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Melvin Way (b. 1954, Ruffin, South Carolina) lives and works in South Carolina but spent most of his adult and creative life in New York City. In the early 1970s, while living in Brooklyn, he joined a music group with friends, composing funk ballads and playing gigs in the city. He also experimented with drugs. To make ends meet, he worked odd jobs including a stint as a machinist before developing schizophrenia in his early 20s. His life became infinitely more complicated and Way shuffled in and out of state-run mental institutions, halfway houses, drug rehabilitation center, homeless shelters, and the occasional correctional facility.
In 1989, Way met Andrew Castrucci, an artist and educator, on Ward’s Island at a workshop run by Hospital Audiences Incorporated (HAI). The program included approximately one hundred men, but Castrucci took special interest in Way’s work. The two formed a friendship and creative relationship that continues today.
Way’s process is private and portable. He carries his drawings with him for days, weeks, or years, working on them when time or inspiration allows. He draws on found pieces of paper with ballpoint pen, often wrapping his work in Scotch tape—probably to preserve them as they are transferred among books, magazines, pockets, bags, and drawers. Way’s drawings look like copied textbook chemical formulas, but do not ultimately describe any particular substance known to man.
Way has made perhaps a few thousand drawings over the course of his life but many have been destroyed by the elements or worn thin by the constant shuffling back and forth among backpacks, wallets, pockets, drawers, and other hiding places.
Melvin Way’s works are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY), Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington DC), the American Folk Art Museum (New York, NY), and the Collection de L’Art Brut (Lausanne, Switzerland), among others.