Hannah Melville

Hannah Melville: Anemone.
Hannah Melville: Nightingale (life makes my heart like deer's feet).

According to Hannah the business of existing is as mundane or as magic as one choses to make it. A central concept to her work is embodied in the statement “Rien ne se perd, rien ne se crée, tout se transforme." Meaning that nothing is ever lost or wasted. Everything, all energies and experiences can be transformed or can be transformative, if only we have the will to do so.

Hannah likens her working proccess to a garden, "seeds are planted, and others just take hold, some becoming rampant, others dying down to trace elements, roots unearthing treasure. Reveling in nature, blooms and berries, female figures and their familiars, sometimes slightly feral or pollen covered, juicy, squelchy, blooming and magic, transform and transmute with an archaic smile. Like the somewhat creaky yet compelling mystery of the tarot card my paintings contain a wealth of references which can be extrapolated on or left to their own devices”.

Hollow Hills, Hannah Melville’s latest series of works explores a liminal but natural psychological space. “These hills are all ‘volcanoes’, alive places, they are archetypal energy”, Melville explains. The works depict goddess figures each backdropped by a volcano/hill and surrounded by symbols. The paintings work “like icons or votive figures incorporating personal and universal symbolism”. The deities that Melville references draw from a variety of traditions including classical antiquity, and Japanese and Norse legends. “The deity figures are archetypal energy: the figure is a projection of the power of place, and the place is a projection of the power of the figure. They are a perfect whole, each painting is a separate page or icon.”

Artemis/Diana, goddess of the hunt, forests and hills, is known in Hollow Hillsas ‘Tamsin H-B’, the heartbreaker. Blood drips from her hairline, connecting her both to the hunt and its inevitable climax of death, and to the moon, full and high above Tamsin’s green mountain. Because she is of the land fungi bloom from her, and she is wrapped in meadow flowers. In the centre of Tamsin the Heartbreaker’s chest is a green stag’s head with the face of a man, a symbol of the hunt but also the green man.

In Selene of the Titans, Selene, identified in this instance by her Greek name, is goddess of the Moon, framed by the pale mountain behind her. Selene’s central symbol, the moon, is high and full, illuminating her beautiful face. Her familiars, a little green witch who pours red liquid that could be blood or wine from. Gourd and a strange tailed creature frolic around their mistress. The forget-me-not flowers in Selene’s hair a reminder to the viewer and her believers to worship the night.

Freya, the Nordic goddess of love, who is associated with sex, lust, beauty, sorcery, fertility, gold, war and death, in Freya’s Comb, is accompanied by her familiar, the barn owl that is perched on her shoulder. She is surrounded by foliage – ladder ferns that reference her sword and lilies with their association with death. For Melville Freya is emblematic of ideas about “love, power, self-determination and morality or rather, a complete disregard of constructed morality because for Freya the rules do not apply, she is answerable only to herself”. The moon is once again a presence, in this instance a curved sliver of light in the pink sky.

Although the three goddesses mentioned have the beginnings of their respective narratives in the Nordic world and classical antiquity, visually they move far beyond these frames. Tamsin H-B and Selene are depicted in a way that is not unlike how Persian or Indian goddesses are visually rendered within those traditions and Freya is the archetypal Gibson Girl especially surrounded as she is by curling vines and lilies, the very epitome of the Belle Epoch. These are powerful female deities with the ability to move effortlessly through time, place and even art history.

Stylistically there is a tangible link to the Naïve Painters like Rousseau and the impressionists in Melville’s works. The green cast over Freya’s face, for example is reminiscent of Matisse’s Green Stripe and in terms of how Melville places each of the goddess’s symbols around her, recalling Italian early-Renaissance portraits of the princess/goddesses of the age who were depicted with symbols that alluded to their identities. All of which give the paintings a richness of meaning in their homage to the past in often disparate ways, while still being completely contemporary.

Originally from Auckland, Hannah studied at Elam and COFA. Currently based in New Zealand, Melville has lived in London, Sydney, and the south of France. She has shown with the Anna Bibby Gallery (Auckland) and the Mori Gallery (Sydney).