Melissa Monroe: Finding Art
Artist Melissa Monroe came to art a little late in life. She shared her rollercoaster ride to the creative life with Fibre Arts Take Two.
Melissa Monroe’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
Melissa Monroe is a remarkable fibre artist whose tufted creations transcend convention, inviting you into a world where spontaneity and intuition rain. Melissa’s creations, whether tufted purses, masks, rugs, paintings, or even videos, have a magical quality bound to put a smile on your face.
Melissa’s art is a wild ride through a kaleidoscope of emotions and ideas. She fearlessly blends cartoon faces with abstract figures, embracing her so-called mistakes as happy accidents. The results are an enchanting visual language that is as delightfully weird as deeply personal.
Today, Melissa resides in a unique combination of house and studio in Portland, Oregon, sharing her life and creative journey with her children and her partner. Fibre Arts Take Two truly enjoyed going on the ride that was Melissa’s discovery of art.
Melissa came to art a little later in life,” I didn’t start making art until I was about 26,” she says, “I just really thought I could never be an artist because I couldn’t draw and didn’t have good handwriting, so I thought I wasn’t creative. My parents didn’t have art in the house. I got pregnant and got married when I was 19. I had three kids and ended up working at a coffee shop. And on one of my first days, an artist painted a mural in the coffee shop. His name was Jesse Reno. And I said, ‘People paint? People do this?’ I guess I thought you had to paint works that were representative; I just never really thought about it. I’d never been to a gallery, museum, or anything like that. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, this is my job.’ So I just watched him create without a plan, putting paint down in layers. I was like, ‘Oh, he’s not doing what I thought art was.’”
Seeing Jesse Reno’s art was an epiphany for Melissa, “That night, I went home; my ex-husband was a construction worker, so there was a lot of house paint and just like boards and stuff, and I just started pouring house paint and breaking glass into it. I had a lot of anger. And I just made this painting thing. And I was like, okay, that felt good.”
Art became increasingly a fixture in Melissa’s life, “For the next year, I was friends with Jesse at the coffee shop,” she says, “And I would do my little paint nights. I think it helped me let out some emotions I was holding in. About a year later, I left my husband and was still working at the coffee shop, and then I started dating Jesse, and I just started painting with him every day. That’s how we hung out. And so that formed my creative beginnings because I was doing it for fun. I had no expectation of becoming an artist.”
Melissa and Jesse ended up buying the coffee shop with a couple of other people, and more change was to come, “We ran it for about six months,” she says, “and meanwhile, I was painting, and one of the partners actually stole the coffee shop from us. Crazy story.”
This turn of events led to Melissa’s pursuit of art full-time, “So that was my income as a single mother really,” she says, “and then trying to find another job felt impossible with my schedule because it was so hectic with the kids. Being able to work 40 hours a week, like before, wasn’t possible, so I just started selling my paintings on eBay for cheap, like $40 for a two-by-two-foot painting. It made me paint more and more and more because I needed to make money. That was about nine years ago, but I never got a job after that. It just got better and better.”
With her growing confidence in her artistic ability, Melissa branched further afield, eventually discovering the art of tufting, “I’ve always wanted to do textile work,” she says, “My mom used to sew, but I didn’t have the patience for it. So when I saw this, I was like, ‘I think I could do that.’ Because you can work anywhere; it’s not like weaving, where you have to work top to bottom; you can work anywhere on the frame, which gives you a lot of freedom.”
So, how does tufting work? “I like to explain it as a handheld sewing machine,” says Melissa, “Instead of the cloth moving through the sewing machine, you’re moving the machine against the cloth to insert the tufting. There are different machines; one makes a loop that will be more like a punch needle. And then there’s another machine that cuts between every single lift loop, making it more like a traditional carpet. That’s where you get the real stringy stuff up to two and a half inches. And I work on a monk’s cloth, which is almost like a cross-stitching cloth. It has a weave, so the needle is going in and out of the weave and inserting the yarn in between the weave so it’s not cutting into the fabric; there are little holes in it, and it’s stretched onto a frame with carpet tack.”
Melissa has advice for anyone interested in discovering tufting for themselves.
“If there is a workshop near you,” she says, “I think taking a workshop is a great way to do it. There’s a lot of people teaching them. If you search, you can find some places where you could at least try the machine because I have a lot of people who come, they’re so excited, they take the workshop, and then they’re like, I never want to do this again.
You know, it does take some strength; it’s a lot of standing and a lot of work. I would say the initial investment is around $700 to get the machine in the frame and get all the supplies to start. The machine itself is maybe $250. If anyone wants to get started, feel free to email me. I’ve been saying this forever, I’m always happy to answer questions!”
About the artist
Melissa Monroe’s artwork is a personal display of vulnerable emotions. Figures and forms show themselves authentically. Beyond their personas, they stand in true form to be observed. For the viewer, they act as mirrors for self-reflection. Melissa’s art is timeless and places the viewer in places no one can remember, places that have not yet been; they act as puzzles leading to the future.
Melissa is a multi-disciplinary artist creating her visions in textiles, sculpture, and acrylic paintings. She is self-taught and has been a full-time artist for the last seven years.
Melissa explores her own spiritual practice through mask making; this is further enforced through wearing and performing in them. She creates video installations of herself with the masks to be projected for live music performances.
In the past year, Melissa has expanded her understanding of texture and shape, creating handmade rugs and textiles. Her designs are informed by her experiences painting and her love for pattern and abstraction.
Each new medium Melissa works with informs her process, weaving and connecting each new idea into all her mediums. This, in turn, expands her iconography and purpose.