Melissa Egan


December 3 - December 16 2016

A Melissa Egan painting has the power to transport the viewer far from the everyday and into another world where gravity has been cancelled and notions of time and place have long since dissolved. In her current series of works, the characters inhabiting the luminous realms reference those ‘quiet' heroes who enliven our sensibilities and collude in our escapist dreams: the artists, poets, explorers and dissidents who have valiantly defied the status quo of their times.

The allure of the paintings stems not only from Egan's 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.

Rembrandt's Muse takes its inspiration from the Dutch painter's 1654 painting, Bathsheba at her Bath. However in Egan's work, the setting is now a secluded forest glade where a single shaft of light showers down from the darkened canopy to illuminate the plump, naked figure. Rembrandt at his easel, palette dangling, is as if enthralled by his model who in turn, is staring wide-eyed at an incongruous, big brass gramophone. Even the "Tassie Tiger" peeping from the shadows seems agog. Water lilies in the dappled foreground pool enhance this still but certainly not silent idyll.

Again Egan employs light with wonderful atmospheric command in the dream-like imagery of the painting, Reading Keats. It suffuses the scene with a burnished glow redolent of the poet's melancholy Romanticism. A boy, opened book in hand, and his attentive dog are adrift on silken waters beneath which half-glimpsed fish surface and subside. The mood of surreality is heightened by the red willow tree, shimmering and huge behind a strange sculpture. Contrasting starkly with its diaphanous surrounds, the monument emits a somewhat disquieting presence.

An altogether different air pervades the work, Remembering Turner. Midst a triangular composition of lighthouse, yellow-raincoated sentinel and rocky cliff, a tiny group in a rubber dingy battle wind-whipped waves under a tempestuous sky. It is a picture reminiscent of Turner's signature evocations of humanity's impotence against the seething force of nature.

Henri Rousseau is said to have been ‘discovered' after years of oblivion by the young Pablo Picasso. He apparently happened upon one of his works being sold in the street as a canvas to be painted over. Immediately intuiting something of genius in the fantastic imagery, set off to meet the older artist. Egan's painting, Rousseau's Banquet, alludes the renowned event Picasso subsequently hosted in his studio to honour Rousseau's forte and its impact on the burgeoning avant-garde art movement. Although the historic Le Banquet Rousseau was attended by a myriad of now illustrious artists and poets, in Egan's work only Picasso and the always formally attired Rousseau are present. Hanging behind the them, the enormous gilt-framed painting is recognisably an emulation of Rousseau's famous The Dream in style but the imagery is entirely of her own envisioning. With typical insouciance Egan has another "Tassie Tiger" skulking from under the table upon which perches a galah surveying the sumptuous spread.

The finesse of Egan's engagement with her subject matter has earned her multiple representations in many of the nation's most prestigious art awards including the this year's Portia Geach Memorial Award and Tattersalls Invitational Art Prize; Sulman Prize; Doug Moran National Portraiture Prize; Kedumba Drawing Award; Archibald Portraiture Prize; Blake Religious Art Prize and Fleurieu Peninsular Biennale Art Prize. Brisbane-based Egan was born in Sydney but spent her formative years in Tasmania, Canberra and Singapore. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the ANU.


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