A conversation between Thierry Goldberg Gallery and Melody Tuttle
Thierry Goldberg: What was your first encounter with art and when did you decide you wanted to be an artist?
Melody Tuttle: I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember, since I was a kid. Actually there's a bit of a story here. When I was little my mom got me one of those cheap crayola watercolor box sets and I used to sit in the basement of my house painting along to Bob Ross. I think this is honestly how I started to learn about basic painting techniques. He once painted a fence that receded into the distance and I remember following along painting my fence posts and thinking – oh that's why this looks this way, that's how you represent something 3D on a 2D surface. Thanks to Bob Ross I learned atmospheric perspective! As far as wanting to be an artist it is something I was drawn to my whole life.
TG: Tell me about how you begin a work.
MT: I draw. I have a sketchbook and a digital sketchbook that I use. I usually start out with a drawing that's pretty small. Usually, I know with a smaller painting a smaller drawing will translate, with a larger painting things tend to change. There is all this space that I can work with. It tends to take shape the more you work on it.
TG: Your works are centered around the female figure. Where do you get your inspiration from? Are they based on anyone in particular?
MT: I Identify as female; I navigate my life as a woman. I guess there's an aspect of my work that becomes autobiographical and personal to me. I like to think that my figures operate as female archetypes. That's a big reason why I paint faceless figures. I don't want them so much to be seen as portraits or as one particular woman. It's more of an every woman.
TG: Your figures are never looking at the viewer. Would you say that their gaze is always internalized?
MT: I would say that the gaze is somewhat internal. I see the subject of my paintings to be pensive, lost in thought or preoccupied. I paint a lot of women in various states of getting dressed. I see them as staring off into space lost inside their own head.
TG: That's quite a privileged place to be in. It seems as if your figures are static in your work in this constant process of defining and being defined by their environments.
MT: Definitely. I think that they’re all a little bit connected to their environment, somewhat absorbed within it. Even if they are stuck in their own head they are still a part of this bigger thing that is going on beyond them or outside of their space.
TG: There seems to be this interesting play between exhibitionism and privacy in your works.
MT: I think that comes from my fascination with windows. There's something about being outside looking in and inside looking out. Living in New York everyone’s on top of each other looking in and you're on display. Whether I want to or not I know what my neighbor across the street is doing just by walking by.
TG: Tell me a bit about your color pallet. The overall temperature of your work feels very hot.
MT: I don't think I’ve ever painted anything in the last 5 or 6 years that depicts anywhere close to a real true skin tone. I think this plays along with the idea that this isn't a particular woman; she could be any age or race. That's a big part of it too. The vast majority of my work is based heavily on the social constructions of female identity. I'm also just drawn to warm colors. I feel warm tones have an attractive vibrancy that makes my figures visceral without the need for flesh tones.
TG: Who would you say influences you and your work?
MT: Hopper a lot lately. Recently, I’ve been taking more of a painterly approach to my works versus a graphic approach. I am starting to get more interested in shadows and infusing dimension into my figures and their environments.
TG: What would you say is the biggest driver in your switch from a graphic to a painterly style?
MT: I think a lot of it has to do with the medium more than anything else. Switching to oil has given me more freedom to be more painterly. Acrylic and flash just dries so quickly. I also started stretching my own canvases. I almost forgot how much I love the texture of a rougher canvas and being able to see that texture come through in a painting. Oil allows you to see the layers and the back story. It allows the painting to slowly come to life.
TG: So you like your works to reveal their own history?
MT: In a sense, yes. I think oil paint also allows me to be a bit more spontaneous. With acrylic and flash you have to plan out your works and I usually know exactly how they are going to turn out before my paint even touches the surface of the panel or canvas. With oil, I may have a rough idea, my pallet, but the paint can really take on a mind of its own.