Urban Cowgirl

Melissa McGurgan, 24, is a consummate perfectionist with OCD tendencies and a perky, polite façade she attributes to her upbringing in rural Georgia. Like most Southern girls, she likes bluegrass and soul food. But the bold, graphic installations she crafts speak more of urban design and liberal politics than country comforts.

She sits in the tiny studio she shares with two other graduate students at Arizona State University, hands folded neatly on her flirty pink dress. She's a former classical singer, and her love of music is reflected in the cramped space, from the dainty red toy piano shoved on an overflowing shelf to "ink blot" songs posted on the walls, and her happiest piece to date: a handmade music box with a revolving rainbow.

The buzz on her favorite drink
I don't drink coffee or tea, but I love juice, especially Naked or Odwalla. My mother never allowed me to drink caffeine. Then when it got to where I could actually choose what I wanted to drink, the smell of caffeine or carbonation is just revolting to me.

The writing was on the wall
I was a mess as a kid. I would run up and down the hallways with crayons in both hands, drawing on the walls. I would spill things and draw on them. When I was 3 (my mom remembers this clearly), I spilled my glass of milk on the mahogany dining table. She said, "You're making a mess." I'm like, "No, it's a masterpiece!"

Dreaming between the lines
I've had the same dream since I was little when I'm sick and running a fever. It's completely black and there are these two white lines. There's the sound of trains approaching. I hate trains because of this dream. As the train gets louder, the lines move closer and start to shake. It's so unsettling. I don't know what happens then. Do I die? If I knew what happened at the end of that dream, I could rest forever.

One shoe, two shoes, red shoes, blue shoes
I'm a shoe whore. I bought a pair for the "New American City" opening that I've been drooling over for the past few years. I splurged big time. They're from the Louis Vuitton fall collection. I had multiple people at the reception ask to photograph my shoes, more than my work. I'm not disclosing the cost. Let's just say they were way more than I should ever pay for shoes.

Thinking inside the box
I've always been fascinated with package design and clean, sharp lines; like packaging for board games. I was always more interested in the packaging than the games themselves when I was little. It plays into my obsessive box-making.

Backward logic
I had no idea what printmaking was and I signed up for the class as an undergrad. My friend was going to take it, too. We get in there and everything's printed backwards. I'm dyslexic, so that made sense.

She's no wallflower
It's not all about making something traditional that sits on a wall. You can't touch it. You can't hold it. You can't physically write on it. I like breaking those boundaries of traditional viewing experiences. If you can get more senses involved, I think it makes things more memorable.

Bugging out
I can't kill anything. I capture bugs and set them free. One time, I had this giant palmetto bug get in my house. It was so big I couldn't fit it in a cup! I called my friend and said, "There's this really big bug in my house. If I come pick you up, can you come catch it?" He and my other friend come over and they're being all manly. It crawls onto one of my friends and he throws it and steps on it and kills it and totally defeats the point. So they got me a giant plastic cockroach as a gift.

Kiss her grits
I miss Southern food. I want some mashed potatoes and biscuits and gravy. But I'm also a vegetarian, so I want the vegetarian biscuits and gravy, and there's no hope of getting those out here.

What she really thinks about this American city
It's a very strange land. Aesthetically, it's very different from the East Coast. I love these manicured sculptured yards of rocks and cactuses. I find them really quirky and completely fake. I want to shop local and I want to support local businesses, but it's really hard here. All the little shops and restaurants that are locally owned; they're gone. And it's all going to be condos. Do they really expect students to afford what they're building? Not cool, Phoenix! Uh . . . if I get a job in Arizona, absolutely I will stay here. I will go wherever someone wants to pay me.

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Wynter Holden
Contact: Wynter Holden