Since the age of seven, Melissa Perhamus knew that “there was something powerful” to her art. So, from the third grade on, she decided to dedicate her life to her artistic passions. The mixed-media artist hails from upstate New York, but has been established in the Lehigh Valley for nearly 20 years. Perhamus received her bachelor’s degree in Studio Art from SUNY Potsdam. Additionally, she spent a semester abroad studying Studio Art in England. Melissa credits this semester abroad as a defining moment in her art education.
Once Perhamus started her family and had young children, her art career took a bit of a backseat. Now that her children are older, Melissa has been able to dedicate more time to her professional artwork and making a career out of her creations out of her passion. In 2014, Melissa made the jump from working at home to working in a studio outside of her house in Easton. Completely by fate, Melissa landed in a studio at The Banana Factory, when a friend told her that a space had opened up there. Melissa decided to go for it and was honored to be accepted as a subletter for three months while the resident artist was abroad. After the three months was up, the previous Banana Factory artist decided not to return and Melissa, having fallen in love with the space and South Bethlehem, made the choice to become a resident artist with The Banana Factory and has been there for nearly three years.
Inspired By Nature
When it comes to her artwork, Melissa draws her inspiration predominantly from nature, based on the beautiful trees, forests, and lakes she was surrounded by growing up. But instead of drawing a certain image or location, she creates surrealist works based off of memories. Even though her work is based on memories, Melissa is not simply drawing what she has seen. So while her work is largely focused on trees and landscapes, they are not so much real pieces of nature as they are non-representational and abstract. They are nonexistent, surreal takes on nature. For Melissa, her art is about escaping into a new world by becoming fully immersed in the landscape she is creating.
In regards to her art medium, Melissa is best described as a “mixed-media artist.” This emerging genre combines various forms of visual art together by putting them all on the same canvas. For Melissa, drawing is the basis of all of her work, it is her “true passion.” Once she has her original drawing, she adds other media such as paint, maps, and more, making it truly “mixed-media.” Much of her works feature a number of different rich colors and textures. In addition to canvas and paperwork, Melissa creates original jewelry. These charms, necklaces, earrings, and more are actually mini-paintings and drawings Melissa creates and then sets in glass.
Maps and Trees
Maps are essential and unique aspects to nearly all of Melissa’s pieces. When you take a second look at a number of her paintings, you will realize that beneath the paint is parts of maps. Melissa said that she grew up with an interest in maps. Eventually, she had the idea to incorporate them into her art. So before she starts to apply paint to her drawings, Melissa will paste bits of paper maps onto the canvas. Textually, this works perfectly because the maps resemble roots below the trees she paints.
Other than just acting as tree roots, Melissa finds that the maps hold a deeper meaning within her work. Just like art, maps can take the viewer and creator away from where they physically are. Melissa employs this strategy to highlight the path her art can create. In her personal pieces, the maps generally are of no specific location. She does this on purpose because it helps build the surrealistic nature of her art.
Impediments Allow Change
Unlike many artists, Melissa welcomes times of artist’s block. At the time of the interview, Melissa was in the middle of a creative lull. While these times can be frustrating, she says that she “welcomes these times” because that means “there needs to be change.” According to Melissa, there is nothing like a creative hurdle to bring about the new. For Melissa, being stuck is a sign that she is going through the movements and that her “work is no longer authentic.” So when times like these hit, Melissa follows the advice of her natural inspirations and goes back to her roots and revisits what started her passion for art in the first place.
After a busy year packed with classes, shows, and commissions, Melissa is taking a moment to analyze what she’s done and what is to come. Currently, Melissa is spending time revisiting older processes and styles to see what still resonates with her. In going back to her roots, she is able to see what might come back and develop jumping off points for the new.
Art To Heal
In addition to creating art, Melissa has recently taken an interest in pursuing another passion, the effect visual art may have on mental health recovery. According to a number of studies, creating and viewing art is known to have positive effects on one’s mental health. Knowing this, Melissa has begun working on a program that allows people affected by mental health issues to have the opportunity to view art in a number of locations. On this topic, Melissa said, “art is my passion in more ways than one, and a lot of it is how it can help the mental health community.”
A Word On South Bethlehem
While Melissa is not a South Bethlehem native, working and showing her art here has given her a passion for the community. Remarking upon her experiences here, Melissa states she truly enjoys South Bethlehem because of the unique art community among the residents. Unlike other small towns, Melissa loves the fact that the vibrant interest in local art comes from the community, not just the artists. She feels that the people of South Bethlehem are special in their desire to actually experience all of the amazing art that is located here.