Melissa, known by her pen name, “Meljen Art,” draws in black and white because she’s colorblind.
“I can see colors,” she tells me, “but they are often muddied or muted, and night time is almost entirely black and white to me.”
When I first discovered Melissa’s artwork and approached her for an art feature, it was because I enjoyed her playful, abstract approach to the macabre. When I found out that her black-and-white art was a reflection not just of her vision, but also of her sight, I was intrigued. Then when I learned that the “shadow creatures” she creates are not just a fun way to parody pop culture, but also a way to help mend a wounded soul, I
became obsessed. This is outsider art at it’s finest: rejection of the status quo not due to grievance, but due to necessity. Rejection of the current social order not as a means to create a new exclusionary end, but as an ever-evolving method of achieving radical inclusiveness that is forever new and without end.
“Instead of fighting with color,” she explains, “I decided to embrace my colorblindness and use it to express how I see the world. I used to draw very realistically, which is the best way to learn, but after years of doing that, I desired a greater freedom of expression. So, I started to emulate abstract art, and that translated into what I do now.”
There is something comforting about the darkness Melissa paints. I believe it’s a combination of the fond nostalgia we feel for the horror icons she takes inspiration from and the way her playful depictions defang them in a way that allows us to love the monsters without having to fear for their next victim…or for ourselves. In this alternate universe, perhaps we could even be friends. And I think that is what would make Melissa the happiest.
“Growing up feeling like a freak and dealing with depression my whole life led me to create these shadow creatures,” Melissa explains. “They took years to finally come into form, but when they emerged, they allowed me to express my inner weirdness and longing for connection with the world around me in a way I couldn’t before.”
It’s funny how outsider art, either in a magnificent display of paradox, or as a laughing ode to societal mis-categorization, often feels the most deeply universal.
“We all crave connection,” says Melissa. “We all crave to feel loved and understood. We just need to learn to be okay with our weirdness, to embrace our inner monsters with acceptance, and even humor. There’s always a little bit of light no matter how dark it seems.”
Perhaps it is with this sentiment in mind that Melissa would like us to experience her art. For example, when viewed this way, her piece “I’ll get Out of This Somehow,” feels less like a really great morbid joke, and more like a declaration of positive action that is also a really great morbid joke—which is perfect in my mind, because while I appreciate Melissa’s expression of the human condition, her wickedly dark sense of humor is my favorite thing about her work.
For example, when telling me that she still enjoys playing with color every now and then, I smile at the two colors she names.
“I do enjoy adding a splash of gold or blood-red sometimes. It’s a very rare treat.”
© 2021, Meljen Art