August 15 - September 18 2015
Utopia is an imagined place in which everything is perfect – an Eden or ‘happy valley’ where humanity is content and in harmony with nature. Melissa Egan’s new body of work has been created with this affirmative vision in mind. Her extraordinary ability to depict enchanting tales of allegorical import equates with that of a cantadora - a storyteller who draws from personal experiences and the local environs to ‘feed the souls’ of others.
The road to Melissa’s hacienda-like abode wends through rural vistas and up into the forested mountains west of Brisbane. After crossing a little causeway under an arching canopy of trees one finally arrives at a high, gated wall beyond which the ‘magic’ happens. Her studio looks out onto orchards of every kind of fruit and flourishing herb beds. All manner of creatures are regular visitors. It is as if the resonance of Nature outside the door, folkloric traditions, favourite European Masters and the current affairs streaming from the radio all coalesce to dance from the tip of her brush onto the canvas in delightful, humour-tinged scenarios.
Increasingly, animals populate Melissa’s pictures. Sometimes they appear in their natural state but more often they have assumed human personas as “metaphors for the human condition”. The rabbit is ubiquitous. Symbolising speed and vigilance, it is said to sleep with its eyes open. Trickster and fertility associations also abound. Appropriate to the utopian vision, the rabbit was the animal sacred to Eostre, the Anglo Saxon goddess of spring who brought the dawn and new life.
The imagery in the painting, Jonathon the Gardener, perhaps references Johnny Appleseed, the 19th century American folk hero who pursued his dream of a land of blossoming fruit trees where no one ever went hungry. Tartan-scarfed and watering can in hand, Jonathon rabbit has cultivated a most abundant crop of succulent red apples. The apple, in addition to its role as the ‘fruit of knowledge’, has long been used as a symbol of love, youth and fertility. The Celts saw the apple tree as the ‘fairyland tree’ - a door to the Other World.
In Melissa’s ‘other world’, the tables are laden with homegrown produce that celebrates the bounty of Nature and a contented, peaceful existence. The wisdom her works convey is simple, joyous and innocent. Those characters not wholly absorbed in their various reveries look out at us looking in at them. It is as if we are being invited to throw off our everyday cares and come join their idyll. In the words of the late Robert Hughes, we are “offered a glimpse of a universe into which we can move without strain. It is not the world as it is, but as our starved senses desire it to be”.
Born in Sydney, Melissa Egan grew up in Tasmania, Canberra and Singapore. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the ANU, Canberra and has been a finalist in multiple prestigious art awards including: Sulman Prize 2014, 2006; Portia Geach Memorial Award 2014, 2009, 2006, 2005; Doug Moran Portraiture Prize 2014, 2008; Kedumba Drawing Award 2014, 2006 Archibald Portraiture Prize 2012; Blake Religious Art Prize 2008; Fleurieu Peninsular Biennale Art Prize 2004, 2002, 2000 and the Tattersalls Invitational Art Prize 2012, 2011, 2010, 2004, 2003, 2002. Her work is held in corporate and private collections throughout Australia and overseas.
The exhibition 'Melissa Egan - Utopia' is showing at Anthea Polson Art, Shop 120 Mariners Cove, Seaworld Drive Main Beach QLD 4217 (next to Marina Mirage), from August 15 - September 18 2015