We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Furness and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melissa, how do you think about risk?
I suppose bravery is key to succeeding as an artist–this taking of risks. We do this all the time with the work that we produce, no doubt, but also with difficult life choices. There have been many moments in my life when I have felt an ache in my stomach with not knowing how things would turn out. I am a small town girl from Iowa…. who wanted to be an artist, and I wanted to visit New York City. I hitched a ride with a friend out to New York and saw some fantastic art, but then hitched a ride back with a big rig truck driver on the way back. There was one that I knew first, and then also one that I didn’t know so well… I armed myself with a camcorder and recorded the ride and interviewed the drivers and, quite honestly, used it as a kind of shield or weapon when I felt nervous about my state. I remember a Feminist photo teacher that I had in undergrad that made a comment to me once that stuck with me about how the camera, with its metal body, was quite a good weapon. And so I found myself using it as a tool to thoroughly document my travels, which often led me to places that took me out of my comfort zone and into uncharted territory. When I was alone exploring ruins in the outskirts of Mexico City and spied someone unusual noticing my foreign demeanor, I would pull out the camera and point the lens in their direction instead in a way to rather exert a bit of power when I felt vulnerable. And so the risks were many… but the rewards were also great in the discoveries that I made with my work as an artist and about myself.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My current work explores the concept of overgrowth, along with notions of struggle and personal ruin and strength. I am interested in things that grow and thrive against one’s will… as weeds do. You battle with them, but they keep returning… I suppose like a bad habit or recurring dream or unhealthy thoughts or behaviors. So these works are like my weeds pulled from the yard, which I have transformed in order to both extract some beauty from the ugliness as well as to incorporate amongst patterns, which are historic wallpapers. I place them on these backgrounds to create a bit of confusion of space, to express how these things that we don’t like or want to be rid of in some way are a bit hidden in the walls around us, but are still there, thriving and we accept them somehow and they are both a source of beauty as well as difficulty.
I have come to where I am professionally through a long process of taking calculated risks that built one upon the other until life eventually eased out to where I have come to today. It wasn’t easy. I did things that made me feel a bit sick to my stomach (like charging artistic travel on a credit card that I had no idea how I might pay off), but gradually that sickness turned to a little ache and then to a bit of a hunger and then to butterflies and excited inspiration. I overcame my challenges simply by becoming more comfortable with discomfort, by challenging myself to do things that pushed my own personal boundaries despite the bit of anxiety that it arose in me. I simply believed that I could make it happen somehow with the passion that I felt towards my work and faith in it and my abilities.
I am an artist that treats painting as a conceptual object that challenges history. My work explores the idea of ruin as public site and expressed narratives of personal struggle.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Best time ever for a single artist mom? That’s a bit tough… particularly in light of the recent pandemic. Dang ice cream is a favorite… nothing like dipping french fries in ice cream!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would dedicate this shoutout to my mentor through my professional and personal growth, artist and professor Lanny DeVuono, as well as my current gallery, K Contemporary Art, for their amazing support of my work. I also greatly appreciate my family for standing by me as I worked my way through a field that they did not know a much about, and most importantly, my amazing daughter, Pippa, who inspires me on a daily basis. Thank you all so much! I could create a great long list of people who have affected me in outstanding ways… my students and colleagues at CU Denver, the amazing artists and friends that I have met on my travels as well as those that affect me in small ways on a daily basis without even knowing it. Small moments of fun and kindness are the best.