Melissa North's vibrant and eye-catching screen prints bring the urban jungle to life
We profile the Brixton-based screen printer and illustrator whose new collection puts a tropical twist on the streets of south London.
The phrase 'concrete jungle' traditionally evoked images of lifeless, grey concrete as far as the eye can see. But in recent decades, cities have been coming to colourful life, from vibrant street art to roof gardens. And a new series of screen prints reflects this new reality in an eye-catching and entrancing way.
They're the work of Melissa North, an illustrator and artist based in Brixton, south London, who specialises in creating vibrant artworks with a silk-screen print aesthetic. Influenced by analogue processes, Melissa collages together photographs and drawings to create images that have a tactile quality.
Concrete Jungle is a new collection of screen prints inspired by the post-war architecture of south London, with a tropical twist. The collection, comprising three prints, combines Melissa's fascination with architectural forms and her passion for wildlife. It evolved from a set of skate decks designed for a self-initiated project in Melissa's illustration portfolio to a capsule collection of fine art silk-screen prints – hand-produced by the artist.
Melissa, who grew up near Herne Bay in Kent before moving to London for University, remembers lockdown as the initial spark for the project. Unable to visit galleries and museums for a quick injection of creative inspiration, Melissa instead found herself looking to her local surroundings, including the building she lives in.
Always fascinated by the post-war tower blocks that dominate the skyline in and around Stockwell and Oval, she started to photograph these buildings on daily walks. And the patterns created by layers of staircases and the repetition of windows and walkways captured her imagination.
She recalls one day seeing a family of brightly coloured parakeets scaling the sides of a neighbouring tower block and screeching directly into the open window of the bedroom opposite hers. At an otherwise bleak time, this scene provided a moment of humour, and the concept for the Concrete Jungle series began to form in Melissa's mind.
The illustrations in the collection portray an imagined world where the sprawling concrete structures of south London become a jungle canopy for flora and fauna. Creating analogue collages using her own photographs is an important part of Melissa's process, and the initial compositions for the artworks were formed using this technique.
Interestingly, Melissa embraces an element of chance in her process by randomly enlarging her images using a photocopier to see what new forms might be revealed. The collaged compositions are then digitally combined with hand-drawn illustrations and textures.
In the Concrete Jungle collection, Melissa honours the initial driving force behind the body of work by staying true to the size ratio of a standard skateboard deck. Each print is a limited run of 30, silk-screened by hand onto heavyweight fine art paper in Melissa's Brixton studio.
The prints range from six to eight colour layers each, with all colours created using water-based inks mixed by eye. The full collection is now available to buy directly from Melissa via her online shop.
Alongside personal projects, Melissa works as an illustrator for clients in the hospitality and healthcare sector, and her portfolio includes packaging for beer, chocolate and drinks. She's recently completed her biggest project to date, creating a bespoke series of corridor wall graphics for an entire ward at Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London.
"I had free reign over the space," she recalls, "with the only brief being to create a more calming and healing environment through my artwork. This is due to be installed at the end of the year."
"My work often centres around places that I have been to, so travel is a big inspiration for me," says Melissa. "I'm always particularly inspired by the architecture of these places and looking into any history or stories that may surround a location.
Photography and the screenprint process itself constantly influence her work, even when working digitally. "I see screenprinting as an extension of photography," she explains. "The method of exposing a stencil on a screen with emulsion is also a photographic process! I like to place many images and textures on a screen and collage them through printing. I love discovering new colour combinations through this method by experimenting with layering up different images and textures together.
And her work is replete with happy accidents. "I often find that the sheets of thin paper that I use to clear screens while printing an edition end up looking better than the final designs," she says. "I keep the best of these sheets to look to for inspiration in future projects, and this is something that I try to replicate when working on commercial briefs. I'm a complete hoarder of any printed material, and I would love to see my own work on more products. I'd love to explore surface design further and work on more packaging briefs."