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.
Everything is changing all of the time. The clouds move, the trees bend in the wind, the earth erodes and the objects of our day to day life move with us. We hold fleeting, often imagined memories of places and important objects. We are worried about change- we try to hold onto remembered landscapes and objects even as they vanish.
Recently, I am most interested in the spaces inhabited by artists and farmers. 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 take photographs and make paintings to develop pigment prints and projected animated videos. The prints are printed on homegrown and handmade paper. By using materials and skills from both past and present technologies, the making of the work connects to the concept of time passing. I both hold onto older ways of making art, and seek current methods.
In these compositions, I use gestural and dripping paint marks to represent time passing, and the obscurity of moments past. I blend transitional points of view, illustrating how memories are composites of many experiences with no single perspective. I favor bright colors and patterning to express the play of imagination.
Melissa Cowper-Smith has exhibited in several NYC galleries and in many other galleries and venues nationally. Recent exhibitions include Melissa Cowper-Smith & Dawn Holder: Traces Remain at Historic Arkansas Museum, Little Rock (2017), Culture Shock: Shine You Rubies, Hide Your Diamonds, at the Butler Center, Little Rock, AR (2016), a solo show, Fleeting Gardens, at the Batesville Area Arts Council, Batesville, AR (2015), Art of the South Exhibition at the Hyde Gallery, Memphis, TN, (2015), and the 57th Annual Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR. (2015).
She is a founding member of tART, an all female art-collective based in New York City. Between 2006-2011 she exhibited her work with tART and in 2010 she edited tART zine vol. 2. She moved to Morrilton, Arkansas in 2011 to create an eco-farm (Wildland Gardens) and to continue her art practice closer to nature. In 2013, she founded a second all-female art collective, Culture Shock, based in Arkansas.
Melissa received a BFA in painting from the University of Victoria in British Columbia before moving to New York City (2002-2011) to complete an MFA at Hunter College. In 2016 she received the Horn Scholarship to attend a papermaking course at the Penland School of Crafts.
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, Sofia V. Gonzales, Melissa Wilkinson, and Jessica Mongeon. Past members include Morgan C. Page 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.
More on Cotton
I grow Nankeen Cotton, an heirloom variety with soft golden-brown medium length fibers. My cotton is grown without chemical additives and is interplanted with the bright zinnia flowers that frequently make appearances in the prints. After being picked in late fall, I hand pluck the seeds from the bolls. The cotton is cut and boiled with baking soda before being blended into a pulp. The pulp is strengthened by adding a small amount of recycled cotton paper and sizing. The pulp is thinned with water in a huge sink and I make the paper using a hand-made mold and deckle. Each sheet of paper is intentionally unique.
Cotton is one of the most important crops in the history of Arkansas. 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. By growing it on a small scale, to make art about farms, nature, and domestic objects, I am forming a new (and return to an older era) relationship to this plant and it's products.
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, fruit trees and berries. I also have a flock of egg laying hens, bees, and two horses. Each year I accept interns from Hendrix College who receive course credit for their work and research on the farm.