Lexington-based artist Melissa Shelton manipulates and exploits her subject matter to transform it from humble food to consumer culture critique. Her seven-foot-tall painting Inveiglement dominates the space and demands attention, forcing the viewer to confront their own perceptions of food, consumption, and desire. Utilizing scale, sophisticated color handling, and texture, the piece manages to occupy a delicate space between seduction and repulsion. Currently a B.F.A candidate at The University of Kentucky, Shelton employs the symbolic images of fruit in culture to investigate sexuality and sensuality. Having already earned a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communications, Shelton has explored and been inspired by advertisement strategies and the psychology behind media manipulation, especially those surrounding female standards of beauty.
We contacted Shelton to learn more about her piece Inveiglement currently on display here at Lexington Art League.
Lexington Art League (LAL): What does “inveiglement” mean and why did you choose this title?
Melissa Shelton: Inveiglement means to draw in, to entice and capture. I would like the viewers to take their own meaning from that.
LAL: Your artist statement says that you are exploring relationships between beauty, body, and food, especially how media portrays beauty. Why are you interested in these topics?
MS: I think these subjects have so much meaning and are so deeply complicated and intertwined in our culture today. Growing up in my family, you showed someone you loved them by making them food. And I have always loved food, but I never loved my body. I can’t say I know many women who haven’t had body image issues. I knew girls in middle school, girls wearing training bras and glitter lip gloss, that dieted. After studying those strategies that ingrained those unrealistic expectations I was hurt and angry.
LAL: What made you choose fruit to represent these themes? Any specific references to fruit in culture that inspired you?
MS: Well, I am also Catholic. Eve and the apple was my first entrance into fruit as representative for the female body. Eve’s guilt and shame speaks to these themes as well. Fruit has this sexy but dark culture surrounding it from Snow White to Persephone’s pomegranate seeds. And women are somehow always at the center of the story.
LAL: How do you manipulate the aesthetic so that the piece goes beyond a still life?
MS: Abstraction and stylization. The texture and movement is what I particularly like to focus on to create a more visceral reaction than a still life would have typically. Also, ambiguity. I like to let it be more than one “thing” at a time, an orange, grapefruit, flower, even musculature.
LAL: How do you research when you are about to begin a new painting? What types of things did you look at specifically for Inveiglement?
MS: I like to spend a lot of time with my subjects. I ate a lot of blood oranges, pink grapefruits and clementines stolen from the fiber studio. I picked and peeled them apart, used a magnifying glass, a knife and camera, watched them rot even. After that I saw them very differently. I started looking at muscles under the skin, pruney fingertips, and raw meat.
LAL: Any artists that inspire you? What about their work inspires you?
MS: Marilyn Minter is my hero. She’s not afraid to be gross and disgusting and that becomes sexy. I could watch her caviar video series all day. Jenny Saville is that way also in her paint handling, really vulgar and beautiful at the same time.
LAL: Speaking specifically about Inveiglement what was the inspiration and concept behind it?
MS: I picked up a bag of blood oranges on sale at Wal-Mart for some fresh orange juice. As I sliced it in half, its dark pink almost wine colored juice seeped onto the counter. I pressed and pinched and squeezed that fruit of everything it had left and drank its last drop, a little bitter but still sweet. I stared at its carcass and all its siblings left in the bag and that was that. This piece is part of a larger body of work exploring the same themes through different subject matter, different pieces of fruit.
LAL: I think the work has the interesting ability to capture beauty and yet make the viewer uncomfortable at the same time. What (typically) are people’s reactions to this work? What kind of reaction are you hoping for?
MS: People are usually not sure what it even is. It’s not every day that you get to see something that fits in your hand at a larger scale than you are. I hope that the viewer first spends some time with the work, to let it seduce you, let it disgust you, to just look and try to find meaning in that.
LAL: The show at LAL is titled Feast: Pleasure+ Hunger + Ritual. If you could put Inveiglement under one category (pleasure, hunger, or ritual) which would it be and why?
MS: Hunger. I think Inveiglement hungers for some attention. To hunger for something or someone is THE most primal instinct we have. And if I can leave the viewer a little hungry, that’s all I can ask.
LAL: What is the one thing you would want viewers to take away from Inveiglement?
MS: Really, I want my viewers to examine their desires and their hunger. What is good enough for you to eat?
LAL: What advice would you give to new artists or undergrads pursuing an art major?
MS: Don’t limit yourself. What you’re feeling is valid so follow your instincts. Poke and prod around until you find what you love and make it your life.
See more of Shelton's work on her website http://www.melissa-shelton.com/Info.html
Inveiglement by Melissa Shelton
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All Lexington Art League programs are made possible through the generous support of LexArts. LexArts allocation of $50,000 represents the largest single donation to the operations of the Lexington Art League.
The Kentucky Arts Council, a state arts agency, provides operating support to the Lexington Art League with state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by Lexington Parks & Recreation.