In Melissa Zexter’s mixed media artwork, dreamy photographs are obscured by meticulous, tiny lines of embroidered thread. It creates a multilayered image that tells more than one story at once. Whether her subjects are close-up portraits or vividly colored landscapes, the embroidery adds an intriguing dimension to Zexter’s photographs.
Her photos often have a nostalgic feel to them, perhaps because she frequently shoots in black and white film. The images feel anonymous, too, as the people and places Zexter shoots are obscured by her intricate threads. Grainy photos of schoolgirls on a shaded street or a meditative woman in a bath look as if they could’ve been ripped from the pages of a 1960s magazine. This may be intentional. Zexter says, “I always think of the photograph as something from the past and the thread as a reaction to the past and present.”
Of course the art of embroidery has a retro feel to it as well. But it’s been making a comeback recently, as a resurgence of artists like Zexter reclaim the grandmotherly past-time with provocative, unusual embroidered work.
Zexter cites her childhood as an influence on her work: “My parents were antiques dealers and our house served as a warehouse for art, furniture, embroideries, rugs, etc,” the artist told TextileArtist.org. “My mother made all of our clothes, she knitted all of our sweaters, she embroidered pillows, painted murals on walls, she restored a 21-room house, and she did everything by hand. She is probably my biggest artistic influence.”