The last year and a half have been particularly dark. "It's hard to work when you're in constant pain," Lang remarks. "I ended up destroying a lot of the work I did during that time."
But having finally recovered from last year's hip surgery, the Spokane artist has emerged into a new place. "Last month, I started feeling pretty darn good," she says with relief. "I feel exuberance, hope... I feel so much life."
Lang's new drawings and paintings, on display at the Lorinda Knight Gallery through Oct. 28, reflect this joyous energy. One big change is Lang's experimentation with a new medium. Whereas before she worked with black charcoal and acrylic and oil paints, she's now begun adding color pastel to her canvases. "It's a dry pigment you can rub into the surface -- so it's like drawing, but a drawing in the form of a painting," she says.
Blurring the distinction between drawing and painting allows Lang to balance both processes: the spontaneity of drawing and the technical intensity of painting. "Drawing is fluid and direct. But with painting, you have to deal with mixing colors, so the paint is a mediating force that distances you from the work," Lang explains. She preserves the original fluidity of drawing by beginning with charcoal lines, then adding paint on top. "A lot of times I'll paint over the drawing so much that it becomes just a painting," she says.
Lang layers meaning in much the same way. She finds her subject matter in the natural world -- insects, leaves, twigs -- or in drawings from anatomy books. But the final product is more than a visual representation. "I don't want to depict an object -- I want to convey the sensuous experience of it," she says. "As soon as it starts looking like an image, I break it up and draw new layers over it. It becomes more about the painting itself than the ideas that started it."
But this move toward abstraction isn't always as freeing as it seems: "I get really obsessed," she says. "I can spend a whole afternoon trying to get a line right." That's where balance comes in again. Lang admits she's glad for the pressure of the upcoming show. Laughing, she says, "Deadlines make you realize what's important."
-- JESSICA MOLL
"Melissa Lang: New Work" continues through Oct. 28 at the Lorinda Knight Gallery (stop No. 14 on the Visual Arts Tour), 523 W. Sprague. Call 838-3740.