Robert Melee on Shag Carpet, Bowerbirds and Target

Beeler Gallery interviews Robert Melee

Robert Melee, a celebrated artist who lives in works in New York and New Jersey, blurs the line between high art and kitsch in an exhibition currently on view at Beeler Gallery.

The exhibition, Semi­-Quasi­-Bower Recreational, includes an above­ground pool, shiny garland, ornaments, broken lampshades and solo cups.

We spoke with him recently about his work.

How did your childhood help to influence your art today?

I knew from a very young age that I would like to change the house I grew up in, aesthetically. I want to take the now mundane materials and give it this exaggerated, animated life.

Do you think that there are things that are intrinsically “New Jersey” or do you think that they represent something else?

It’s not about New Jersey; it’s about memory. In 1996, I was doing an installation of household objects like sofas, plastic slipcovering and shag carpeting. I created a very generic wall hanging, a family photo album, using the same image again and again. This excited me, so I started making more photoworks and videos. I wasn’t interested in documenting like Nan Goldin or Richard Billingham. These works were in the realm of home movies and snapshots. Always exaggerated, they were produced to eventually be part of a body of work I titled Units.

Can you tell us about the name of your exhibition, Semi­-Quasi­-Bower Recreational?

The centerpiece of the exhibition is my sculpture Bower Pool.

The word “bower” in Semi-Quasi-Bower Recreational comes from the bowerbird — a species that creates flamboyant nests, often using shiny materials and intricate design created for the act of seduction to lure the female in.

The word recreational represents the pool. I’ve been wanting to work with an above-ground swimming pool for quite some time. These pools are an icon object of middle America — my family had one growing up. 

I have made several giant mobiles out of celebratory materials and the first one with a rooftop TV antenna armature. These mobiles root in kitsch, but because of the obsessive amount of materials, the shiny materials fail and become mangled, monstrous and almost grotesque. 

I thought it would be strange to combine these two ideas. 

Bower Pool uses pieces of everyday decorations. I’m wondering what a trip to a Target is like for you. Would you be as inspired if the textures are yellow triangles on polyester pillows and bulbed string lights?

Target is too fancy.

If you were to do a piece inspired by Columbus, what would be in it?

It would be about the architecture.


Robert Melee: Semi­-Quasi-­Bower Recreational is on view at Beeler Gallery through Sept. 10, 2016.