by Melissa Mckenzie, August 2017
For as long as she could remember, artist Melissa Kreisa has loved drawing and creating. As a child growing up in Maryland, Melissa dreamed of becoming a professional visual artist but didn't have the confidence or understanding to pursue her ultimate goal.
Although graduating with a degree in fine art, Melissa chose various other creative fields outside of painting to utilize her talents – medical and technical illustration, presentation design and new media and computer graphics. Melissa says she spent 10 exciting years in the corporate world managing an award-winning team of computer artists and animators before meeting her husband, traveling and taking time off to raise their three children – all of which were born on different continents.
It wasn’t until the Kreisas began attending Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church and became connected to a group of Burmese refugee women through Catholic Charities that Melissa became reconnected to her passion for painting. As she was pouring herself into the work of a refugee advocate – advocacy she remains ardent about to this day –Melissa's friend bought her a 48” x 60” canvas in an attempt to give her an outlet for the emotionally challenging work she was doing.
“I stared at it for weeks until one day when the kids were at school, I broke down and started painting,” she says. “From that day, I became obsessed – painting every second I could find. I got to the point where I could start painting and very quickly shift into a completely different headspace. I could fall into that feeling many artists have tried to describe of tapping into a peace and calm where you go completely beyond your ego and your own self. It was life giving, but at the same time I felt so vulnerable.”
That vulnerability – the fear of being judged by others on something she poured her soul into – kept Melissa from calling herself a professional artist. It wasn’t until she was wandering around The Joyce Gordon Gallery in Oakland that her then-5-year-old son blurted out that Melissa had been painting and she was encouraged to submit pieces for an upcoming group exhibit. Melissa says she was nervous about the judgment that came from putting her work out there but learned two lessons opening night. “[I learned] I was totally OK with some folks connecting with my art and others not so much,” she says. “I knew I had lived and loved and breathed through each painting and did not need outside validation … I [also] felt like I had developed my style to a point where I was excited about it but knew I needed to work hard if I was to continue to refine it and commit to creating and developing a body of work.”
All of Melissa’s paintings are abstracted and she often refers to her work in relation to Tonalism, which is typically used to describe landscape art, but similar to how Melissa paints, as they are paintings of simplified subjects rendered in a gauzy, indistinct way with a lack of detail and limited palette.
Influenced by Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin, Gerhardt Richter, Robert Henri’s book, “Art Spirit,” Kandinsky’s “Concerning the Spiritual in Art,” and numerous artists she has met along the way, Melissa says that in her work she tries to “capture the essence, or spirit of the time or place” and is influenced by the sights, smells, colors and culture of the places she has lived and visited. Her The Seeker Series, currently on exhibit through the Art Agency in Esher, Surrey, England, is heavily influenced by her time working with refugees and time spent practicing yoga, while Scratching the Surface is Melissa’s search for a space or place of harmony, stillness, peace, and balance – her attempt at working toward a “spiritual experience.” More recently, Melissa, who has temporarily relocated from the Bay Area to England, is working on a Nesting Series – currently exhibited in London’s The Russell Gallery – about her family’s move to England, her children – now all teenagers – leaving the nest when ready and her desire to create a safe, nurturing space for her children until they’re ready to fly.