“Glitchy, ghostly, fragmented” The three words today’s phenomenal womxn artist used to describe her own work. Of course I am talking about the one and only, and a She Curates favourite, Melissa Huang @melissahuangart
I fell in love with Huang’s work since I saw her unbelievably cool collaboration with husband Drew Tetz (@drewtetz ) to produce these stunning Venus de la Void sculptures, inspired by quarantine, and produced on 3D printers. Ever since then I have been OBSESSED. The most wonderful artist and person.
Melissa, tell me about your artist story. You studied at @gsu_artdesgin didn’t you? How did you find this? Tell me about your journey to where you are now?
I’m in my third year (my thesis year!) of the MFA program in Drawing & Painting at Georgia State University. It’s been an even better experience than I imagined it would be. The faculty are incredibly supportive, my peers are hardworking and talented, and the time and space to create has been a blessing. People say an MFA is like being in a pressure cooker for 2-3 years are they are not exaggerating. GSU also offers a full tuition waiver and monthly stipend to every single accepted MFA student, which I think is a real gift to an emerging artist.
I’m originally from the Chicago area where I was lucky to grow up with access to world class museums like the Art Institute and the MCA. My family was really supportive of my interest in art and encouraged me to take as many art classes as I could. When I was in high school I would take the train downtown on the weekends to take graphic design and other classes through SAIC’s early college program.
I ended up at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY for my BFA in Fine Arts Studio. When I graduated I kicked around for four more years enjoying the cheap rent and working in as many art jobs as I could find, including at a gallery, doing art appraisal (shout out to Roz Goldman who is one of the most amazing women I have ever met and an incredible appraiser), and at the Bausch + Lomb corporate archives. On top of that I was painting whenever I could and taking advantage of as many art-related opportunities as I could. Eventually I felt like my art wasn’t really growing the way I wanted it to, and realized the opportunities I really wanted to pursue required an MFA. My husband (then fiancé) Drew and I both applied to MFA programs around the country and ended up at GSU! We both love Atlanta and could see ourselves living here long-term.
What is your studio like? Where do you like to create best? What are your artist necessities? What could you not live without?
I have a split studio situation right now! Normally I have a big, beautiful studio at Georgia State, but with quarantine I’ve been very cautious and mostly working at home in our living room. Right now I’m working small so it’s fine, but once I break out the big canvases again I’ll need to head back in to school.
I’ve been really spoiled with the home studio though, because I have 24/7 access to my cat, my husband, and snacks. I’m going to miss the amenities when I move my painting set-up back, but I love the extra space!
My artist necessities include Liquin, my two most useful round oil painting brushes (bought them in undergrad and they are now at the perfect stage of still kind of soft but also a little bit crunchy), and pthalo turquoise oil paint.
What do you listen to while you work?
I have an Art Playlist I play on loop, mostly St. Vincent, Hop Along, Mitski, and then a bunch of one-off songs I love. But a lot of the time I just work in silence. There’s something very peaceful about sitting quietly and painting, and I enjoy having the time to think.
What does an average working day look like to you?
My schedule varies a lot because of school. A typical day might look like this:
8am-10:40am: Teach a class at GSU
11am-1:30pm: Work in the Graduate Art Office
1:30pm-2:30pm: Studio time
5pm-8pm: Studio time
8pm onward: Free time!
During the summer I have fewer classes and assistantship hours so just replace all of those hours with more painting/Animal Crossing.
Your use of colour is so interesting. Talk to me about your palette and how colour informs your work?
A lot of my palette is glitch-inspired, and comes from image manipulation in Photoshop. I like to layer and erase images, do color overlays and transparencies, and play with the saturation, hue, and contrast until I’m satisfied with the final reference. My paintings remain pretty true to my reference image, but as I’m working I’ll make adjustments as necessary and do a final evaluation at the end to see what needs to change.
Who or what are your biggest influences, and how do you find them?
