In the aftermath of losing my second child to FSIDS in 2006 I had a compulsion to make abstract paintings without any conscious control. Some time after making the works I found that people and animals had manifested themselves within my paintings without my conscious awareness. Dylan's loss was unexplained and I sought answers through a medium. I began to train with her in a psychic circle. After a while she suggested I bring my drawing materials and she would invite people to sittings. My hand would just start moving, knowing what colour to pick up and what mark to put down. I did not know what was being manifested as it was happening but afterwards it was clear that they were rich in accurate information about the person's life. Meanwhile, my own practice developed and I began to make what I call, Auto Trance Portraits. These paintings encapsulate an individual’s life with details emerging through patient observation and benefitting from being re-visited with an open mind. Some of them are inspired by photographs, others from handwriting, sometimes just by thinking of a person their information flows out on to the paper or wood. I have a gift to empathise and I have found since my childhood that I have just instinctively known things about people. I have always held a desire to heal and help others in their transformation and I am a practising mesmerist and hypnotherapist.
Auto Trance Portrait of Young Woman Standing Next to Chair
This painting was made whilst tuning in to a carte de visite photograph of a young woman. It is very energetic and open, yet also quite calm. There is a red heart-like form filled with purple flame-like strokes that seem to express a vey loving, spiritual nature. There is a buck or deer head on the centre right and numerous characters can be spotted throughout.
2018, Acrylic on paper 84.1 x 59.4
Young Woman Leaning on a Chair Photo
Auto Trance Portrait of Young Man with Sad Eyes
This painting was made whilst tuning in to a Victorian carte de visit of a young man who has exceptionally sad eyes who looks effeminate. The painting has many sea references, such as the seal that can be seen in the lower right next to the whale whose breathing hole is spouting water. In the bottom left his face in profile can be detected by the eyes, nose, mouth and chin. There seem to be splashes and a big blue question mark surrounds a purple shape that includes two heads. It appears that someone was pushed or fell or jumped off a cliff edge in to the sea. Intriguing!
2018, acrylic on paper, 81 x 59.4 cms
Young Man with Sad Eyes Photo
Auto Trance Portrait of Young Woman with Flowers
This painting was made whilst tuning in to a carte de visite of a young woman who has flowers in her hand, attached to the neck of her dress and as embroidered decoration over her outfit. This may make sense of the very decorative yellow and vibrancy. I see the form on the top to be a musical instrument like a mandolin. There is a possibility, having studied the face of the sitter that she came from Italy, which was common at the time. It would make sense of the vibrant sunshine feel of the left combined with the heathery, earthy look of the right. A cat can be spotted on the bottom near the centre.
2018, acrylic on paper 84.1 x 59.4
Young Woman with Flowers Photo
Auto Trance Portrait of Man with Faraway Eyes
This was made whilst tuning in to a man wearing a suit and a watch on a chain. There are many characters that inhabit it, the most obvious being the Mahican Indian and an oriental-looking person. There are many birds and creatures as well as a buck with horns which can be seen on the bottom right. There is an other worldly atmosphere to this painting.
2018, Acrylic on paper 84.1 x 59.4
Young Girl with Ringlets
This photograph was taken in the Clapham Road from the animals that can be seen in the painting, I get the impression that she moved to Africa. There are grapes in the bottom left which give the indication that she either loved her wine or was involved in wine making.
2015-2017, Gouache on card, ink on glass, photograph, 36.7 x 50.1 cms
Lady in Pearls
I love the narrative in the bottom right corner of her, as a child, communing with a dear. I get the feeling that she was quite a free spirit but also very expressive. There were many layers to her. If you look at the middle top of the picture you can see several faces and I think these were all her. There are grapes in the bottom left of the picture. This can indicate a love of drinking wine. There is an older woman's face on the top left, which is more feint and that appears to be of an older, very caring woman.
2015-2017, Gouache on card, ink on glass, photograph, 42.5 x 62.2 cms
Auto Trance Portrait of Aunt Kitty
Her name was on the reverse of her photograph. The painting has quite a hemmed in feeling. Mostly it is outlined and I get the sense that she was quite restricted. Maybe she was a maiden aunt who was obliged to care for her parents. The face in the top left of the painting appears chaotic but creative. I think she found it hard to take time to fulfil herself. The centre shows a place to escape to - a place with water and birds.
