Mop art Con­sider the mop. Melissa Dorn Richards does. She con­sid­ers it art.

Artist trans­forms hum­ble mop heads into art­work

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Jim Hig­gins Milwaukee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - WIS­CON­SIN

Con­sider the mop, the Rod­ney Danger­field of the hall closet. ♦ The broom, at least, can be a sym­bol of power. Baseball play­ers break out the brooms to cel­e­brate sweep­ing a se­ries against an op­po­nent. But the mop-up man is the lowli­est re­liever, tasked with ab­sorb­ing in­nings af­ter other pitch­ers have made a mess. ♦ Now artist Melissa Dorn Richards has el­e­vated the mop from af­ter­thought to star in a new ex­hibit at Frank Juarez Gallery. In “Mop­ping Up,” Dorn Richards cre­ates images of mop heads and uses in­dus­trial mop heads them­selves in sculp­tures, find­ing both per­sonal and com­mu­nal as­so­ci­a­tions in the stringy yeo­man that swabs our decks. ♦“Mop­ping Up” is one of many ex­hibits open dur­ing Milwaukee’s quar­terly Gallery Night and Day Fri­day and Satur­day.

“Mop­ping Up” also of­fers some in­sight in how an artist like Dorn Richards works. Of­ten stim­u­lated by ev­ery­day ob­jects, she tends to work in se­ries un­til she has mined out a vein of in­spi­ra­tion. Her mop pe­riod has been go­ing strong for more than two years now with no sign of ex­haus­tion.

In a re­cent in­ter­view, Dorn Richards said she had been read­ing Sarah Thorn­ton’s book “33 Artists in 3 Acts” when she bumped into the word “mop.” She mused on it as a funny word and wrote it down.

Later, think­ing about the sub­ject some more, the Milwaukee artist drew a mop in her sketch­book, the place where all of her art be­gins.

That ab­stracted mop-head form, which re­sem­bles a head of hair, re­curs through­out Dorn Richards’ cur­rent se­ries of paint­ings, largely ex­e­cuted in black and white, some­times strictly ei­ther black or white.

“It’s a lot about the tex­ture, the way it feels … that’s at­trac­tive to me,” Dorn Richards said.

Her mop form’s like­ness to a head of hair is no ac­ci­dent. Dorn Richards has long wavy hair. When she was a girl, her short-haired mother called her a mop­head, an anec­dote she en­joys telling now.

“I’m good with my hair now,” she said. “I won’t let them straighten it out when I go and get it cut.”

The more mop art she made, the more as­so­ci­a­tions she found. She connected mops to la­bor. While she did some main­te­nance work in the past, Dorn Richards said “I was not a good mop­per. I didn’t have the pa­tience to be a good mop­per.”

She also as­so­ciates mops with do­mes­tic work tra­di­tion­ally per­formed by women.

Nubby tex­ture

Dorn Richards is both a painter and a sculp­tor. Her mop paint­ings, in­clud­ing one that’s 8 feet by 6 feet, be­gin their lives as draw­ings. The paint­ings are all planned out, she said, “so that when I get to the can­vas, it is re­ally about lay­ing down paint.” She’s been ap­ply­ing that paint with a pal­ette knife, giv­ing these works a three-di­men­sion tex­ture.

But the work that jumped out at me dur­ing a visit to the gallery was Dorn Richards’ sculp­tures, which in­cor­po­rate in­dus­trial mop heads. (Be­fore she lib­er­ates them from their wrap­ping, they look like gi­gan­tic ra­men pack­ages.)

While vis­it­ing an­other artist’s stu­dio, Dorn Richards no­ticed a bright yel­low toaster partly cov­ered by a cozy. In her car she sketched out a work with mop fibers stick­ing out. That’s turned into a mop-cov­ered sculp­ture on yel­low legs with the nubby tex­ture of a Chia pet.

Dorn Richards re­al­ized she could use latch hook­ing to make art with mop strands stick­ing out like un­ruly hair. “It was that piece, too, when I re­al­ized how long latch hook­ing takes, es­pe­cially when you’re not do­ing it with the yarn that comes in the kit,” she said.

She has cre­ated an enor­mous wall hang­ing by latch hook­ing mop fibers through or­ange snow fenc­ing, with the or­ange back­ground oc­ca­sion­ally show­ing through the white fibers.

The artist en­joys the repet­i­tive na­ture of latch hook­ing. “I can get to a place that’s med­i­ta­tive for me,” she said. “It would prob­a­bly take a lotta lotta prac­tice to get there any other way.”

She’s still work­ing on a piece that’s ei­ther a rolling-pin mop or a mop rolling pin.

“There’s the toaster, there’s the rolling pin, there will be an iron­ing board cover and po­ten­tially a whole iron­ing board. I’m still work­ing that idea out,” she said.

With so many per­sonal con­nec­tions to the source ma­te­rial, Dorn Richards thinks of her mop art as “the clos­est thing to a self-por­trait that I’ll ever do.”

Play­fully, she con­sid­ered the no­tion of mak­ing her­self a mop wig to wear at the gallery open­ing, but then de­cided “my hair’s pretty moppy, so I think that cov­ers it.”

JIM HIG­GINS

Above: In her re­cent art­work, Melissa Dorn Richards uses in­dus­trial mop heads as both im­age and ma­te­rial. Be­low: She is still de­cid­ing whether this is a rolling-pin mop or a mop rolling pin.

MELISSA DORN RICHARDS

A de­tail from a mop wall hang­ing by Melissa Dorn Richards.

JIM HIG­GINS

Melissa Dorn Richards said this mop-head sculp­ture was in­spired by a toaster cozy she saw in an­other artist's stu­dio.

JIM HIG­GINS

Melissa Dorn Richards' ab­stracted mop form re­sem­bles a hu­man head of hair.

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