By Laura James
As a proud graduate of the “Mott Haven Art School,” Bronx-based conceptual artist Melissa Calderon honed her craft over fourteen years of living and working in the South Bronx artist community. “With no formal art training I learned from those around me, visited galleries and artist lectures, read art theory and developed an artistic practice that worked for me.” Melissa also had the good fortune to work for Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture for 3 years, which she recalls as “…an amazing experience”.
These days, Melissa can be found in “her favorite spot on any day,” her studio at The Andrew Freeman Home, located on the Grand Concourse across the street from The Bronx Museum of the Arts. She can also be spotted in Joyce Kilmer Park two blocks away, or on the Andrew Freedman Home rooftop. One place where you not likely to see Melissa is at a gallery opening. “Due to my introverted nature, I find it challenging to always attend openings and events” she confessed. “It’s a definite challenge to my “career” so to speak, but it is just something I have learned to accept about myself. I tend to go solo to see shows during their run, preferring the quiet of the galleries and the time to meander and take in the work”.
A quiet demeanor hasn’t stopped Melissa’s artistic career from taking an upward trajectory, and earlier this year she was awarded a competitive commission from New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art program. This work, slated for installation in spring 2017 in Roberto Clemente Plaza, a new green space in the South Bronx Hub, Para Roberto is a bronze sculpture dedicated to the life and memory of the legendary Puerto Rican athlete and activist. In a Virtual Boricua interview with Robert Waddell, Calderon says, “I decided to do a piece that talked about history and memory as it not only relates to Roberto but the Puerto Rican consciousness of being in the Bronx, being in New York City and the neighborhood that surrounds 149th street. I decided to go for a piece that was going to be very surreal and meaningful.”
Over time, with more focus and dedication to her practice, Melissa has grown into her voice, exploring aspects of history, memory, nature, and the body: a combination of concepts she identifies in the work of some of her favorite artists, including Pepon Osario, Louise Bougeois, Janine Antoni, Ellen Gallagher and Leonardo Drew. She is also inspired by popular culture and politics, when asked what materials she works with, Melissa offers the simple reply, “Everything. I just love working and experimenting with different materials. Embroidery has been an anchor in my work, a medium that was taught to be by my grandmother as a child”.
Prone [My Unemployed Life series], 2011, satin & cotton thread hand embroidery on linen, 11 x 14 inches
Melissa is currently working on a series of embroidered wood. By carving, drilling and sewing into ordinary plywood, this body of work “…explores the depth of wounds sustained by human interference on the environment and the extent of its destruction”, she explained.
l – r, The Bronx River, 2015, embroidery on wood, 3 panels, 12 feet long, 5 panels of The Arctic Meltdown, 1979 | 2000 | 2006 | 2007 | 2015 Embroidered plywood, 2016
l-r, Self-Portrait, Te Amo Mas Que Now on view in I Found God in Myself at the African American Museum in Philadelphia
“Although my work has always remained focused on aspects of history, memory and their perspectives, I continue to find connections with things I am passionate about and the inspirations just go from there,” Melissa said.
“From Permanence of Pain, a work about abortion and women’s choices through to My Unemployed Life of embroidered artifacts and after, the work has always hoped to be a discussion point for social and political issues that face us every day. History plays a major role in the work as well, referencing memory and re-memory often”.
l-r Permanence of Pain 1100, 2007, Cloud Descending, 2014, tissues and wire
“A longtime dream of mine is to show Permanence of Pain 1100 in the Great Hall of The Met Museum. 2 stories of cascading canopy of tissues diffusing the light in the hall and creating a quiet space beneath. Considering the current state of women’s rights throughout the country right now, I feel this work is as meaningful as ever”.
Learn more about Melissa Calderon and her work at melissacalderon.com