Melissa Zarem


Melissa Zarem is an abstract painter working in mixed media. Her practice layers expressive gesture, experimental mark-making, and built-up texture.  By inviting experimentation and then discovery, her work process produces a rich surface that parallels the natural world where growth is accrued through time, energy, and material. 

The dialogue in Zarem’s work is relevant to her understanding that the truth of seeing is never black and white.  The borders of truth are permeable. Opposing forces coexist, with both tension and balance. Her ongoing exploration aims toward a place we might call it truth a destination that’s in motion and in dialogue.


Melissa Zarem grew up with artistic roots in two very different cities, New York and Savannah, Georgia.  After getting her BFA at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, Melissa returned to Brooklyn where she started a career as an artist in residence with the Henry Street Settlement House’s Abrons Arts Center. Between 1992 and 1998 her art was featured in a number of shows at the Abrons Arts Center, as well as in galleries in Brooklyn, including Cold Fish (1995), The Montauk House (1996), and Henry 125 (1997).  After a hiatus to raise young children, Melissa returned to Ithaca with her family.

Relocating provided her with the necessary space and time to redouble her productivity. In 2011 Melissa was awarded a position in the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Mark ’11 professional development program. Shortly thereafter she had several solo shows, two of which led to representation at Corners Gallery, Ithaca, NY and Exhibit A, Corning, NY. She has been a featured artist at the Windsor Whip Works Gallery and Art Center (2012) and one of three artists represented in First Person, Twice Removed at Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College (2013).

Upon inclusion in the Made in NY 2014 show at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center, Melissa’s painting received a jurors’ choice award, while contemporaneously, newer work was being debuted at Aqua Art Miami.  In 2015 her art was exhibited at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University and acquired for their permanent collection.

In conjunction with a 2016 solo show, Spring Loaded at Eye Ithaca, the gallery published a book of Melissa’s black and white drawings under the same name.  She was subsequently awarded a fellowship at the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, as well as a grant from the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County, which allowed her to complete work for a 2017 solo show, Mapping the Tantrum at Exhibit A.  

From 2019 to 2020, Melissa co-curated and was a featured artist in Libertad! An Exhibition to Benefit Families at the American Borders with Eye Ithaca.  At the start of the pandemic, she was hosted on Artsy by Exhibit A in an online solo show called Shoe-Leather and Brine, while other work was on display at the Arnot Museum’s Gallery Gala in Elmira, NY.                      

Melissa’s recent projects have been in collaboration with other artists, including We’re Here Because We’re Here, an installation with Werner Sun at the Soil Factory of Ithaca, and a pandemic related project called No Words: a Postcard-Based Conversation Between Two Artists with Elise Nicol.  The latter was recently on display at Cornell University’s School of Architecture Art and Planning in Close Work, Distanced: Pandemic Collaborations.