Melissa is a Melbourne based artist who's work maintains a firm ethos of using found or recycled objects, materials and surfaces and insists on making her works entirely by hand. Her work reflects her interest in iconography, symbolism, and imagery from old children’s books, vintage ephemera and comics. We caught up with her for a quick chat in the back of releasing 2 new paintings with Stupid Krap.
Tell us about the paintings 'Queen of the Jungle' and 'Garden of Eyes' (left). What mediums did you use, and what was the inspiration behind them?
Both of these paintings are acrylic on wood. Lately I have been exploring different ways of making images that are inspired by ephemeral imagery. I am a big collector of vintage toys, ceramic animal ornaments, playing cards, postcards and children’s storybooks and I can get a lot of ideas from them. I like the idea of making work that is all by hand and can be put in a room with other vintage objects or made into a print to make fabric or even a card.
Can you provide us with a brief history of how you got into art?
I have been into art for as long as I can remember. From a young age I was looking at a lot of “how to” books and I always had little art projects I would be busy with at home. From there my parents encouraged me with staying creative and I ended up making small paintings to sell at the Red Hill Market with my mum. In high school the only parent teacher interviews I let my parents go to were art subjects because I was terrible at math’s and sports. That’s when I knew I wanted to study Fine art and paint for the rest of my life.
We were originally introduced to your work through another artist that we’ve released, Ryan Ady Putra. I believe you met whilst he was visiting the Melbourne RVCA Corner Gallery. Can you tell us a little bit about the work you do with RVCA and how it began?
I’m the Retail Manager and artist in residence at the RVCA Corner Gallery in Melbourne, one of the great things about being in their gallery is I meet a lot of other artists that visit. I first met Ryan when he came to Melbourne, I showed him around for a few weeks and from there we became good friends. RVCA has provided me with a platform to not only contribute to their clothing ranges but showcase my works within their group shows allowing me to push the envelope on my creative abilities. My first encounter with RVCA was when one of their Melbourne representatives came across my work, he thought I had something unique to bring to the brand and I began contributing works for their USA ranges. Since then I have been exhibiting in RVCA’s group exhibitions and now I paint everyday in the gallery. I can’t believe an opportunity like that even exists.
The contrasting warm and cool tones in your work, coupled with imagery of palm trees, babes and animals, evoke a sense of nostalgia. Is this deliberate or am I reading too much into it?
It definitely is deliberate. It’s my own interpretation of something I hold of sentimental value. Just like the objects I collect, they all mean something to me and I enjoy creating a narrative with them in my work. I mainly use warmer colours as I find them more attractive to the eye. Even though the subject can be quite dark, I also want to give it some light and warmth.
Do the women in your paintings reflect elements of yourself in a personal way, or are they often symbolic in referencing other people or situations?
The women in my work are said to be quite angel like or somewhat dreamy. I have an Italian background and grew up with a lot of symbolic and iconographic imagery. I have collected a lot of saint cards, medallions and statues from when I was a child. My grandmother gave most of them to me. As a child we were taught to pray to a certain saint for guidance or help with a situation. I got given saint cards to keep in my pocket to protect me from evil.
I never really understood that but I definitely was more interested in the imagery and I guess that’s where elements of myself come into my work in more of a personal sense. Each saint has a story and a purpose. In my paintings I create my own made up saints. Animals will have halos, wreath of flowers over their heads, moons on their foreheads ect. I can create my own narrative and purpose for each character in my paintings. My work is sometimes related to my own personal struggles and past events that create a sense of nostalgia.
How would you describe your style?
I would say my style is a loose style of painting that is both whimsical and illustrative.
You work out of Melbourne. Do you think living in (what many call) Australia's art capital has provided you with creative opportunities that other places may have not?
Most definitely, I can’t stop telling people how much art there is to see in Melbourne. The architecture is beautiful, we have an amazing music scene here too and I always feel so lucky that it’s pretty much at my doorstep. I studied fine art at RMIT University, in the heart of Melbourne. There are gallery openings every week, sometimes more than one to go to in one night. The art scene here is constantly growing and I hope it inspires more of the younger generation to pick up a paintbrush, start a band or take photos.
Who’s work inspires you?
I have a few artists that I look at for inspiration and motivation. One of them being Margaret Kilgallen. Looking at her work gives me a sense that I’m doing the right thing. She’s inspired me to constantly be making work by hand, using recycled wood or other objects and her subject of women that she would have seen on the street give her paintings a story. I could go on about her colour palette too. Her style is also quite flat and you can see she draws inspiration from hand painted signs, folk art and everyday people and it gives it so much character. I also love the work of Francis Bacon, Frida Kahlo and Henry Darger to name a few. I love that there is psychological relevance in their work. Peanuts comics are also another inspiration, Charles Schulz captures the negative humour that children can come up with and I can relate with it too even as an adult.
What are your thoughts on collecting art? What is your own collection like?
I have a few pieces of art at home. But I would own a lot more if I could. I like to collect prints and I have proudly hung some of my friends work on my wall too. I love to think that people collect art because it has created a new meaning to them or it’s triggered a memory or something nostalgic. I find I want to buy work that has colours that I’m attracted to, as I know looking at them everyday would make me feel at ease.
What else do you have planned for this year?
I am currently making work for an upcoming group show at the RVCA Gallery, which will be announced soon. After that I am going to Japan for a month and hopefully I will be inspired to make more work when I get back. I plan to keep growing with my work. I plan to be making fabric prints, zines and sculptures too.
See more of Melissa’s work on her blog
Check out more details of RVCA’s Artist Network Program