Melissa Egan


April 21 - May 12 2018

Autumnal harvest festivals throughout the ages have celebrated the forces of nature, bringing the community together to share the joy of abundance and listen to bardic ruminations. The art of storytelling was highly valued for it was the means by which a culture's traditions and values were kept alive through tales both entertaining and instructive. Aptly titled and timed, Melissa Egan's latest exhibition presents as a visual cornucopia harvested from the fertile depths of an imagination that ‘garlands' personal experience and historical vignettes.

In the painting, Andante, a young Mozart sits back from his harpsichord, its open lid embellished with a pastoral scene as was typical of those from his era. Mozart here is ensconced in just such a setting, albeit one with Australian overtones. The scenario is the antithesis of the usual gilded palace or concert hall of 18th century Europe. A slow andante cadence hovers beneath billowing apricot-tinged clouds. Beaming directly at his ‘audience', Mozart appears quite unperturbed amidst his strange new environment and circumstance. The inspiration for this work derived from characteristically diverse sources: a Mozart recital Egan herself attended in Vienna and a declined invitation to paint the lid of a friend's harpsichord.

There are several paintings in which the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo appears. Although renowned for her self-portraiture, Frida's art also explored questions of identity and postcolonial issues. Her political vehemence and not least, the visual appeal of Frida's decorative attire, gave impetus to Egan's depictions. In the Frida in Paradise work, she stands at a distance surveying a landscape where humans, wild creatures and nature co-exist harmoniously. The long-tailed macaws, native to Mexico, preside in huge trees that paradoxically take their shapes from the bonsai plants in a nursery Egan had recently visited.

Footprints in the Jungle takes its title from a Somerset Maugham short story. The pith helmet-wearing character feasting at Frida's jungle table is however, no particular personage. He may be one of the many writers who visited Mexico during Frida's time, or perhaps is representative of the mercantile imperialists who disrupted indigenous culture in the many tropical regions they attempted to colonize.

The 18th century British artist, George Stubbs, is honoured in the work, Remembering George. A tiger has regally made itself at home upon an elegant settee, behind which hangs a huge gilt-framed painting. It contains Egan's remarkably accurate rendition of the George Stubbs, Zebra. Best known for his horse imagery, this work is said to have been Stubbs' initial exotic animal painting. He had been astonished at the creature's bizarre black and white stripes, as were the multitude of others who queued to ogle the first zebra on British soil at London's Royal Menagerie.

Featured in Egan's Waiting for Vermeer, is the now famous Girl with a Pearl Earring by 17th century Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer. Transposed from her dark enclosure, the young woman now sits in a room where light streams through a wide-open window, its curtains drawn to reveal the bucolic vista beyond. Several little creatures have popped in, doubtlessly lured by the table laden with a sumptuous spread of nature's bounty. An empty chair awaits Vermeer's arrival. Swathed in a blue and gold turban, the girl with a pearl earring has turned to face us expectantly.

Egan has the extraordinary ability to transport the viewer far from the everyday and into another world where notions of time and place have long since dissolved. 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.

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 Portia Geach Memorial Award; Sulman Prize; Doug Moran National Portraiture Prize; Kedumba Drawing Award; Archibald Portraiture Prize; Blake Religious Art Prize; Tattersalls Invitational Art Prize and Fleurieu Peninsular Biennale Art Prize. Her work is held in corporate and private collections throughout Australia and overseas. Queensland-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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