October 9, 2014

AAC Instructor Portrait: Melanie Kehoss

Melanie Kehoss

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve shared an Instructor’s Portrait blog with you, but fall is officially here and with AAC’s fall semester just weeks away, we thought now is the perfect time to introduce you to artist and AAC instructor, Melanie Kehoss. She’s leading an adult’s evening class beginning Oct. 21, and is also one of seventeen artists selected for AAC’s Annual Day of the Dead exhibition. Read more below to learn about Melanie’s studio practice and teaching philosophy.


Melanie was born and raised near Milwaukee, WI, and received an MFA from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2007 and a BA from Lawrence University in 2002.  She has practiced art throughout Wisconsin, Southern California, and the DC metro area.  Her observations of life in these diverse regions inspire her paper-cut artwork, which explores every-day rituals and the influences that have formed culture in the United States. In addition to AAC, she has also taught at Georgetown University, Carthage College, US Arts Center, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

AAC: Now, that we’ve got your formal bio out of the way, briefly tell us about your art practice:

Melanie Kehoss, Rebels and Hereos, 2011. Cut paper, gouache, vellum, wood, Plexiglas, LEDs. 24x18x3".
Melanie Kehoss, Rebels and Hereos, 2011. Cut paper, gouache, vellum, wood, Plexiglas, LEDs. 24 x 18 x 3 in.


Melanie: I enjoy making images that tell stories about human behavior and culture. In 2003, I discovered the art of paper-cutting, the ideal medium for my brand of storytelling. It combines my skills in drawing, painting, printmaking, and design.

I display many of my cut paper narratives as light boxes with brightly painted exteriors. On any given day, one might find me in my studio researching history, drawing silhouettes, soldering LEDs, painting tiny shapes in a pattern, or cutting paper blades of grass. Like “Rebels and Heroes” pictured at right.

AAC: Who are some of your favorite artists working today?

Melanie: Some of my contemporary favorites are Kara Walker and Yinka Shonibare, because of the way they transform traditional crafts into edgy installations.

AAC: What about from the past?

Melanie: Going back in time, I look to Matisse’s use of color and pattern. One of my favorite exhibits of late featured 19th century Japanese printmaker Kobayashi Kiyochika, who combined Western and Eastern techniques in his depictions of changing cities.

AAC: So interesting! Now, let’s talk about your teaching philosophy:

Melanie: The best instructors learn alongside their students. Rather than imposing specific styles and concepts, I encourage students to pursue a personal direction. For beginners, I introduce a variety of media and techniques, so that they can discover their strengths and preferences. I work individually with experienced students, guiding them to hone their skills, attempt variations, and solve problems.

AAC: Can you expand on why you like to expose students to different media?

Melanie Kehoss, Interruptions In Istanbul, 2011. Cut paper, gouache, vellum, wood, Plexiglas, LEDs. 12x18x3".
Melanie Kehoss, Interruptions In Istanbul, 2011. Cut paper, gouache, vellum, wood, Plexiglas, LEDs. 12 x  18 x 3 in.

Melanie: As a mixed media artist, I recognize that one’s vision should not be limited to a single medium. Some of the most exciting classroom moments ensue when a student has an idea for combining media in a new way, and together we experiment to make it work.

I love trying new approaches, working out the kinks, and creating something that surprises the viewer.

AAC: If there’s one piece of advice you could give your students, what would it be?

Melanie: Don’t become discouraged comparing your work to others. Everyone has their strengths, and if one project isn’t for you, the next one might be. There is also a good chance that the neighbor whose work you are admiring is also admiring yours.

AAC: Those are wise words that can be applied anywhere. What class project are you looking forward to most in your next class at AAC?

Melanie: I am looking forward to leading an exercise in which music will inspire improvisational mark-making. There are so many parallels between music and visual art, and we can intuitively translate the principles of rhythm, repetition, harmony, contrast, and so on, from sound to image.

I also look forward to seeing what inspired ideas my students generate. I always learn a great deal from them, too!

AAC: What has been your favorite art class to teach at AAC to date?

Melanie Kehoss, Late January, 2013. Cut paper, gouache, Plexiglas. 11x17"
Melanie Kehoss, Late January, 2013. Cut paper, gouache, Plexiglas. 11 x 17 in.

Melanie: Last summer, I had just returned from a vacation in Europe before teaching Amazing Architects & Engineers. With so many beautiful buildings still in my head, plus a wonderful group of young students, I found that week particularly inspiring.

We’d like to thank Melanie for giving us this insight into her world as an artist and instructor!

If you’re interested in seeing Melanie’s work, mark your calendar for AAC’s Day of the Dead Celebration on November 1, from 6 – 8 p.m. Again, she’ll be featured in this special exhibition alongside seventeen artists who all explore Day of the Dead imagery through their work.

If you’d like to make art with Melanie, you can learn more about her upcoming class, Art Making: The Creative Process, and all of AAC’s fall and early winter classes, on our registration site.


Golden: Fifty Years of New Classics

UPCOMING: Opens June 15, 2024

Curated by Al Miner

Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington is proud to present Golden: Fifty Years of New Classics, an exhibition celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary.

Summer Camp Registration

June 17 – August 16

Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington offers a wonderful and wide range of creative summer camps for your creative students! Camps are offered for kids starting at age 5 and up to teens ages 18.

Zaq Landsberg: Reclining Liberty

August 5, 2023 - July 28, 2024

Front Lawn
MoCA Arlington and Arlington Public Art are thrilled to co-sponsor the installation of Zaq Landsberg’s celebrated Reclining Liberty on the Museum’s front lawn.