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Saturday, May 10, 2014

ART ALLY: Melissa Diaz

ART ALLY: Melissa Diaz

Melissa Diaz is a Brooklyn based artist and art therapist. This Florida native received her BFA in Painting at the University of Central Florida. In 2006, she moved to New York to pursue a Masters degree in Art Therapy from Pratt Institute. 

As an artist, Melissa creates environments reflecting elements of life, growth, transition, shared experience and coexistence. She uses these environments to form a transitional space which welcomes play and introspection.  Melissa concentrates on micro and macro habitats, utilizing simple/child-like materials to demonstrate how fun and accessible art can be.  In her art therapy work, Melissa specializes in an Open Studio approach, working with adults with mental illness and special needs children. She hopes to further integrate the therapeutic elements inherent in art making and the fine art community aspects of creating.

Additionally, Melissa is a community art activist, working towards starting a non-profit organization based on her community arts series, Open House Brooklyn. Melissa uses her artwork as a means to form a relationship with the surroundings and the viewer, paralleling her framework as both an artist and therapist.

Melissa and I both went to the University of Central Florida with a a year or so inbetween us.  Although we knew each other then, and knew of one anothers art adventures, our personal and professional relationship really blossomed in New York.  We were able to collaborate and work together on projects such as Flexas a group show @ Texas Firehouse, the Deitch Art Parade and Melissa's Open House Brooklyn events to this day. She also was a large part of a show I curated at Purdue University titled Makeshift in 2012where she resided in the gallery 5 days and invited visitors to participate in constructing a hut in the middle of the gallery. (see first image)

I asked Melissa to talk about her favorite memory of us work together - she replied:

"So many memories... I am going to have to name a few. First memory is all of the crazed and fun late-night studio times in undergrad. Highlight including, a giant baby head created by Lisa, which dwelled in the painting studio of UCF for years! Second, would have to be the Deitch Project's Art Parade of 2006, in which a part of my walking float consisted of strapping a dollie (with a pad of fluffy grass on it),  to Lisa's pants, as she pulled it along through the parade! Last, the exciting and crazed times at Purdue for the MakeShift show. Lisa was a stellar show director and we pulled some old school all nighters, followed by the viewing pleasures of Chocolat. Our time working together is always filled with fun, stress and a bit of mayhem.  In the end, I cherish all of times collaborating and it's always a big success!"

In her work, Melissa's choice of materials are playful and come together to invite viewers to participate and become part of the piece.  In the case of the Makeshift show at Purdue, I enjoyed watching students reaction to Melissa's work.  The students were very hesitant at first to participate or "mess things up", but with a little time you could see their own transformation right along with the work as they eagerly exploring new materials, techniques and relationships with those around them.  When the finished piece stood alone, the individual marks made by weaving yarn, twisting paper, and tying ribbon were visible - both the process and result were reminiscent of a birds nest, a place of comfort, a home.  

This comfort, playfulness and sense of community weaves through everything that Melissa does from her artwork, her art therapy to the Open House exhibitions she curates.  By providing creative transitional spaces, she allows us to feel a sense of home we can carry with us wherever we go.

To learn more about her work or to attend or participate in any upcoming Open House exhibits....

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