​​​​​​Susan Melly

My work examines dynamic relationships between female identity, fashion, machines, sexuality and power. Expressionist influences are evident as each piece evolves with adjustments in color, perspective and architectural structure. Intrigued by the discovery of vintage dress patterns, sewing notions and industrial machines used by my seamstress mother during the Great Depression, I explore aspects of the sewing industry as metaphors for a changing society and feminist critique.

My mother was a farm girl who was recruited as seamstress in the domestic industry during the Great Depression. Her sewing machines were of elegant design and durable strength.  Using dress patterns and traditional sewing tools, she produced fashionable clothing for women that were designed by men to please men - a tendency which continues today.  By the 1970s, the industrial age was clearly dying and artists began incorporating industrial elements into their work, while working in studios and lofts that were once industrial spaces. Now well-paid tailors design and create expensive fashions for women of upper class income.  Alternatively, low wage workers, typically women, invest long hours in factories to mass produce clothing for the mainstream population. 

Los Angeles - recognized for sensory overload caused by consumerism, materialism and image - inspires my work.  I employ iconography and materials culled from my late mother’s archive of retro dress patterns annotated with oddly evocative, eccentrically worded directives on approaching the female form.  Vintage repurposed tissue paper dress patterns, found objects, and images of machines from the industrial era are symbolic elements suggesting ideas about survival, self-reflection and forces that govern perception and experience.   The fragility of tissue evokes male notions of delicacy while the precision and rigidity of printed lines cut, restrict and bind the female form suggesting ritual tattooing, medical incision or cuts of meat.  This presents an interesting dichotomy between female vulnerability and strength.