From the Thames to the Saint George

Oct 28, 2017
Paintings from Melanie Essex’s Field/Sky/Figure series are part of the Cushing artist’s November show at Camden Public Library.

Camden — Camden Public Library welcomes Melanie Essex, known for colorful paintings that hold hidden detail, to the Picker Room Gallery for the month of November. There will be an opening reception Saturday, Nov. 4, at 4 p.m., with a chance to meet the artist.

Essex graduated from Harvard in 1981 and after a successful career in film production — her work is now part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art — she studied painting at the New York Studio School from 1990 to 1994. During those years, she worked in a life studio, drawing and painting from the model eight hours a day/five days a week. In the summers, she would get out of the city when she could to work directly from the rural, waterfront landscape of her childhood on eastern Long Island.

“Painting in that low, bucolic bay setting had a huge impact on the way I developed as an artist,” she said, explaining that she often worked on wood panels, joining them together horizontally to span a vista; or vertically to emphasize events along the horizon.

A move to London in 1995 shifted her focus to urban landscapes, first exploring the view from her World’s End studio; then painting for several years from perches at the top of skyscrapers; and finally from the banks of the Thames.

Though humans rarely appeared in this work, she kept drawing from the figure throughout. At first, Essex drew from paintings in the National Gallery. Going forward, she snatched opportunities where she could, taking a life class at the Royal College of Art, sharing a model with painter friends, joining groups in London and then in Rockland, as well in Tenants Harbor and Thomaston.

"About 10 years ago, figures began creeping into my work to compete for attention with the sky and the ground,” Essex said. “The Field/Sky/Figure series was made in my last London studio — a converted greenhouse at the bottom of an overgrown garden.”

Increasingly, figures began to dominate her painted fields beneath the skies. The Power Plant series evolved as a counterpoint, signaling the human presence in the form of silos typical of post-war power-generating stations in the United Kingdom.

Essex’s work has been exhibited in London and New York and in Maine; and is in important private collections on both sides of the Atlantic, including several trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. After two decades in London, she has returned to the United States. Essex lives and works in Cushing and is represented by the Caldbeck Gallery in Rockland.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115; or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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