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 City and Savannah, Georgia. After earning a BFA at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, she moved back to the city, living in Brooklyn, where she started a career as an artist in residence with the Henry Street Settlement House’s Abrons Arts Center.
Relocating to Ithaca in 2006, Zarem was awarded a position in the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Mark program (2011) and was subsequently exhibited in a series of solo shows that led to representation by Corners Gallery (Ithaca, NY) and Exhibit A, (Corning, NY). Zarem became a featured artist at Ithaca College (2013), Aqua Art Miami (2014), and at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Cornell University (2015) where her work was acquired for their permanent collection.
Among the galleries and arts organizations that have shown Zarem’s work are The Arnot Museum (Elmira, NY), Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center (Auburn, NY), Novado Gallery (Jersey City, NJ), and SUNY Corning Community College (Corning, NY). Additionally, her work has been featured by Exhibit A on both Artsy and 1st Dibs online art marketplaces.
Zarem has been the recipient of several awards, grants, and fellowships including those from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts (2016), the Vermont Studio Center (2023), and Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County (2016 and 2023). Spring Loaded, a book of her black and white drawings was published by EYE Gallery (2016).
Zarem’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.