Melanie is a portrait and figurative artist. She began her career in fashion design in 1982, studying at East Sydney Technical College and The School of Visual Arts, Sydney, winning a scholarship to study at The Academy of Art University in San Francisco from 1984 to 1988. Melanie graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in Fashion Illustration. After returning to Australia, she developed a business in Bridal and Evening wear, whilst continuing to attend life drawing classes and sketch clubs. Melanie now focuses full time on figurative painting, life drawing and photography. Melanie’s work was recently hung as part of the 2020 Archibald Prize.
During the COVID-19 lock-down and the subsequent transition to online Uni, my youngest daughter Grace, who has been recently diagnosed with ADHD, struggled to adapt to the new online learning environment. Since her diagnosis, it is has been extremely important to Grace and myself to unravel all the components that ADHD encompasses. Thus, I decided to use my art making practice as a way to strongly reflect Grace’s experience of both recovery and resilience during this time of COVID -19, which delivered consequences that can be extremely difficult for neurodivergent students. I have also used this work to both process my own concern and to express my response to her situation.
In this portrait of Grace, I have used a green background with the sitter ‘emerging’ from the environment she is in. The use of green represents Grace’s growth throughout this period, the pink shadows highlight her sensitivity, adding depth and suggesting struggle and resilience. My art making is an intuitive response to cultural and personal events, so my relationship to my work is intimate.
The best way for me to describe painting is that it combines my mind, body and heart to feel at peace, placing me ‘in the zone’ and immediately calms me. My work combines both a response to my ongoing art practice, my family and the current times, so it both cathartic and expressive in dealing with events in my life. And I use colour to engage an audience emotionally. When viewing my work, I hope there is an empathetic bond through the connection with the expression of the sitter, the subject matter and the colour that conveys Grace’s determination. With empathy, discussions about audiences’ own situations during this unprecedented time might be initiated.
Definitely, recent events have been stressful. Mental health care and the road to an ADHD diagnosis required a considerable amount of fortitude, especially for underrepresented young women with ADHD. As a parent helping a child who has ADHD, this road to diagnosis can also be long and arduous. And I believe this journey reflects a broader cultural theme of gender disparity, as young women are often disregarded, due to the male-skewed diagnosis tools used. I am using my work as a way to showcase Grace’s experience in the hope that it broadens the discussion surrounding young women with ADHD. As a mother it is very taxing to watch your child experience the distress that comes with any mental health condition, the trialing of medications, living with the diagnosis.
To me, the making effect is the funnelling of creativity, intuition and process in expressing an artist’s ideas through their practice. My art practice involves a number of parts. I am actively involved through reading, where I use literature and poetry as the inspiration behind my paintings. I also use walking as a means to process my ideas and get inspiration with colour combinations that I can incorporate in my paintings. This discipline throughout my art making practice is not only beneficial for my work, but also for me personally as I find the engagement with literature, nature and colour very therapeutic. I also actively view the work of other artists as ongoing education, inspiration and technical reference.
My art has changed in scale as I have been working from home during COVID-19.
It has also given me a chance to develop my colour palette and painting technique.
I hope to develop this further in new studio space in the future which will enable me to paint on a larger scale.
More of Melanie’s work can be found at http://melaniegrayart.com