In New York you randomly meet cool people. We went to an art show and out of nowhere Melanie came rushing out of the bathroom talking about her new bunny, Kaka. I was instantly enamored with her… who is this beautiful, radiant person in this slip dress talking about her bunny she named Poop!? We hung out with her for the rest of our time there and at one point Lucien pulled me aside and was like, “you should interview and shoot her for one of your Muse stories.” Without knowing anything about her (aka seeing her Instagram… this is the reality of the world we live in…) we asked her and she immediately was down. It wasn’t till the next day we found her online and realized she was an artist. Obviously that sweetened the deal. I love Melanie’s art because it’s different, raw, and a confrontation of what’s uncomfortably beautiful. At our core, we’re all just Meat People.
We rolled over to her studio in Red Hook, I shot her on film, played with her lil’ bunny (this is Kaka’s professional debut!!!) and interviewed her. Here it goes!
Give us some background!
Me llamo Melanie Luna, born and raised in the Dominican Republic. I moved to the Bronx in 2009, I’ve been here for 11 years. Loving it, killing it. I’m in Brooklyn currently, and I just got a bunny named Kaka.
How do you explain your art?
I’m searching for the most universal figures without touching the surface. How can I paint everyone all at once without leaving anyone behind? I paint what's underneath that thin layer of skin that we constantly see and read. But I came to realize I’m not skinning the bodies, it’s more like I’m studying a new spectrum that only allows you to see flesh. Right now I’ve been working on a series depicting life size animals all painted in this new spectrum.
Cool to learn about your Meat People. What are you inspired by? When you’re making a new painting do you know what you’re going to paint or does it just come?
It all starts with a series of thoughts, mostly incomplete ones, and it takes me a little while to sit down with myself and troubleshoot which ones can keep my attention. I tend to scratch series whenever I get bored of them and so I move on. I have like 3 series in my head currently plus the present one in my studio. When it comes down to executing an idea I can see a blurry version of it in my head. As the painting develops, I then introduce chance and this is when the magic happens. Inspiration is coming from anywhere and everywhere: beautiful strangers I get the pleasure to meet, my messy desktop full of screenshots of random stuff, my family’s timeline, and most of all the long lasting telephone game we are always playing. I guess I’m trying to slow down evolution by reminding us of what we truly are. Haha did I lose you there?
What are your goals, what’s your dream with your art? To be in the best gallery, make a living, being inspired? What’s the peak?
My ultimate goal is to stay inspired and curious. In an artist’s timeline there comes a time when creativity is halted because of routine and repetition. I don’t want to find myself unhappy with my work. My dream as of today is to free myself from desperation, where I would sacrifice my vision to please the smaller picture.
What are the biggest challenges of being an artist? Both internally and externally? Where’s the tension?
I feel like I’m chasing the bigger picture way too much where I forget myself a bit and I know that my story is valid so there’s tension. There’s only been one painting I’ve ever made so far that made me feel like, “Oh my god this is me.” I remember thinking I should move away from that because it will keep me indoors and usually that leads to overthinking. I believe that's one of the many challenges artists face throughout their career, and all you can do is return to the present and just create.
I understand that, it’s similar to Lucien, who is an artist. I’m not an artist, I’m just creative, but I see this with him. You can get caught up in creation and your ideas... but it’s just as important in the art world to get the work in front of people. How will you sell it? It’s still a career and a job. But when you’re an artist you really don’t care about that, you want to just make things and explore your ideas. So then do you just rely on a gallery to do it? But they don’t always have your best interest, they're never going to care as much as you. It seems like a tough world to go between.
Galleries have a monetary deadline to meet so they will never care as much as we do. They’re a business just as we are but they’re a little bit more short sighted nowadays. It’s no longer about nurturing their artists and helping them elevate their ideas and creations. They’re sharks looking for their next big meal. Personally, I will like a neutral relationship with a gallery: transparent transactions, no hidden fees and no bullshit. Mutual understanding that we need each other but no buildup of false dependency where an artist loses their vision just to chase a temporary name.
I suppose as long as you stay authentic and true to yourself everything will be ok.
In a world of deceit, the truth overpowers everything. It’s a revolutionary act. So if I could give some advice to young artists, it’s to “Stay You.” The second you walk into a room and people know it’s just you, you’re powerful.
Be undeniable, and everything will be ok.
Ziran means, “natural, spontaneous, and free.” To push away outside influence and embrace your own authenticity. Do you feel you live in Ziran? Does that mean anything?
It makes me think of my Zodiac sign, Libra. I’m very spontaneous and look for balance in everything and authenticity is extremely important to me. Like I said before, we live in a world of deceit and most people know it. That's why we have multiple facades to navigate it. Ziran gives me the feeling that, “What you see is what there is” (WYSIATI) by Daniel Kahneman.
Words and Photography: Kelly Wang Shanahan (@theziran)
Muse: Melanie Luna (@ohmeluna)
Shot in Brooklyn, July 2021.