Stronger Than Dirt

This summer’s exhibition spectacular is “Stronger Than Dirt” at The Lockwood Gallery featuring a retrospective of Melissa Stern’s artworks. Curated by Alan Goodman, the artworks feature drawings, assemblage, and sculpture that span over 20 years of artmaking inspired by American popular culture. Melissa Stern wrote in her statement for the exhibit: “When I was a kid I watched a lot of TV. I loved the ads as much as the shows. There are jingles still stuck in my head. I’ll always remember Ajax because it was “Stronger Than Dirt!” I loved and hated these commercials that featured hardscrabble gals at war with household grease, grime and soap scum, the wrongdoing of their filthy, feral children and their hapless, slob husbands. Women were workhorses who lived to make the world clean. I wanted to make a mess, not spend my life cleaning them up.”

The advantage of seeing a retrospective is experiencing a large body of work from a single artist and witnessing the progression of thought and artistry through the years. In the front gallery, see several standouts such as “Friends,” a large energetic drawing that depicts the beauty of genuine friendship. Stern’s approach to drawing always feels passionate and is reminiscent of the art of Philip Guston; however, in this drawing Stern has captured the simple joy of friends catching up over a good conversation.

“Friends” by Melissa Stern

Moving along to the Conference Room gallery, viewers will see that all of Stern’s drawings have depth and her use of drawing over layers of paint adds a level of grit. In “K.O. in 3,” the allusion to a knock-out is interpreted as a child might, quite literally knocking off a head. The art is a combination of simplified drawing style with collage, oilstick, and charcoal. We also can see this combination in “Fib,” featuring faux childlike drawing that mimics a cartoon, along with an illustrated dialogue of mistruths.

“K.O. in 3” by Melissa Stern

Further along the Front Alley gallery space, see several great pieces from a “Rat Fink” series – each with obsessive markings, some with bold drawing, collage, or additional oil stick color. There are several iterations exhibited on the “Rat Fink” series – each one unique in their approach.

Exhibited in the front gallery and throughout the entire exhibition are sculpture and assemblage. Stern makes sculptures that feel they have morphed out of her drawings with added dimensionality, as seen in “Sad Sack” and my personal favorite, “Nailed.” Many of the sculptural objects have been created with layers of collaged papers and objects. While other pieces like “Aloha,” the artist merges drawing and assemblage into a wall piece. Don’t miss the Shoe Box gallery in this space with a definite shoe theme.

There is plenty of depth and gravitas in this exhibit, however Stern doesn’t miss the opportunity to leave us with one final tongue in cheek comment: “This is work from the mean streets of Manhattan to the dirt roads of the Catskills. Welcome to my brain. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry – It’s better than Cats.”

“Stronger Than Dirt” was featured June 12 – July 11, 2021
Lockwood Gallery, 747 NY-28, Kingston, NY

Tel: 845-663-2138 |

This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal Life, Sunday, June 27, 2021.

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