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The creative expansion of Melissa Grisancich

The artist, curator, and Archibald finalist continues to boldly reinvent her work into new formats

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Weekly updates

Melissa Grisancich is an artist who solidifies what it means to be a contemporary painter. Her resume boasts a modern artistic range: a curator, designer, screen printer, sculptor, and painter. Melissa’s passion for creating and presenting work is second to none, embodying a hybrid of DIY enthusiasm with vivid results.

She tells me, ‘I’ve been a DIY minded person from a very young age – when we would go shopping, Mum would constantly tell me ‘you can make that at home’ or ‘you can make that yourself, why the hell would you spend that much money!’ That’s Italian Mums for you really.’

She describes her family background consisting of working or making things yourself. She says she ‘watched my parents salvage furniture and restore it to give a new life… when it comes to making artwork I have that in the back of my mind already.’ She describes a time growing up and going to a lot of punk shows. ‘The whole mentality of DIY is there too, making my own bootleg band shirts, putting on shows, making flyers, painting posters, painting denim jackets, etc.’

A painter for as long as she can remember, the classically trained artist has achieved a lot in her years of wielding a brush. She spent time cementing herself alongside the likes of Barry McGee, Ed Templeton and Nadia Hernandez in a multitude of group exhibitions, while displaying her own efforts in solo exhibitions – both locally and internationally.

In terms of her inspiration, the prolific artist says it varies. ‘I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula surrounded by nature; this is definitely the reason why I have so much of it in my work. But my ideas come from all over the place. I’m interested in the ’60s and ’70s psychedelic record covers and posters, I also get ideas from fabric prints, Japanese art, and vintage packagings, such as matchbox art and old art books.’ Taking influence from her coastal upbringing, Grisancich’s work is an exploration in vibrant natural colour, accompanied by stark powerful figures, mostly female or their animalistic counterparts.

This unique mixture of seaside flourish and feminine flow, allows each of its elements to seamlessly transition between each other – providing viewers with an enchanting presentation, likened to well-natured witchcraft and an idealized Mother Nature. ‘The imagery I’m inspired by is also relatable to my interest in nature and representation of femininity. I feel that I’m not that feminine myself. I was a tomboy as a kid and feel as though I still am now – maybe that’s why my paintings are quite feminine. There must be some psychological reasoning that I’m subconsciously unaware of.’

While further themes of religion and the natural world aren’t new to her work, Grisancich combines the chaos surrounding these fragments and allows them to be presented in unbiased beauty. Whether you’re new or have already been exposed to her work, it’s easy to see why it has been attached to other forms within the creative spectrum. Her various designs with RVCA Clothing, the multi-layered screen printed editions, mural adorning walls, and more recently her self-made hands are just a handful of formats that have found a home on with her signature aesthetic.

Grisancich’s willingness to engage with these formats extends her work into exciting territories, covering ground where a lot of artists can’t seem to find a place. ‘My artwork is always evolving. There’s work I’ve made, even a year ago, that I look back on and think – that work was from a certain time in my life, I can’t repeat the same theme. I always have to do something new.’

Despite these imaginative expansions, Grisancich continues to explore new ways to approach her creative evolution. Having painted hundreds of character forms from her own imagination, she recently took upon the challenge of painting a portrait for this year’s Archibald Prize – producing a connective piece of work of world-dominating musician, Courtney Barnett.

I was so stressed about making sure my interpretation of Courtney was accurate, right down to every freckle and angle of the eyes and lips. I also wanted to capture her casual posture whilst playing the guitar – I didn’t want her to look posed, keeping the composition in the context of what she is about.’ Melissa’s view of the artist? ‘Courtney is a powerful representation of what women are capable of – especially in the music industry and it shouldn’t be underestimated.’

While presenting one of Australia’s current most popular musical exports does attract a decent amount of attention, having your work short-listed in the countries most recognized art prize is no easy feat. Courtney Barnett And Her Weapon Of Choice sees the artist balance all of these imaginative skills toward new and unknown terrains – presenting a timeless visual collision of two artists in their prime. Salvaging her own style of work and restoring into new settings, Grisancich pushes the ethos from her upbringing into the piece, confidently showing the world what she is capable of at every turn.

A retro-fitted colour scheme hugs the back and foreground of Bartnett’s positioning, emphasizing an oncoming creative spark and fearless intent. ‘I put so much pressure on myself for the three weeks I had to complete the piece. I spent so much time mentally preparing for it rather than the planning of the composition. I checked in with Courtney many times to see if she was happy with each step of the painting. It was overwhelming to see something I had painted in such a prestigious exhibition, but it had opened my eyes to what I was capable of.’

While painting is just one of the many talents Melissa Grisancich has hidden in her bag of talents, the passion that she explores these creative endeavours with is what keeps her ahead of her craft. As she establishes herself as a boundless artisan, her creative expansion shows no signs of slowing down. She continues to curate exhibitions for RVCA Australia, design gig posters, mould resin hands, and labour toward a new body of work for 2019 as she searches for ways to present her work.

Does the creative juggernaut have anything in the pipes? ‘The plan is to illustrate my own children’s book… I’m giving myself some time to plan new ways of executing my ideas. I always try to push myself and I find that I keep wanting to make more sculptures and incorporate my sewing and embroidery skills in there too. Sometimes I feel that I can’t just stick to painting – it’s so versatile and I feel the need to constantly expand my skills’.

All things considered, it’s hard not to be intrigued by what she means.