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Melissa Egan

Sleepless in Greece

26th October 2007   6:00pm -  8:00pm


Melissa Eganís exhibitions increasingly embrace a thematic focus. In keeping with this tendency, her current body of work draws inspiration from a recent springtime holiday in Greece. Renowned for being the birthplace of Western civilization, Greece has always attracted the curious traveller. Generations of artists and writers have been lured by its rugged beauty and ancient mysteries. The clarity of light is dazzling. Broken temple columns litter the olive groves and fragrant, flower-filled meadows. There is hardly a river, gorge or mountain peak which is not sacred to some deity. Life is lived outdoors and the Ďjoie de vivreí is palpable. Serendipitous occurrences abound - signs perhaps, that the gods of old have not entirely relinquished their power.


Despite the narrative content and the site-specific references, Melissa Eganís response to her subject-matter is entirely lyrical. Ponderous mythological references are blithely subverted through large doses of whimsy and humour. Rather than the Immortals meddling in the affairs of humans - as is traditionally the case - Egan portrays somewhat bewildered-looking, present-day characters interloping upon the very dubious activities of the gods. Other paintings simply portray the languid circumstances of a holiday lifestyle.


A sense of subtle grandeur is evoked through Eganís rendering of the landscape. It is particularly evident in the work, View from Heraís Cloud - a vast, hazy vista of distant mountains and sweeping plains. Seemingly insignificant in size and relevance, a tiny white-washed church overlooks the drowsy, meandering river. Lusty, unfaithful Zeus stands by its banks with his latest love-interest - the nymph Io - who has been turned into a white heifer. Arms outstretched in a questioning gesture, he looks up at his wife Hera. She reclines on a lone, fluffy cloud in the unlikely company of a big, ginger cat. Her expression is inscrutable. Linking dimensions of time and place, a sailboat glides swiftly past on its way to yet another, incredible adventure.


Ancient Greek mythology also informs the painting, Leda, the Swan and Orpheus. It is a wonderful piece - rife with suggestive metaphor. Exuberant brushwork animates the scene in a turbulent, circular motion. Again we experience the gorgeous, dappled quality of European light. It imbues colour with a sumptuousness rarely found in Australiaís harsh glare. Lush verdant greens, pungent earthy oxides and rich vermilion hues exude the fecundity of life. Seated within a secluded glade, Leda cradles a great swan: a book of ancient verse has been cast aside and two rosy-red apples have rolled from the basket at her feet. The swan is actually crafty old Zeus, up to his usual tricks! The poet Orpheus looks askance, his lyre silent at his side. He leans against a massive tree that appears to strain towards the Heavens, while nearby, a crevice in the cliff-face gives access to the Underworld. 


Atmospheric effects heighten the mood and context of each painting: Homage to Apollo is appropriately bathed in a glorious, sun-drenched warmth, while an eerie glow - alive with unseen power - illuminates Dining With the Magus. The shimmering, diaphanous realm of the sirens ensnares an unwitting sailor. The ubiquitous, fat ginger cat introduces a comical element and gives continuity to the body of work. We respond to the animalís familiarity - its natural curiosity and nonchalant demeanour. Melissa Eganís Sleepless in Greece is sure to delight the senses and reactivate defunct imaginations, for the tales told within remain as pertinent today as they were 3,000 years ago!  


Brisbane-based Melissa Egan has a Bachelor of Arts, from the Australian National University and has studied at the Canberra School of Arts. She was a finalist in the Sulman Prize AGNSW, 2006; the Kedumba Drawing Award, 2006; the Portia Geach Memorial Award, 2006, 2005; The Fleurieu Peninsula Biennale Art Prize, 2004, 2002, 2000; and the Tattersallsí Invitation Exhibition, 2004, 2003, 2002.    

                                                                                                                                           JACQUELINE HOUGHTON 






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