An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Melissa W. '19

Here’s the story: some years ago, I fell into social justice. Along the way, I learned that studying and performing social justice translates to self-care, self-healing, and re-teaching myself love. And somewhere along that line, amid the words of Audre Lorde and Sylvia Rivera, I discovered the strength of emotion (some might even say E•MO•TION). Emotion is the foundation of our power as human beings. Each one of these paintings catch a moment in time, a fantasy, a landscape that replicates tenderness. In a place that treats production, logic, reason, and rationality like our holy grails, we have to fight to love, feel, get angry, and speak from our souls. And that’s what art does. It speaks to our souls, an unscripted dialogue between the artist and the audience. In this show, there are three major sections.

The first section contains the studies, the paintings I redrew from artists of history. The three artists represented are Pierre-Auguste Renoir, John Singer-Sargent, and Frida Kahlo. Throughout the other pieces, I’ve also drawn inspiration from Lucian Freud, Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent Van Gogh, and Wassily Kandinsky. I can’t speak to them all in this statement but I am deeply influenced by their work. Sargent treats his paint so softly that looking at his portraits feels like cupping light in my hands. Freud turns figure into landscape, landscape into sensation. And Rembrandt, as always, inspires me in just about everything.

The next section has these three pieces taken from photos snapped on GSL and on trips with my family. They are meant to capture a moment in time. Vibrancy in nature. The beauty of color.

The last section of seven paintings, the core of my show, is inspired by poetry from Sappho. I think there’s something sweet about love that rises through concrete, love that must be heard. A love that isn’t bland but one that is protective, fierce, angry, and just. A love that isn’t defined by power but by tenderness. The lotus shows consistency, the we have always been here, the we always will. Searching for roots in an ethnic culture that always seems to push me away. The canyon is about the vastness of wonder, the squeeze of your heart when it is full to bursting. All of the paintings are my interpretations of Sappho’s words.

i am in love w/ love
in love w/ tenderness
fingers threading through
hair, tracing the cut of a
cheekbone, the laving
of a brush so lightly
on canvas. and do you
feel it, when you paint,
how much love hides
in between strokes
like light dappled across
our earth. do you feel
the power of your
own softness, grip
of your own heart.