Q&A with Melissa Egan - Art Collector

Melissa Egan, Rousseaus Banquet, oil on linen 91 x 121cm. Courtesy the artist and Anthea Polson Art, Queensland.

Until December 16, Melissa Egan’s exhibition entitled Heroes at Anthea Polson Art in Queensland showcases paintings that inhabit a fantastical and luminous realm. Art Collector chatted to the artist about how she takes her viewers there.

1. Congratulations on your current exhibition Heroes. Can you talk me through what's on display? What is the process behind for each of your works?

Thank you, Emma. This exhibition comprises 17 paintings, exploring new directions. Though, you will find the odd dog or Tasmanian tiger in each painting, I am moving away from having animals as my main subject.

Each work is a celebration of the people that I admire or the places that I would like to visit, be they real or imaginary. The island paintings reference D.H Lawrence’s,
The Man who loved Islands. In this story that takes place on Cathcarts Island, though life appears to be idyllic, there is a malevolence that prevails in the background. Similarly, the painting entitled The Other Side shows vintage caravans at the base of a mountain in an imaginary utopian setting where the viewer is challenged to ponder, what might be, either behind the mountain or inside the vans. Andre Malraux’s adage that “Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.” encapsulates some of the elements I would like to evoke in these works.

2. Your paintings often play with the contrast between wilderness and old-world luxury. What keeps you returning to this?

I have spent most of my life living in the country so wilderness, the bush, gardens, the ocean, influence my work and are usually the stage for my subjects and the resulting narrative that develops. By old-world luxury, I guess you mean the formal dining settings, gramophones and kimonos. I have a collection of memorabilia, including hats, kimonos that I often like to include. The contrast between the isolation of a rural setting and the familiarity of a gramophone or an opulent Sunday lunch provides visual treat. It also bridges the past and present. I keep returning to this theme as it seems very familiar to me, the idea of being in the present and reliving the splendour of the past.

4. Your work entitled Rembrandt's Muse takes its inspiration from the Dutch painter's 1654 work, Bathsheba at her Bath. Can you explain other works that are modern adaptations of historical pieces?

My table paintings (Dining with Frida and Henri, Rousseau’s Banquet and Artists Lunch) are possible imaginings of artists drawn together to celebrate their lives and pay homage to their paintings, which I have included in these works, encapsulated in gold frames.

5. What is coming next for you?

I will be taking my work is new directions.

Emma O'Neill


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