Spotlight: Retrospective

Melissa Pace Johnson Brown. Indelicate, 1998. Oil on canvas. 58 x 64.

Melissa Pace Johnson Brown. Indelicate, 1998. Oil on canvas. 58 x 64. Courtesy Sandra Brown.

Melissa Brown show opens Lee Hansley’s new gallery

by Nora Shepard

Before Raleigh native Melissa Brown died in 2001 at the age of 30 from complications of breast cancer, she had become an accomplished artist with a national following. This month – Breast Cancer Awareness Month – her work will be celebrated at the opening show at Lee Hansley Gallery’s new location.

“I was drawn to Melissa Brown’s work by formal things: her abstractions and color sense,” says Hansley, who met Brown early in her career and says he is committed to giving her work its rightful place in the canon of North Carolina art. “She was driven to make images by her circumstances. The imagery is not dogmatic. Rather, it is universal and is open to interpretation by the viewer.”


Self Portrait in Red, 1998. Oil and watercolor on paper. 26 x 20. Courtesy Sandra Brown.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 24, Brown faced “her own mortality and the unpredictability of life,” and “produced a multitude of paintings and drawings search(ing) to understand the mysterious processes that could possibly hold the key to healing and recovery,” says Colleen Randall, a professor of studio art at Dartmouth, where Brown earned her undergraduate degree and won many awards. “Her fluid paint handling and intensely personal color structures were always rooted in nature and reflect a vision of the world as a place of constant flux.”

Brown continued her studies at the New York Studio School and the Chautauqua School of Art, earned an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and held residencies at the Cite des Arts in Paris, the Vermont Studio Center, and Anderson Ranch Arts Center. Her work was shown broadly, including at Lee Hansley Gallery, Artsplosure, and the Goodson Law Library at Duke University School of Law; at galleries in Washington Depot, Conn., New York City, and San Francisco; and in a solo show in the Strauss Gallery at Dartmouth.

Accretion Sounding, 1998. Oil on canvas on board. 18 x 14.

Accretion Sounding, 1998. Oil on canvas on board. 18 x 14. Courtesy Sandra Brown.

Until the end, Brown worked. In her artist’s statement, she wrote: “Through painting and drawing I have been exploring the nature of regeneration and disease within the human body and within the landscape … the possibilities are exciting and urgent … The paintings are events of interaction … optical sensations create movement, disrupting and expanding the paintings’ edges into a negative space out toward the viewer…”

Brown’s mother has helped Hansley catalog and choose work for the show. The long-established art dealer recently announced his move from Glenwood South, where he was a trailblazer 17 years ago, to Dock 1053 at the intersection of East Whitaker Mill Road and Atlantic Boulevard. 

Melissa Brown Retrospective; Oct. 23 through Dec. 3; Lee Hansley Gallery, 1053 E. Whitaker Mill Road