Melissa Cowper-Smith is a multimedia artist who uses projected video animation, digital printing, papermaking, collage, and painting to express forgetting and the passing of time. Her works depict natural and agricultural landscapes, objects, and domestic interiors.
I am interested in the spaces inhabited by artists, farmers, gardeners, and folk healers. People who work with their hands- who have intimate relationships with the material world. I look for relics- the cherished, the decorative, the aging, the falling apart, the broken. I seek juxtaposing imagery- combining the everyday with the life-changing. In my work there are sofas and bombs, natural disaster and flowers.
In developing my work, I visit and informally interview people who I am inspired by. I take photographs, make paintings, and appropriate imagery to develop pigment prints on handmade paper and projected animated videos. Recently I've been exploring mixed-media encaustic. By using materials and skills from both past and present technologies, I both hold onto older ways of making art, and seek current methods.
In my compositions, I use gestural and dripping paint marks to represent time passing, the obscurity of moments past, and the movement of my hand. I blend transitional points of view, illustrating how daily perception is composed of many experiences and memories with no single perspective. I favor bright colors and patterning to express emotions- striving for combination of playfulness and tension.
Melissa Cowper-Smith has shown her work nationally including recent shows at the Arkansas Arts Center (Little Rock, AR) The Rockford University Gallery (Rockford, IN), and Historic Arkansas Museum (Little Rock, AR). In 2018 she was awarded an Artists Scholarship from ACNMWA, an Executive Directors Scholarship from Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and an Individual Artists Fellowship from the Arkansas Arts Council. In addition to making art, Cowper-Smith grows fibers, food, and flowers on her farm, Wildland Gardens. She teaches at the University of Central Arkansas. Melissa has a BFA from the University of Victoria (British Columbia, Canada) and an MFA from Hunter College (NYC).
Cotton and Papermaking Fibers
Since moving to Arkansas I have forged a connection between my gardens and my art. I started by growing cotton for papermaking and have expanded to growing many other fibers including mulberry, hibiscus, rose-of-sharon, hosta, canna lily, daylily, iris, garlic and onion. I've recently developed my herbal gardens and have included medicinal herbs in new paper- wormwood, comfrey, elecampane, marshmallow, plantain, calendula, fennel, rue, and ashwagandha. There is remarkable beauty in the transformative process of growing, tending, picking, cutting, boiling, mashing, straining, pouring, couching, and drying formed sheets. Each sheet is unique- it is of a place, a time, a moment, a particular plant, and the work of my hands.
I am fascinated with the history of plants- ethnobotany books clutter my tables. Of all the plants I grow, cotton continues to be one of the most historically important. Not only does cotton represent slavery, plantations, and Arkansas's civil war history, it also epitomizes industrial agriculture. Over the past 100 years it has been grown in increasingly large plots of land, it is bombarded with chemical additives and has been engineered to meet the requirements of mechanical harvesting. But it has a complex history- it was once grown on small farms, to be used for medicine, to be spun by hand, and to be woven into cloth. I want to directly reconnect to our material culture. By making art from products I grow, I can ask others to question their own relationship to art objects, materials, food, medicine, consumption and the environment.
More on Wildland Gardens
In 2011, I began the process of building an ecological farm on eight acres in the Morrilton Area of Central Arkansas. At Wildland Gardens you will find curving gardens filled with annual and perennial vegetables, herbs, grains, seeds, flowers, cotton, fiber plants, fruit trees and berries. I also have a flock of egg laying hens, bees, and three horses.
Culture Shock (formally the Show & Tell Art Collective) was founded in the fall of 2013. Current members include Melissa Cowper-Smith, Melissa Gill, Tammy Harrington, Dawn Holder, Holly Laws, Sandra Luckett, Rachel Trusty, Louise Halsey, Tessa Davidson and Jessica Mongeon. Past members include , Sofia V. Gonzales, Melissa Wilkinson, and Paige Dirksen. Culture Shock holds monthly critiques. During the critique one artist shares their work and receives constructive feedback from the group. In addition to fostering one another's creative work, the collective provides members with exhibition and networking opportunities.
Melissa is represented in Arkansas and Miami by Boswell Mourot Fine Art.