With a penchant for working ‘en plein air’ (outside), uses her sketchbook as a springboard to capture spontaneity in her large, emotive works on canvas. She’ll rarely leave the house without one faithfully tucked under her arm. ‘One of my sons has been working an early shift at a cafe in town (35km away) and I might begrudge the early morning start, but I’m soon grateful for the opportunity to see the first light, the sunrise, and have the forms and shapes of the landscape reveal themselves to me,’ she tells.
Introducing her current exhibition, ‘Traverse’, Melissa references the fluid nature of her practice: one work informing the next, journeys taken, feelings of renewal and excitement in a new landscape, and the exploration of emotional space via landscape painting.
Time spent around Alice Springs last year, in particular, has driven the artist’s most recent works. ‘I was stimulated by the diverse ecology, the open spaces, the geological time etched in strata…’ she explains, seeing this art as an attempt to bridge two distinct environments – the verdant, lush Western Australia South Coast, with the subtle, light and poetic forms of Central Australia.
The versatile artist turns her hand to a range of media – handmade beeswax medium and oil paint on ply boards, transparent washes and built-up layers of oil on canvas, and expressive drawings on paper – the latest is a four-meter drawing on the go from her most recent camping experience! Over the years, as Melissa’s style has evolved, she has remained fervently committed to developing her own unique process. ‘I think there is no point in replicating a particular style because the work loses its innate energy; integrity in the line, in the brush, and in the energy, and the sensory experience is paramount.’
Melissa studied Fine Art at Perth’s Curtin University, though after graduating, focussed most of her energy on her family vineyard , and raising her three boys. It was during her own childhood that Melissa’s interest in painting was first sparked. She would wag kindy (on occasion!) to join her mother at an art class. ‘I have a clear memory of the smell of turpentine and oil paint from my vantage point under the desk; I must have felt pretty safe and comfortable there,’ the 45-year-old artists reminisces. As the end of high school neared, Melissa recalls her art teacher prophetically advising that if she didn’t do art now, then she surely would return to it later.
‘Since the boys all went to school, I’ve kept up a dedicated and (I hope) consistent studio practice. Then, a few years ago, I upped-the-ante and entered a number of national shows, where I was selected as a finalist and hung with artists who I looked up to!’ she tells, noting that joining has been especially encouraging. ‘It really helped me to not feel so isolated, because turning up to your studio every day can be a bit of a lonely experience.’ We’d definitely expect so, especially for an artist based over 400km from Perth!
Melissa has come to terms with the fact that isolation and distance can be ‘equally positive attributes and hurdles to get over’. She’s part of a co-op gallery/shop space that runs exhibitions and workshops in her closest centre, the coastal town of Denmark. ‘I love that my life is very much entwined with the landscape, but the downside is the distance to send work to exhibitions (over East), and having access to galleries and seeing new work,’ she admits. So, Sydneysiders, don’t miss a chance to see her pieces before ‘Traverse’ returns West next week.
August 8th to 21st
357 South Head Rd, Double Bay, Sydney.
will also be exhibiting in October at in Perth, before heading off into the Outback, with sketchbook and swag in tow!