Melissa McGrath

Artist Statement


I was born and raised in a rural Missouri community situated on the banks of the Missouri River. My work is a response to and a reflection of this landscape and the trauma and disaster that happens to the land and those who live on it.


Following frequent violent thunderstorms, annual flooding from the Missouri River and its tributaries would interrupt our lives in the summer by cutting off roads to neighboring communities. Large areas of flooded grass surrounded me. I was transfixed by them; their shape, their surface, and their destruction. I remember swimming in the flood water and staring into them, trying to make out what was right beneath the surface. The feeling of helplessness and surrendering to it, the duality of it’s beauty and devastation.


Fire is another recurring theme in my work and personal history. Two fires, years apart, destroyed everything I had. First, in my childhood home and then in my studio. Fire, like flood water, goes where it wants and takes what it wants. It leaves behind it’s own shape and marks, like flood water. It leaves behind a smell that I can’t disassociate from being warm in the winter.


In my work, I am thinking about the time we spend healing from trauma and I see my drawings as a documentation of that time. Repetition, ritual, labor, meditation and reflection are important to both the work and the actual practice of healing. My visual language comes from the rural Missouri landscape and references it both representationally and abstractly. The dualities of strength and fragility, beauty and trauma, labor and rest are at the center of my exploration.