Mostly painters that I find on Instagram! I keep a close eye on the New York Academy of Art IG account as I love the type of work their students make. The New American Paintings IG account has really ramped up during quarantine and I’ve found a lot of amazing painters through them too.
How do these come out in your work?
I keep a folder of images I’m inspired by, and sometimes I’ll look at them while painting to try and figure out how painters accomplish certain things (like a section of glazing or texture, or how artists develop their sense of space, things like that.)
What memorable responses have you had to your work? And which artwork would you like people to remember you for?
The Temporary Art Center exhibition (curated by Scott Ingram) was held in an enormous empty warehouse. The GSU MFA students had been given individual rooms in an attached office space to use however we wanted. I had painted my space this beautiful cool grey color inside and out and hung a selection of five glitch paintings. The warehouse was freezing, but the office space was heated. My room was right next to the door, so all of these freezing cold art viewers were walking in bundled up in big coats and scarves. I was enjoying the central heating in a spaghetti strap jumpsuit. A woman in a big red pea coat walked in, strode through the room looking at the paintings, then looked at me in my little jumpsuit and said, “You can dress like that because the heat is in your art!” That one made me smile.
I always have a soft spot for whatever is the newest! Right now I would say my little darling is a recent 20” x 16” painting “Brain Fog”.
What are you working on now?
I have a few projects just starting up:
A 48” x 72” oil painting of a glitched fashion show where I’m all of the models and every member of the audience. This one is still in a very early stage, I just have the idea and still need to photograph and edit together the reference images.
Next I’m planning on a painting of myself sitting in a fountain, having a temper tantrum, while a little cherubic stone statue of myself spits water all over my head.
I’m also getting images together for a painting where I’m nutmegging myself (don’t laugh, it’s a soccer term). I used to play soccer pretty seriously as a child and teen, and now when I get stress dreams it’s my old coach telling me I need to play one final game or let down all my teammates. Then as I play my legs do that slow dream thing where they don’t work. It’s been a stressful time, so this dream has been popping up more frequently. I just read a post on Reddit about a boyfriend getting horribly offended by his girlfriend nutmegging him in front of his friends during a pick-up game and that solidified my desire to make it a painting.
Finally, I’m learning After Effects from Drew. It’s a lot easier than Premiere for the kind of motion graphics that I’m trying to do, and I’m figuring out how I can use it in my video work.
"Glitchy, ghostly, fragmented."
What would be your dream project?
I would like to paint a round room with a skylight, walls and ceiling. An immersive experience like a church full of frescoes. Lots of ornate gilt and beautiful vibrant rugs to set things off.
Tell me a bit about your recent collaboration, and the small sculptures you made?
The Venus de la Void sculptures are a quarantine-inspired collaboration with my husband Drew Tetz (@drewtetz). He’s really into 3D printing and has two 3D printers running right now in our closet (In a one-bedroom you make space where you can!). At the beginning of quarantine I was experiencing a major slump. My brain wasn’t working and so I wasn’t making work. One of my professors, Pam Longobardi, gave a presentation on glitch imagery for the Intro to Oil Painting class I was TAing, and explained how to datamosh images. I started datamoshing photos of classical sculptures to try to get out of the slump. Drew was really into the datamoshes, and decided to design a series of 3D sculpture in a similar vein. He 3D printed an edition of glitched Venus sculptures which I then hand-painted. It turned into a whole series which we’ve really enjoyed! We work together well and I’m thankful to have him during this stressful time (and always!)
What do you want your work to say? What are the main themes and motifs running through your work? Is there a narrative that runs throughout?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we experience the self. The way I perceive myself is different from how I’m perceived by others, and if you polled ten of my friends or family I think they would all have varying opinions of who I am as a person. I don’t think any of those facets of your identity are necessarily the “true” version of you, but I am drawn to the tension between who you think you are and who you are experienced to be.
