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Melissa Gwyn

Associate Professor

Painting, Drawing

In my work I consider the word reproduction as it pertains to biology and art, and about morphology, both as a study of the form of words and of living forms. Thirty years ago, I made art about words in the form of still life paintings of molecular models, where the arrangement of elements “spelled” the title and subject of my paintings. In later works I explored morphology in pieces about heredity, authority and truth in a series entitled “Fabergenic.” The root of the surname Faberge is faber, which means “to make.” In all of my paintings the subject of making is tied to its opposite, destroying, and this duality is evident on the surface of my paintings.


Concepts of making and fabricating merge with my habit of listening to news while I paint. Stories about red and blue tribal struggles possess my attention as I imagine the shape our politics will take. I envisage a disfigured circle as the poles of the Left and Right arc towards one another, becoming a sublime gyre animated by the commerce of news.  Inside the spin, definitions don’t nest inside the formation of words: conservatism becomes decadence, and “progressive,” denotes a course of worsening health, rather than the values I once identified with. As the roots of those terms lose their morphological boundaries and beget new words, I try to make visual and verbal sense of this political maelstrom. In paintings inspired by circus posters, hand painted signs and medical imaging, I speculate on the culture war and its effect on the health of institutions and the reasoning capacity of the body politic.


Gwyn’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, receiving reviews from Art Forum, Time Out New York, Village Voice, Art News, and The New York Times. She has been a visiting artist and/or presenter at the University of Southern California, UC Davis, Carnegie Mellon, The Tang Museum, The Palmer Museum at Penn State and other institutions.



Visual Statements and Freedom of Speech

2020: Insight or Blindness

Porter College Commencement Address


Education and Training: 
M.F.A., Yale School of Art
B.F.A., Ohio State University
Teaching Interests: 

Painting, Drawing, Collage

Digital Arts Research Center 241
Office Hours: 
Fall 2023: Tuesdays and Thursdays 11:40am - 12:10pm in J-101
Mailing Address: 

Art Department
Baskin Visual Arts
UC Santa Cruz
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95064