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Field News
22 Jul 2020

Melvin Way

By Valérie Rousseau

I was born and raised in South Carolina, my ancestors and prerequisites lived in slave territories, I eventually moved north to New York City. All my works have to go thru emissions, baptisms, and transmigrations before I release them into the stratosphere. I carry 500 drawings at a time in my raincoat, and they go thru rain sleet and snow.” – Melvin Way

Melvin Way (b. 1954) used to keep his small-scale drawings inside of his pockets for months before giving them up. During that phase, he enhanced them: the pieces of paper were folded, unfolded, and extended. The drawings’ portable nature explains why the ink marks are diffused and faded: the pieces of paper were softened and wrinkled by constant friction, the colors were modified from his sweat, and their smell was permeated by his body odor. Like a second skin, these works seem to function as protective devices, as echoed in this drawing covered with the word “flESsSsH.”

Way’s art is referred to as hermetic, a characterization prompted by the artist’s propensity to evade interpretations about his activity. His overwhelming compositions display what appear to be multidimensional architectural renderings, crosscuts of machines, electromagnetic fields, and mathematical environments. The saturated surfaces are covered by cryptic imagery of chemical formulas, diagrams, and algebraic equations, also indecipherable by the randomness in the coded elements and undetermined sources. As suggested by mathematician Laurent Derobert, such fragmented notations and thoughts could be read as attempts for the artist to “restore a definitively lost order.” Way may structure the chaos, but he doesn’t give the key to his new configurations. He once cautioned that no one should experiment with the formulas contained in his drawings because they are dangerous weapons. A rare note found on the back of a work in the museum’s collection reads as it: “An atomic bomb explosion; this will kill you. Absolute power on the increase fusion.”

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