Melissa Egan

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December 11 - Jan 1 2021

Once upon a time the world seemed younger and magic glimmered in shady bowers or radiated from windswept skies and seas ablaze with vivid hues.  The art of Melissa Egan reopens a portal into storylands where all gravity has been cancelled and anything is possible.  The titles of the exhibition and many of the works therein, indicate a ‘Sound of Music' inspiration.  Delightful, humour-tinged scenarios dance from the tip of Egan's brush and we, like the von Trapp children accompanying Maria, follow her into the boundless realms of imagination to discover ‘a few of her favourite things'.

The protagonists in Egan's depictions are, for the most part, rabbits!  She explains that aside from folkloric trickster associations, these creatures enable more entertaining personas.  As befitting a portrayed epoch, their costuming is exceptionally formal.  Egan illuminates that such attire also provides intricate detailing opportunities.

In the work High on a Hill with a Lonely Goat Herd a yellow-skirted, white rabbit trumpets across a river to an elaborately uniformed, brown rabbit.  Sitting on a rock, arms folded, he faces her.  Piano abandoned and music sheets scattering in the breeze, his attitude is indeterminate.  The herd of goats however, seems impervious to her clamorous efforts, their attention is drawn to something beyond the panoramic picture plane - perhaps the sound of yodelling?

Maintaining a positive outlook regardless of formidable circumstances is certainly exemplified in the Follow Every Dream painting.  Through stormy skies a shaft of light illuminates a tiny rocky isle encircled by tumultuous waves.  Atop its lush patch of grass is an unconcerned rabbit couple.  Oblivious to the inclement weather she is engrossed in a book, picnic basket at hand.  He, with hands in pockets and scarf blowing in the wind, calmly contemplates an approaching sea hawk.

Other works were kindled by the incidents and characters in Shakespeare's The Tempest.  The play concerns the aftermath of the deposed Duke of Milan, Prospero, who had been cast adrift in a decrepit boat with his young daughter, Miranda.  Against the odds they survived and found exile on a small island for 15 years.  There Prospero became a magus, able to control the weather with the aid of the spirit Ariel.  Be that as it may, Egan's fanciful inventiveness has been allowed full reign in these paintings.  Ponderous connotations have been blithely subverted with anomalies such as the prevalence of a giant, yellow rubber duck.

The culmination of Shakespeare's drama is at hand in the Prospero's Island painting. Astride his yellow duck in white-capped waves, Prospero stares up at his now grown daughter who is standing at the edge of the tree-covered island.  Above, bathed in metaphysical light, Ariel has become cupid divining an oncoming, initially contentious romance for Miranda.  As in several other of Egan's works, the lighthouse symbolises hope and the eventual vanquishing of adversity.

A completely different trajectory, both in inspiration and its interior setting, is the Outlandish Clan McRabbit.  Very formally attired rabbits grouped around a candle-lit table laden with delicacies is indeed an outlandish spectacle!  However, the painting's title references another of Egan's favourites - the Outlander books and film series.  The work is an extraordinary replication of a scene from the Season 2 production in which Jamie Frazer and Claire Randall feast with ‘Bonnie' Prince Charles Stuart at the Royal Court of France.  There are only a few small differences in Egan's depiction; the facial expressions, the decorative backdrop and the opening to an incongruous, hazy mountain vista.  It possibly denotes the Scottish Highlands and the reason for their journey abroad which was to avert the foreseen Culloden Moor tragedy.  Of relevance, Egan's maiden name is McVinish and she imparts that the McVinish clan is mentioned in one of the Outlander books.

The appeal of Egan's visual story-telling stems not only from her diverse subjects but equally from her expressive depiction of them. Humorous, improbable juxtapositions cast a glow that counteracts the prevalence of today's more sombre concerns.  With animated, spontaneous brushwork, saga and landscape are fused in a radiance of subtle grandeur or gentle intimacy.  The atmospheric lyricism ushers us into the realms of ‘a few of her favourite things'.

JACQUELINE HOUGHTON


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