It pushes the world away.

M – Or whatever I’m emotionally responding to, I get to stay with it and then it’s always in the section of the piece.

S – And you remember that part of the piece as being connected to that feeling.


(detail: ink on paper mounted on wood)

S – Do you like teaching?

M – I love it. I teach 7th to 12th grade at a private school. It’s a math and science school. We do conceptual stuff and sometimes we take a semester to do one project. I have a lot of freedom. Some of the other teachers are Cal Tech scientists and just people who have worked in their field and done well. It’s very much like a think tank.

S – What do they think of your work?

M – One of the calculus teacher’s partners is a professor at UCLA and had written about my work before I had ever worked at the school.


S– How cool, that it’s resonating with mathematicians. Do you have a background in math?

M – No. I’ve been doing art since I was 8. At 12 I was taking life drawing at a junior college.

S – Were your parents artists?

M – No. My mom was a ballet dancer and my dad was a math/ finance person so I think I got his way of thinking. I grew up in Orange County. My mom would take me to the Norton Simon on my birthday. It’s all I ever wanted to do.


S – One thing I’ve always liked about your work is that you are doing what you want. You have this inner world that you want to put out there. It’s uncompromising.

M – I thought briefly about architecture school but the thought of not being able to do what I wanted…. this is what gets me through every day. I can make whatever is in my head.


S – I noticed that when people write about your work, they write about spirituality and metaphysics. With this work, that seems even more true.

M – I’m a hiker. For years I’d go out on my own and just take off. Just going out and not knowing and how that was scary. People say the desert is full of all this stuff but really it’s empty, empty of resources you need to live. Once you’ve been out there for hours, I love that feeling.


S – I always feel nature’s creepy indifference to me.

M – I like that. When I teach, I have to be very present all day and I need a certain amount of empty space. It’s a place that allows for that. It’s all encompassing. There are places with no sound. It’s cathartic.

S – It’s important to have that space, in the world and in your mind too.


You can see Melissa’s work in Straddling the Boundaries at the Fellows of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The show opens May 8th and runs through July 8th, 2016. She also has an upcoming show at the Brand Library Art Gallery in June 2016.