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“Homage”

Official Opening Friday February 20th 2009

                                                                                             

“Artists offer us a glimpse of a universe into which we can move without strain. It is not the world as it is, but as our starved senses desire it to be...” 

Robert Hughes

In a series of canvases which might be described as pictures of pictures, Melissa Egan pays homage to various artists who have inspired her own art practice. Works from every epoch over the past 500 years have been delightfully re-interpreted and transposed from their original European locales into Australian bushland settings - complete with the likes of kangaroo waiters and winged koala bears! 

Egan’s interest lies with those artists who sought to express the subjective experience or how they felt about the world around them. During the fifteenth century the depiction of ‘genre’ or everyday living became increasingly popular, particularly arcadian scenes in which gatherings of people are enjoying themselves in the open air. Attracted by such imagery, Melissa Egan’s concern is also for a style of painting that excites the senses. 

Her painting the Fountain of Youth Cranach is pertinent. Egan references the work of the northern Renaissance artist, Cranach the Elder. A painter of panels, he is known for his wonderfully incongruous, mythological scenes. Nothing could be less classical than his coquettish damsels and miniature-like detail where everything twists and turns as if it has a life of its own. It is this whimsy and vibrant energy that Egan emulates in her own pictures

Perhaps one of her more recognisable sources is Velazquez’s 17th century painting, Maids of Honour. The Spanish court painter was another early exponent of ‘pure painting’: the belief that brushstrokes and colour patches themselves, not what they stand for, are the artist’s primary reality. Employing his broad, open technique, Egan’s Velazquez’s Apparition depicts the artist, hands on hips, gazing out across the darkness at the Infanta Margarita all aglow in a play of orange flares and moonlight.

Melissa Egan also understands the expansive power of space as evidenced by the piece Tiopolo and the Lost Explorer. It is Egan’s homage to that Venetian-born master of illusionism whom she depicts as standing atop a ladder, brushes and palette in hand and wearing the mandatory artist’s beret. Her Tiopolo seems bemused with his own creation and the strange creatures therein. Although he casts a shadow upon his finished work, the trompe l’oeil is so effective that we want to climb over its frame to explore the burnished vista within. 

Rousseau, Tigers and the Tamar overtly references Henri Rousseau’s famous painting, The Dream. Rousseau portrays an enchanted world where Nature is generous and benign: ‘forest-fear’ has vanished with the piper’s melody and anything is possible. In Egan’s version, the flute player has been replaced by the artist and his magic palette. Rousseau had no formal training but the innocence and directness of his method occasioned Picasso to call him ‘the father of 20th century painting”.  An informing and thoroughly entertaining exhibition, we discern something of Rousseau’s immediacy and freshness of perception throughout Melissa Egan’s Homage series. 

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 Blake Prize for Religious Art, 2008; 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 Tattersalls’ Invitation Exhibition, 2004, 2003, 2002. 

                                                                                                    

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