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Melissa Earley 

   "Melissa Earley"   

About the technique:

I have been as influenced by the work of craftspeople:  potters, woodworkers, glass blowers, etc., as I have been by traditional ďfineĒ artists. I was a jewelry designer for a few years and it was in that capacity, hoping to expand my skills, that I first began bead weaving. The technique was perfected over hundreds of years by several different Native American nations, and I loved it immediately. First of all, when Iím painting I never know when the work is done. I will keep touching things up and adding on to it for months, never satisfied that itís quite ready. With the beadwork, you follow a pattern and itís done when itís done. Thereís no guesswork and thereís no going back and touching up later. More importantly, however, the glass beads create this satisfyingly intricate stained glass effect, and the bright, candy colors of the beads make the imagery less severe and more palatable. Thus, the pieces are generally small, intimate, and easier to digest, emotionally speaking.

Most of the pieces in this show were woven off-loom using peyote stitch, which is recognizable by the brickwork pattern of the beads.  Most of the larger pieces, especially those using plastic beads, were woven using a variation of square stitch, which simply looks like uniform rows on top of each other, and adds to the ďpixilatedĒ quality of the image. A few pieces in this show, most notably the ones that incorporate lots of visible thread into the presentation of the work, were woven on a loom.


About the imagery:

Most of the time I start drawing, rather automatically and absentmindedly, and eventually find an image that speaks to me. Then I do a preliminary painting, create a pattern to work from, and begin beading it. As the final image takes shape, or maybe even later, once Iíve lived with it for a little while, it dawns on me that Iíve created yet another self portrait. Iíve ended up surrounding myself with little bits and pieces of my own psyche, made manifest in beads. 

I equate this process with a kind of ďjournaling,Ē in that what I create is rather stream of conscious and ends up teaching me something about myself or jogging a long-forgotten memory, which in turns helps me understand who I am and why I do the things I do. Life is complicated, messy, and sometimes even terrifying, so having this outlet for self-reflection and meditation has been a great way to help me hold onto my sanity in the face of all that anxiety and stress. Facing it, examining it, and seeing it from a number of different angles makes it more manageable and less scary.

Lately I have worked more and more with family photographs, breaking them down in my computer to be stark black and white pixilated copies of the originals. These lend themselves to a perfect beadwork pattern, and it has been interesting to use images created via photography and Photoshop as a starting point, then using the ancient technique of bead weaving to create the final piece. They end up not being self portraits, exactly, but examinations of the most important and influential people in my life. 

 The work in progress:

ďPinkoĒ is a large scale portrait of the current South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, and it is woven using square stitch and hot pink plastic beads. It is the first overtly political piece Iíve ever created and it is simply intended to provide my fellow artists around the state with a small, although much-needed, chuckle. Iím sure the irony of the image, its placement, and its title, will not be lost on them. 

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