Interview with Melisa Gerecci

Melisa Gerecci is a visual artist and illustrator. She has created work for Audible, The Bowery Mission, Brazos Bookstore, and Rutgers University and has exhibited in New York (Green Zine and Photo Book Fair, Baxter Street at the Camera Club of New York, curated by Paul John), Brooklyn (B.Y.O.G. (Build Your Own God) and Other Ideas for a Kinder World community altar, ArtShack, curated by Yvette Molina), Massachusetts (Pushing the Envelope, Pulp Gallery, curated by Dean Brown), and New Jersey (Welcome Back to the World, Index Art Center, curated by Lowell Craig, and Creative Resilience, Newark Arts Festival, curated by Adrienne Wheeler). The following is our interview with her about her life and work in Newark.

The Newarker: Where are you from?

Melisa: I’m from Houston and have lived in Newark for the past five years. Growing up, I would move for three months each year to Istanbul, where my father lives. We’d leave the day school let out and return the night before the new semester started. I’m from Texas by way of Turkey, I suppose.  

The Newarker: How would you describe your art?

Melisa: My art is kinetic and tactile, designed to playfully engage the senses. My work is always hand-made and often serial, to bring out narratives. I study how memories and cultures morph as people move around. Sometimes I explore this theme through materials. Lately I’ve been transforming cans made of thin-gauge aluminum into sequins and creating shimmering, sculptural objects. 

Signal Ahead (2022), 2 x 3 feet, aluminum and brass on stainless steel and wood

Melisa: My art is also interactive, with elements that appear through engagement. For example, the sequined signs make a soft rustling sound when vehicles zoom by, and they reflect light (sun and street), becoming a  dozen dancing mirrors, like a disco ball. In City Feast, a mural I made to tell the story of immigration to Newark through food, fish scales and gray hairs appear when you walk by. In Dave’s Place, a painting in a show opening this week at the Newark Museum of Art, hidden text and drawings are revealed when paper doors are opened. My work is ephemeral, created for a particular time and place. It’s intended to wear down over time, with use and enjoyment.  

City Feast (2022), 40 x 12 x 6 feet, ink and colored pencil printed on vinyl and painted with acrylic

The Newarker: Any idea of what your next projects might be?

Melisa: I’m hoping to expand the road sign project. A set of signs lives on the East Coast Greenway in Metuchen—join us Saturday, November 5 for the launch! I’ve submitted a proposal to make more for installation in Newark, where several miles of the Greenway run through Weequahic Park and downtown and will soon include the Hudson Greenway connecting Montclair and Newark.   

I’m making a chunky mural with the Houston Independent School District. The public school libraries are discarding old books, so I’m working with students to make new art out of the pages. We’ll use collage and mosaic techniques to explore textures and colors. And then we’ll find a way to apply them to the walls!

I’m also illustrating a series of letters exchanged between my father and his mother. In 1978, as a 24-year-old, he immigrated to Houston from Ankara. He planned to earn money to send home for two years; he ultimately stayed for thirty. The letters allude to politically tumultuous Turkey, where his sisters still lived, and hint at my dad’s decision to leave his engineering career and travel the U.S. selling clothes made of recycled leather. They offer insight into cross-cultural relationships, gender relations, and even U.S. energy policy as it played out in the Sunbelt and the Middle East in the 1980s.  My father’s story is relevant to anyone who grows up navigating multiple cultures or identities.

The Newarker: Where are some of your favorite places in Newark to hang out and why?

Melisa: Omar’s Cafe on Mount Prospect Avenue has CDs lacquered directly into the tables and bar! You can run your hands over the surface and learn about the owner’s favorite salsa bands. Great hand-made touch to go with their nice breakfast sandwiches. Weequahic Park hosts a fabulous live jazz series; this summer I enjoyed hearing the James Austin Trio organized by Gregory Burrus.   

I enjoy catching up with people while walking around Newark—it’s a hallmark of a great city. Have you been under McCarter Highway, where Chester Avenue turns into Riverside? Text (347) 389-9042 and head over to Exit 4, by the hand-painted signs: there’s good cheesesteaks and empanadas from kind, creative people bringing beauty in unexpected places.   

Dave’s Place (2022), 18 x 24 in, gouache, ink, and found materials on paper

The Newarker: Tell us something about you (or your work) that few people know.

Melisa: I love love love music. I don’t make it, per se, but I love listening and moving to it. Kerem, my two-year-old, does too—he can catch a beat anywhere, anytime. Newark is an awesome place to hear sound, whether it’s at a gym in the Ironbound, twerk yoga, or at maraca practice in Branch Brook Park. 

Featured image by Yvette Molina

City Feast, detail