Melissa Vandenberg: Artist Profile

Bang Bang-

Match burn on Arches paper

29.5″ x 40″
Photo Courtesy of Maus Contemporary / beta pictoris

Bang Bang 2-

match burn on Arches paper
29.5” X 40”
Photo Courtesy of Maus Contemporary / beta pictoris

Melissa Vandenberg-

Permanence is an illusion and power an apparition…

With ordinary materials, my artwork addresses the fleeting nature of power and a lack of permanence with both the tangible and metaphysical. Inspiration is garnered from Americana relics, eastern religious practices, and an overall nostalgia for vintage materials. We impose a lot of metaphors on objects and possessions, which affects my preferred iconography. The artifacts left behind when something ends, or someone dies, has a residue unlike anything that can be manufactured. Imagery including flags, snakes, maps, gravestones, uteruses, and other various silhouettes, are altered into somewhat antagonistic forms. Questions surrounding patriotism, pride and partisanship begin to emerge in work that is both satirical, yet idealistic. The results are overwhelmingly about mortality, but not exclusively dark or negative. Subtexts touch on resurrection, reincarnation and even recycling.

Much of the work is made with ordinary things like matches, quilts, stickers, popsicles, temporary tattoos and other domicile goods. I am partial towards the “familiar,” in hopes of making the subjects addressed in the work more accessible. There is not one mode, or one material, that is preferred over another. Conversely, I revisit working on paper almost habitually, as a way to orbit and plan my practice in sculpture, installation and performance.
A resurgence of Nationalism, particularly in the US, motivates work that questions the notion of a “homeland” and how national identity can govern individual identity. My upbringing in the suburbs of Detroit, a Northern “Rust Belt” metropolis, combined with Southern “make do” perseverance, has had an enormous impact on my art. Repetition is a predominant motif, reminiscent of assembly line manufacturing conceived in Detroit, but this is merged with the hand-made (aka woman-made) ideologies of the American South.


Born and educated in Detroit, Melissa is a multidisciplinary artist, educator and curator living in eastern Kentucky. Politics, power, and partisanship are examined in her studio practice through observations surrounding national identity, folk art, ancestry, immigration and the perception of a homeland as points of departure. She employs everyday materials like matches, fabric, stickers, wood, temporary tattoos, and found objects. Her work has been exhibited in Canada, Germany, Luxembourg and extensively throughout the United States. Melissa received a BFA from College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan (1999) and a MFA in Sculpture from Southern Illinois University—Carbondale, Illinois (2005). She has been the recipient of numerous grants including a Great Meadows Foundation Artist Travel Grant, Kentucky Foundation for Women Artist Enrichment Grant, the Al Smith Fellowship and was shortlisted for the Luxembourg Art Prize. She is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Eastern Kentucky University.
Melissa is represented by Maus Contemporary / beta pictoris gallery in Birmingham, AL.

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