2015-2017, Gouache on card, ink on glass, photograph, 41.8 x 62.2 cms
Lady by the Sea
This was a loving and warm woman. She and her children are shown on the left. There are a lot of birds. I think she may have kept cockatiels and/or budgies. The profile on the bottom right indicates a very loving and grounded nature. It looks to be a very happy life.
2015-2017, Gouache on card, ink on glass, photograph, 37.6 x 57 cms
Mrs Martha Higgins
The title of this work relates to some writing on the back of the photograph. She sits very proudly in front of her doorway. Interestingly, in the painting there are a number of horses. there is a figure on horseback right in the centre. At the base of the horse's head is a human head bent back in an ecstatic state. My impression is that she was quite a figure within her community. A lot of people flow around her. To the right of the central horse is a sheep's head. The ecstatic face looks in deep spiritual rapture. I think she had very healing and loving hands. To the left of that head is a figure seated and someone behind (wearing a hat) appears to be doing something to them. I suspect that was Martha herself giving healing.
2015-2017, Gouache on card, ink on glass, photograph, 34.4 x 38.2
Auto Trance Portrait of Helena Dunning
This painting was made whilst tuning in to an "engagement slip" for the J. Stone & Co foundry in Deptford of a Helena Dunning on 3rd February 1926. The painting seems to portray a young woman facing forward (to the left) and backwards (to the right). A head in profile in indigo is right at the heart of the painting looking up. There is a dancing, sensual quality about the figures whilst the head gives a sense of spiritual connectedness.
2014, gouache on card
Auto Trance Portrait of Frederick Sharp
This painting was made whilst tuning in to a slip of paper signed on 16th November 1925 and with the date of birth and address of a Frederick Sharp who had been an employee of the J. Stone & Co. foundry in Deptford where I exhibited and performed mesmerism. The painting appears to show a figure (who I believe to be Frederick looking at another figure (who I think is a woman) who is looking at a face that seems to be in another dimension. My thoughts on this are that he was in love with a woman who seems to be still in love with someone who had passed away. If you look to the right and particularly the bottom right there appear to be many fishes, like trout. I was of course, not aware that I was painting any of this at the time.
2014, gouache on card
Films: Sessions (Collaboration with Paul Tecklenberg)
Sessions: Park Keeper’s Room
Sessions: The Park Keeper’s Room is an extract from a hypnotherapy session where the subject is in hypnosis and relives a suppressed teenage memory. The subject has given full consent for the material to be used in this video.
“To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing.” Duchamp
These paintings use the methods I employed for the Loss series, where in a heightened awareness I use colour and rhythm, allowing the images to emerge. I seek to play with the interface between figuration and abstraction, coming in and out of focus through rhythm, colour, shape and texture. The work is never fixed, but in a state of flux. If the viewer relaxes their mind, marks and gestures can describe a face, or a profile, animal or creature. The paintings are catalysts that stimulate the subconscious mind to reveal archetypes, and yet, in a different state of mind, different things can appear. The images are not pre-conceived, I get into my rhythm, applying colour and brushstrokes, aiming to express the intuitive and spontaneous, whilst honouring the rich cultural heritage of my background.
As Francis Bacon said, “It is a continuous thing between what may be called luck or hazard, intuition and the critical sense.”
Rhythm of Life, 2012
acrylic on wood, 44.2 x 40.7 cms
Acrylic on Wood, 35.5 x 25.5 cms
acrylic on paper, 21.5 x 18 cms
The Release, 2011
acrylic on paper, 29 x 21 cms
Veiled Atmosphere, 2011s
acrylic on paper, 32 x 22.5 cm
Ocean's Breath, 2011
acrylic on paper, 35.5 x 25.5 cms
“Illustrated form tells you through the intelligence immediately what the form is about, whereas a non-illustrated form works first upon sensation and then slowly leaks back in [to] the fact.” Francis Bacon
In 2006, I lost my second son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In my devastation, I left behind any notions of consciously making recognisable figures in my work. My painting was used as a vehicle to explore loss and separation. With Sudden Infant Death Syndrome aka “cot death”, one is left with shock, uncertainty and disbelief, so I found myself enquiring into notions of death and (de)parting, choosing to concentrate on evoking energy, whilst aiming to commune with and communicate “the other”, whatever that may be.
In a heightened awareness I used colour and rhythm, allowing the images to emerge. The paintings became very loose and fluid and as I studied them, I observed faces, shapes and relationships playing out dramas I wasn’t conscious of, but somehow parallel to what I was going through.
