When Melissa Oresky was growing up in Maryland, her mom was studying to be a botanist. Some of Oresky’s earliest memories involve going on wildflower hunts carrying botany textbooks to identify the plants they would find. They would collect specimens, which they would later press in the same textbooks they used to identify plants.
“That history really — it connected me to both not a certain kind of scientific knowledge, a certain way of visualizing what you would see in material form in the world, and then the experience of moving through the forest scanning the ground and then connecting the actual living organism of the plant to its sort of disembodied, knowledge-based representation was, I think really deeply informative,” Oresky said at the opening reception for “Growing Time,” her current solo exhibition at the McLean County Arts Center.
Oresky has been teaching painting and drawing at Illinois State University since 2002, and it was about about five years ago that she started to use plants as a subject, but most of the comprising the exhibit was made over the past three years.
“It’s a lot of large-scale work on paper, and a series of smaller works on canvas and linen,” Oresky said. “Those bodies of work are quite different from each other, but they work together and they sort of look at some of the same issues from different perspectives.”
Oresky process is deeply rooted in collage, and she uses a wide variety of materials, including paper and found fibers. She considers each material to have something of an identity, and part of her work in the studio is focused on the interplay between those identities.
“A lot of those materials are made from plants or incorporate plant materials, so I kind of consider the materials to be a sort of embodiment of my subject matter, and I also consider the process of materials accreting, building, deteriorating, creating impressions upon each other to be a sort of process that is a distillation of something that’s happening outside in the world,” she said. “The materials in my studio make their own interior kind of ecology — they’re all always entangled with each other.”
The exhibition is on view through Feb. 14.