Lately things have been getting very glitchy as well. I think part of this is living with Drew. He does glitch art and we are just so wrapped up in each other that it’s bound to rub off. He told someone the other day that by the end of quarantine we may come out of it making the exact same work! We do have different interpretations of glitch though. As a designer he’s more interested in the aesthetics and I’m more interested in the concepts behind glitch. Taking a version of yourself and distorting it through chance and digital means.
I mentioned fragmented identities above, and nowadays a lot of us mainly communicate with others online. It’s easier than ever to create an alternate identity, someone cooler, prettier, funnier who only exists in a digital space. Lately I’ve been looking at a lot of Cyberfeminist Net Art, and I think that movement is going to see a huge resurgence during the 2020s. Cyberfeminists were interested in developing the internet as a utopic landscape free from sexism and other discrimination, and as we all know that didn’t come to pass. But I think young women today are still exploring their identity on the net and figuring out how to carve out their own space.
How do you come up with your titles ? My favourite is ‘Another Day Another Girl’.
Sometimes I love titling, and sometimes I hate it. I have a list in my phone with phrases I hear that I take a liking to (examples of a few that are just waiting for a piece: “You’re a good witch not a bad witch”, “Little Debutante”, “Lovers Drop”, “The words just slipped out”). They don’t always have a rhyme or reason to them. Sometimes they’re snippets of things I read online or hear in conversation.
I have to give a lot of credit to Drew here, he helps me workshop all of my titles and I would say he’s suggested the final title for at least half of my pieces! Sometimes you get too close to the work and you need someone else to tell you what they see. He’s a good writer too so some of the titles he comes up with are very beautiful.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I am obsessed with tornadoes and watch videos of them more than my friends and family might think.
If you could have a meal with any artist from any time, what would the meal be and who would it be with?
I would love to have a meal with Yayoi Kusama. She seems like a charming dinner companion. I’d let her pick the meal because I’d be too excited to eat.
What is your greatest indulgence in life other than creating?
I play a lot of business simulation games. Like… a lot of them. Right now I’m obsessed with Two Point Hospital, but I’ve logged some hours in the classics like Roller Coaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon. Other than that, I eat a lot of sugar. Drew buys me bulk packs of Skittles and I go through them quicker than you might imagine.
Favourite historical female artist?
Does Honoré Sharrer count as historical? I’m a huge fan of Magic Realism. Sharrer creates these strange but beautiful scenes that feel familiar but not quite right. I first saw a very small painting of hers in a private collection and that sparked an ongoing interest.
Favourite current practicing female artists (as many as you like?)?
Danica Lundy (I think she’s a genius), Sasha Gordon, Dana Kotler, Ali Miller, Naudline Pierre, Lisa Yukavage, Jen Mann, Haley Josephs; I think I need to stop here because I could go on for a while! Can you tell that I like painters?
Who should She Curates interview next (as many as you like!)?
Emerging Atlanta artists I’ve been into lately: Autumn Nelson (@sanelsonart), Caroline Wallis (@do.ba.art), Leia Genis (@leiagenis)
Any of my GSU MFA classmates: Diane Hiscox (@diane.hiscox), Jack Michael (@greaseandgold), Felicia Castro (@feliciaacastro), Darya Fard (@daryafard), Lizzy Storm (@lizzystorm), Soude Dadras (@soude.dadras), Mattie Pieschel (@mpieschel), Parker Thornton (@yoni_bologna), Talecia Tucker (@stolengfsclub), Kylie Little (@kylielittleart), Christina Teruel (@christinateruel), Jess Self (@art.felt.jess), Hanna Newman (hannasculpture.com), Kourtney Stone (@kourtneystone_art), and Bethany Grabert (@theresebee)
I’m also in a feminist art collective from my time in Rochester, NY and would recommend any of them! Jacqueline O’Brien (@jacquelynmarieobrienart), Reb Ayşe (@tebeccs), Tina Starr (@lilydeletoile), and Kristina Kaiser (@hohmiekaiser).