Melissa Dorn Richards – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Roller Coaster XV

“Roller Coaster XV”
Oil on Canvas, Black Velvet

Briefly describe the work do you do.

I’m intrigued by man-made landscapes, from piles of materials to built structures. The piles of materials change daily as they are being used or affected by weather, giving me the sense they are living, breathing organisms. Built structures also capture my attention, particularly when they are seen from a distance and I can imagine the activity in and around them. These piles and structures whether traffic salt, coal piles or roller coasters seem to have become urban stand-ins for my continuing fascination with mountains.

Each painting is carefully planned, starting with a small drawing. The man-made landscapes give me an initial form to work with. I carefully chose what to leave in, although many times what I leave out is just as important. I want there to be some ambiguity to the painting. In the drawings, I work with vivid color and engage a heavy black line to further define the pile or structure. As I paint I pay close attention to the slight gestures of the line portraying the humanness I feel when looking at my “mountains”. Texture has become an important part of defining structure in my paintings through atmospheric blending, heavy layering with a palette knife and thick application with oil stick.

I’ve also introduced shapes cut from “recycled” black velvet paintings into some of my work, enjoying the feeling of collaboration with the unknown artist, and the repetition and texture of the cut pieces.

At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?

I’m not sure I remember a time I didn’t want to become an artist. Growing up I thought about other careers, but always knew I would be doing art in some form.

Roller Coaster XVI

“Roller Coaster XVI”
Oil on Canvas, Black Velvet

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I grew up in West Bend, Wisconsin. We moved around a lot prior to setting in there when I was around 7 or 8. I would say I had a pretty normal childhood. I tried a lot of different things; flute, viola, volleyball, basketball and even cheerleading. The one mainstay was art, it was the one thing that always held my interest. We had a strong art program at my high school and the West Bend Museum of Art (now the Museum of Wisconsin Art), played a major role in my continued interest in art. I attribute my positive attitude, which can be seen in my work and plays out in my color choices, to my up bringing.

I tried out a couple colleges, too, and eventually got my BFA from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD). MIAD provided the small community of artists and designers that I really needed to develop. Beginning in my 20’s, I worked a variety of arts administrative jobs mostly in the non-profit arena, and still do. This has had an impact on my work in many ways, and definitely in the way I organize my studio work schedule. Of course, I really don’t like to do administrative work when I’m not at my “day-job”, and this can be a little bit of a problem when I need to get things done like mailing lists, budgets and pretty much any other computer related task.

Roller Coaster XI

“Roller Coaster XI”
Oil on Canvas, Black Velvet

What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?

I think quite a lot about structure and control in my work. This dictates my process, there isn’t much left to chance when I pick up a brush or start a sculpture. I figure out through drawing what and how the work will look and be produced. The drawings are small, usually 5 inches by 5 inches, so I am able to do them quickly. I typically do not work the entire canvas at once but in stages, again very structured.

We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?

I completely agree with Chuck Close, I go to the studio almost every day and I think that is a big part of what keeps me going. Deadlines are also great motivators and I actively seek opportunities so I have plenty of deadlines. I find working in a studio with other artists helps to keep me going every day, too.

When artists living or non-living influence your work?

I really think all artists and all the art that I see influence me. The studio I work in, Plaid Tuba, has an open concept and I am able to see what everyone is working on. It would be hard not to be influenced by my studio mates’ ways of thinking, color choices, and process.

Historically, three of my biggest influences are Mark Rothko, Milton Avery and Anne Truitt.

When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in? 

I read quite a bit, both art-related and non-art books. I also have a full-time job at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, which takes up a good portion of my time. When I get the chance I like to travel.

Dorn Richards_Headshot_photo credit Frank JuarezAbout Melissa Dorn Richards

Melissa Dorn Richards started life on an Air Force base in Anchorage, Alaska, and spent her formative years in West Bend, Wisconsin. After bouncing around to different colleges, she moved to Milwaukee to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, and received her BFA in 1996. Since graduating she has maintained a strong studio practice, worked with Milwaukee youth through Arts@Large and Artworks for Milwaukee and has become a leader in the local arts community primarily through the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network (MARN). Dorn Richards is also a Plaid Tuba Affiliate with a studio in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.

Select exhibitions include: Schematic, UW-Sheboygan; Abstraction: The Language of Art, Cedarburg Cultural Center; New Works, Gallerie M Intercontinental; Indiana Green, Juarez Invitational; Eight Counties, John Michael Kohler Arts Center; Artist Marketplace, Milwaukee Art Museum; Around the Coyote Festivals, Chicago; Art Chicago, Hotcakes Gallery; Aqua Art Miami, Hotcakes Gallery; and Impromptu, Cedar Gallery.

Dorn Richards is represented by Frank Juarez Gallery, Sheboygan and The Leigh Gallery, Chicago. Her work can be found in many collections including Tax-Air, Northwestern Mutual, West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, Littler Mendelson and Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 


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