Melissa Egan


November 30 - December 14 2019

'Everything has a story,' states Melissa Egan. 'Not just people, but each creature, tree and stone has a history.' She understands that the art of story-telling was highly valued in times gone by for it was the means by which a culture's traditions were kept alive. Melissa's enchanting visual tales however have a somewhat contrary intent. They transport the viewer far from the everyday and into another world where gravity has been cancelled and specifics of time and place have long since dissolved. 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.'

Ever fascinated with the stories that surround historical figures and famous artists, Melissa describes her paintings as referencing a ‘sliding door' notion where alternative realities might exist. Humorous, improbable juxtapositions help cast a warm, comforting glow that counteracts the prevalence of today's more sombre concerns. Reminiscent of 19th century Arcadian idylls steeped in pleasurable pursuits and conviviality, her scenarios often depict a gathering of characters enjoying themselves amid pastoral vistas.

The painting, Happy Birthday Henry, exemplifies aspects of a 'parallel universe'. Seated at a white-clothed table laden with a sumptuous spread, the English king is indifferent to the Australian brush turkey and kangaroo attendant at the celebration. Here Henry VIII has no particular symbolic intent. Melissa comments she was just inspired by Holbein's portrait of the monarch because it evoked his ‘huge' presence in history and life. Henry's female companion could be any one of his wives, or not, her image simply references a Vermeer painting. To add to the surreality, a couple of bears have joined the party.

Another 'al fresco' dinner is the setting for the work, Sunflowers and Stars. Its title pays homage to Vincent van Gogh's renowned paintings, Starry Night and Sunflowers series. At the head of the sunflower-adorned table sits a self-absorbed Vincent, glass of wine in hand. Fellow diners include his contemporary artist ‘friends'. The accompanying damsels with their blonde braids issuing from bonnets perhaps connote Vincent's Dutch origin and early works. Incongruously suspended from the star-speckled sky is an elaborate chandelier. Its light appears not only to illuminate the guests' feasting but also the distant hills and the puffy clouds still visible in the darkening evening.

Animals and birds both wild and domesticated populate every canvas, most often in their natural state, if not environs. Occasionally they assume a human persona. Melissa's now ‘iconic' Edmond Thermine makes another appearance in the Cherry Pickers painting. His golfing outfit acknowledges her interest in the flamboyant detailing characteristic of formal military attire, not to mention the imperious demeanour of those who wear it.

The dog's expression in the Beagle Envy painting says it all! Dutifully stationed in front of its master - whose image is that of a young Rembrandt self-portrait - the beagle would much rather be Snoopy the Red Baron flying free overhead in a golden-hued sky.

Depicted in the Chapter Three work is a rabbit ensconced upon a comfy orange sofa. But something is afoot! The rabbit is distracted from the storybook he has been reading, the Tasmanian Devil perched on the back of the couch sniffs the air, a peacock halts in its strutting and a zebra seems to be surveying the happening from a fresco-like backdrop that rises directly from the skirting board. Viewed metaphorically, this curious presentation of a tropical landscape may represent a ‘wall-less' state of consciousness wherein outer and inner realms converge and the imagination is triumphant.

The allure of Melissa's art stems not only from her diverse subjects but equally from her expressive depiction of them. Like the artists and the paintings she so delightfully pays homage to, Egan understands the effect of light and colour on the senses. With animated, spontaneous brushwork, story and landscape are fused in a radiance of subtle grandeur or gentle intimacy. The viewer is blithely catapulted into stories within stories that elevate the mundane and illuminate the extraordinary.


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