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Datebook: Artist Creates In Sync With Plants

Artist Melissa Oresky spent hours in her childhood shadowing her mother on wildflower walks. Her mother was studying to be a botanist, while Oresky was just plain curious. 

“I think I’ve been oriented to plants ever since then,” the artist explained. 

Oresky touched on those early explorations to create works in collage and paint that follow the processes of plants, from quiet beginnings to lush blooms to eventual decay. Her work is currently on display in a show called “Growing Time” at the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington. 

“I have made works about landscape more broadly, but I’ve kind of zoomed in on plants themselves and how they function and how they may be considered as beings.”

close up painting
Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT
Looking at this detail of Oresky's work shows a possible flower in bloom. Or perhaps you see something else. Oresky hopes viewers will take long, lingering looks at her work and see what they will see.

“A lot of painting and drawing starts with observation. Even though I’m really an abstract painter, that’s what you’d think these pieces were at first glance. The abstraction comes after spending a long time observing.” 

“So in order to try and think about plants, I think the thing that compels me is just looking at them. As someone who has spent an awful lot of time gardening and weeding and getting my hands dirty, being involved with materials outside, that’s another thing that brings me into the realm of plant likeness. All of the materials in the studio have a relationship to the materials that I encounter in the world.” 

Oresky works a good deal with paint and paper, plus viewers might be surprised to see the occasional piece of carpet remnant. 

“I have this sort of ‘anything goes’ rule when it comes to materials. If I can glue it down, I can use it. If I can get it to work as part of an image, then that’s fair game.” 

Faced with a huge array of materials to use in her art, Oresky said she is most drawn to materials that have the ability to slip into feeling like something else. 

“One of the things that is a really nice metaphor between plants and paintings or collages is this idea of sheafs or skeins or flat pieces of paper being like leaves and how things fold, whether they’re stout with moisture or whether they feel slick or they feel dry and brittle. All of those qualities of those different materials that I use point to the different material qualities you would notice outside of painting.” 

Oresky’s works have an organic quality to them, growing as her instinct guides, or waiting in a kind of hibernation until the work indicates what it needs as part of its creation. 

“Each one has its own process and each one can have a different amount of time embedded in it. I tend to over fill things,” said Oresky. “I’m one of those people who has a fear of empty space.” 

“Growing Time” is on view at the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington now through Feb. 14.


Melissa Oresky talks about her process regarding the materials she uses in this bonus audio.



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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.