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A pretty teapot, a vase of wildflowers, a bowl of fruit on the table. Melanie Parke elevates common still life elements into scenes of breathtaking beauty by infusing her pictures with exhilirating light.
Melanie’s interiors feel refreshingly alive thanks to her winsome layered compositions, gorgeous colors, and interesting perspectives.
We sense someone may have just left the room, or is expecting a visitor or two at any moment. Once our eyes have drunk their fill of sheer loveliness, we gaze beyond, through open doors or windows – out to the garden, woods, or beach, where we can continue dreaming.
Impressionistic backgrounds are executed with broad textured strokes, setting the stage for delicate depictions of lovingly curated objects in the foreground. These are enhanced with pops of color and intricate patterns. The inclusion of floral wallpapers populated with birds and butterflies blurs the boundaries between outdoors and in.
A native of Indiana, Melanie now lives and works in rural Michigan with her artist husband Richard Kooyman. Her mother, whom she credits with having a “fay spirit,” taught her and her siblings to be observant and curious about the natural world. Her desire to settle in Michigan stems from happy childhood summers spent on North Manitou Island in Lake Michigan, where she liked the wildness and expansiveness of the landscape (open fields, trails, and exploration).
After earning a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1989, she moved to Michigan to commit to a “Cezanne-like study of the landscape, working on location with close observation of the natural light.”
She also worked to expand opportunities for fellow artists, establishing eight artist-in-residency programs in national parks around the country between 1993-1998.
Between 2005-2020 she hosted and curated many artists from around the country at her own artist retreat, The Provincial, an artist-run exhibition project space and residency program in Kaleva, Michigan.
Melanie’s still lifes and interiors are rendered in oil on canvas. About them, she says:
Light is the main character in my work. I find magic in watching refractions move across a table holding just a few objects.
Composing a still life with the obvious identifiers – a bouquet, a bowl of fruit – what I want to give my viewer is that feeling of chasing light in a contemplative state of mind. I’m curious how light effects can make a chimera of things – a mutation – as if lifting the weight of what something is into something less knowable.
Cezanne’s idea of passing through objects is something I think about a lot. Even when the entire plane of one of my paintings is engaged in pattern, I’m going for the feeling of never-ending transparencies, passing through walls and hard surfaces, to keep the eye going, passing to the other side of a thing and to keep looking.
Interiors and garden motifs are reconstructed through ideology and memory, from halcyon days spent in island cottages and Roman villas. Flowers, which represent friendships and the women in my life, center most of my work. The presence of birds suggests curiosity and wonder, sometimes allegories of fragility, sometimes euphoria. I’m looking for visual lushness. By alternating tonal moods and vivid ornamentation I aim to convey sensations of consolation, longing and desire.
As for inspiration, Melanie admits to being obsessed with “ancient frescoed wall paintings, in particular the Imperial style homes of the second century BC, like the ruins seen in Pompeii and Herculaneum with courtyard gardens, fountains and frescoed interiors. The ancient painted walls narrate mythic stories populated by bodies, birds, animals, flora and fauna.”
What particularly fascinates her is that these ancient wall paintings were covered over for more than a thousand years because images of nature were perceived to be pagan during the Christian Era. Melanie was able to further her studies of these frescoes during Visiting Artist residences at the American Academy in Rome and with a Borgo Finocchieto Invitational Residency in Tuscany, Italy.
Artists who have inspired and influenced Parke’s work include De Kooning, Twombly, Joan Mitchell, Howard Hodgkins, Matisse, Fairfield Porter, O’Keeffe, and Edward Hopper. The landscape and garden remain important sources of joy and inspiration.
In addition to still lifes and interiors, Melanie also paints landscapes and abstracts. Her “Domus Series,” which she worked on during the COVID-19 lockdown days of 2020, were rendered in gouache on paper. This series explores safe spaces for women, pleasure and wilder things.
Parke has participated in many solo and group exhibitions all up and down the East Coast and around the Midwest.
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