When artist Melissa Gaudet was in high school growing up in northwest Las Vegas, she decided that she wanted to move to New York City to be closer to her older sister.
“So I went out (to New York), but I said the only way I was going to do that was if I studied,” said Gaudet, now 24.
After she graduated from Las Vegas Academy, where she majored in dance, Gaudet enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. In 2015, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photography.
Back in Las Vegas after traveling and completing two residencies in Italy and Spain, Gaudet has an exhibit on display in the gallery at West Charleston Library. Titled “Exhale,” it features life-sized cyanotype blueprint portraits Gaudet completed while in Las Vegas. “Exhale” runs through Aug. 20.
Much of Gaudet’s work explores memory and its relationship to life and death. There’s also a clear fascination with movement and the human body.
The prints in “Exhale” show a woman in different positions. Each is hung lightly from the walls of the gallery, moving slightly as the building’s air circulates.
In “Hold,” the model grasps herself over her stomach, head down, hair hanging lightly over her face. “Embrace” appears to have been taken directly after the former, the blurred lines of the model’s arm movement captured as she swipes her hair back, face still obscured.
In “Touch,” which hangs near the gallery’s entrance, the model’s hair obscures her face yet again, while she reaches down to brush her leg with her hand.
Though unclear at first glance, each of the models is Gaudet herself. You wouldn’t know until you saw the two side by side.
“I like it when it’s ambiguous,” Gaudet said. “I wanted them to be more mystical, ethereal and have that magical feeling.”
Gaudet took the portraits at the Zappos photo studio, then created giant negatives from them. To print on the cloth, a mild, photosensitive solution was applied and then the material was allowed to dry in the dark. Gaudet then created the images by laying the negative over the treated cloth and exposing it to sunlight in her driveway for 10 to 15 minutes.
Gaudet’s interest in art began in grade school. She said she loved making trips to Michael’s as a child to pick up crafts supplies for various projects. In high school photography classes, she often got in trouble for experimenting with mixed media and not sticking to assignments.
One of Gaudet’s biggest inspirations is the art of Francesca Woodman, an American photographer known for her black-and-white portraiture. Woodman created at least 10,000 negatives before she killed herself at 22.
Echoes of Woodman’s work can be seen in Gaudet’s, including the focus on movement and the use of nude and nearly nude models.
Gaudet’s senior college project was heavily inspired by Woodman, she said. In it, Gaudet explored the death of her father, which happened during her freshman year of college. Several images in the project featured the beach and ocean scenes and references to family members and friends.
“I went back to the places I thought he saw,” Gaudet said. “He loved California and was a beach person and was super wild.”
It’s uncommon for people to be able to deal with such difficult times in their lives via art, said Gaudet’s former high school history teacher, Jessica Kelly.
“She just amazes me,” Kelly said. “She’s willing to do anything and go the extra mile, not only in her art but … what she thinks she can even do herself.”
Gaudet’s travels to Italy landed her in a deeply religious town, she said.
Since her art employs mysticism and often features nude models, it ended up being a great contrast, Gaudet said.
Gaudet’s willingness to try new things and reach beyond her comfort zone make her special, Kelly said.
“I know she’s going to be huge,” Kelly said. “I just can’t wait to see what she’s going to continue to do.”
Artist talk with Melissa Gaudet
What: Reception, followed by artist talk discussing residencies
Where: The gallery at West Charleston Library, 6301 W. Charleston Blvd.
When: 5:30 p.m. Aug. 8
“Exhale” runs through Aug. 20. Its hours are the same as the library’s: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.
To view more of Melissa Gaudet’s work, click here.