Artist Melissa Gokee stretches her hobby
Story by ERIN COGGINS
Photos by JOSHUA BERRY
Painting is something Melissa Gokee uses as a way to relax, an indulgence of something she introduced to herself as a child, a way to enjoy art for art’s sake – that is, until her friend Karynthia Birmingham, owner of The Juicery Press in Madison, asked her to share her art with the business’ customers.
“Karynthia came to me, needing artwork to hang on the walls and the chance to sell some of my paintings. Of course, I was not sure if anyone would even want to see my art, but I said sure, why not,” Gokee said. “It was difficult to put my work out there.”
Gokee sold her first painting – and then a second. “It was an amazing feeling to sell the first painting,” Gokee said. “Someone really liked what I painted, other than my family; they like my art, but then, they love me. To have someone outside the family wanting a painting was really cool.”
Although Gokee took some art classes in college, she comes by her talent naturally. Her father creates carvings and sculptures from found objects, and her aunt is an oil painting artist. “Painting has always been something I have done with my aunt. We even attended painting classes together,” Gokee said. “And my grandmother and I would go to the museum to see the new shows.”
Florals and landscapes are Gokee’s subjects of choice. One of her favorite paintings, which hangs above her bed, depicts the light of a sunrise through the trees. Gokee said she mainly uses her imagination for inspiration, but she can also get lost in books of paintings. “I love the classic artists Monet and Renoir,” Gokee said. “I could spend hours looking at their work because I just love their stuff. I also get some of my ideas from Pinterest and other current artists.”
Gokee has also found a passion for abstract paintings. In fact, the first painting she sold from her display at the Juicery Press was an abstract. She said abstract paintings allow her to let loose because the only thing an artist is truly in control of with an abstract piece is the colors used.
“You have an idea of what you want the abstract work to look like, but as it dries, it turns into something a little different,” she said. “When I’m painting florals, I go over and over it until I’m satisfied, sometimes putting 10 layers of paint on one little flower. Abstract is more messy and allows me to just let go.”
Gokee has also perfected a unique technique called cross-stich paintings. She divides her canvas into one-inch squares, paints the background a neutral color and paints the familiar cross-stich X in various locations to create the image, usually a flower. “Cross-stitching was a childhood hobby. If I was bored, I cross-stitched. If we were on our way to the beach, I would cross-stitch,” Gokee said. “So with this technique, I get to translate this hobby into another, bringing it all together.”
Although art is just a hobby for Gokee, she does combine it with her day job every now and then. As a third-grade teacher at Harvest Elementary, Gokee said she finds ways to get art into the curriculum at least once a week, including using tessellations as a way to study math. “If we have any down time – such as P.E. is canceled or we have to stay in for recess one day – I use the Art For Kids Hub on YouTube for the students to complete a project,” Gokee said. “They always love it and are learning without knowing they are.”
Since her debut at The Juicery Press, Gokee has displayed her art at Uncorked in Providence and will rotate back to the Juicery Press every other month. She also posts her paintings on Instagram @melissa_gokee-art. Although she does not want to become an artist full time, she said she is glad she took her friend’s advice and shared her work with others.
“It is difficult to paint when someone specifically requests something,” Gokee said. “I would much rather put it out there and let people choose.”