This approach made the act of creating extremely surprising and exciting, whilst giving me a sense of trust in the act of “letting go” in my work. The Manifestation series reflects the ongoing development of that method of working.
Mixed Media on Wood, 23 x 23 cms
Eulogy was created in the immediately after the loss of Dyllan in one session, over a background I had previously made. On reflection, I could see three central figures – drawn in a dark line that looked like a man, a woman, and a child. I took those to be my husband, Paul, my son Jasper (who was five at the time) and myself. A few weeks later a friend pointed out the image of a baby’s smiling face in the upper left of the painting (see Eulogy, detail).
Me, Myself, I, 2007
Me, Myself, I, 2007, Acrylic on Wood, 31 x 31 cms
Through a Glass Darkly, 2007
Through a Glass Darkly, 2007, Acrylic on Wood, 30.5 x 30.5 cms
The Passage, 2007
Acrylic on wood, 21.5 x 30cms
Acrylic on wood, 15 x 11 cms
Acrylic on wood, 30 x 21.5 cms
Healing Nature, 2007
Acrylic on wood, 21.5 x 30 cms
Acrylic on wood, 10 x 10 cms
Mother Love, 2007
Acrylic on wood, 15 x 11 cms
Colour & Curve
Melissa Alley: Colour and Curve by Mary Rose Beaumont, April 2000
“ The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most.” John Ruskin “The Stones of Venice”, vol ii, ch.5
Colour, glorious colour is the most striking property of Melissa Alley’s paintings. She starts relatively modestly in the early work with a gentle glissando for brushstrokes; in the most recent work the various strands of symphonic colour rise to a dizzying crescendo. But let it not be thought that is a question of hit or miss. She does not plan her composition in advance, but as soon as the first notes are struck, so to speak, she has her pitch and the painting evolves almost organically under her brush.
Inside Out, 1997, is one of the most exciting of this early group. The figure is there for all to see, exposed to the viewer, but round it and through it lick the elemental flames which both destroy and renew. There is a sense of figure and ground, the ground perhaps a tawny landscape with clumps of green trees over which she has imposed the discipline of a linear figure. Yet there is a sense of something bubbling up inside – a cauldron of human emotions that no lid can keep sealed. The contrasting colours of the spectrum help to achieve an overall harmony – green shading into red, which in turn becomes a glowing orange. She uses the same colours, although in almost exactly the opposite way, to effect a similar harmony in Frisson, 1997,which has a sense of energy and movement pulsating through it. I am reminded with these figures of Rodin, who liked to have dancers wandering through his studio, so that he could catch a quick turn of the body and capture the fleeting moment on paper. Frisson is especially interesting because the artist made the work with her eyes shut, as an intuitive rather than a preconceived composition. In many of the drawings there are two figures, which immediately set up a dialogue, sometimes tense and strained, sometimes warm and affectionate. In this particular case the viewer has to ask him/herself: Are they turning away from each other or have they just been reunited? It should be remarked that Alley’s figures are nearly all women, perhaps because to be true to herself she can only be sure of female emotions and behaviour.
A solemn ritual is being enacted in Entities in Procession, 1998-00. The archetypal figures move slowly across the picture plane. It might be seen as part of a great Last Judgement, with the figures descending into limbo or, in a more pagan light, as a group processing towards an unseen sacrificial altar. The central figure is the focal point of the group, slightly set apart from the others, perhaps an act of worship. Certainly she may be connected with Gaea, Mother Earth, literally the most solid of the figures apart from the armless, headless statue to her right reminiscent of the Venus de Milo. The other figures are mysteriously transparent and the landscape may be seen through and beyond them, offering an interplay between positive and negative space.
Alley describes her work as being “on the cusp between abstraction and figuration”, and nowhere is this truer than in the most recent paintings in mixed media on wood which possess, in common with early pioneering Kandinsky, the quality of metamorphosis from figuration into abstraction and back again. If there is a metaphor to be discovered in this paeon of praise to colour it is that the death of painting is greatly exaggerated.
Acrylic on paper, 50 x 33 cms
Entities in Procession, 1998-00
Acrylic on wood, 76 x 121 cms
Mixed media on paper, 50 x 33 cms
Inside Out, 1997
Acrylic on paper, 50 x 33 cms
Mixed media on wood, 86 x 71 cms
Landscape with Ancestral Prescences, 1998-00
Acrylic on wood, 76 x 121 cms
Saturday Night / Sunday Morning, 1997
Mixed media on wood, 60 x 45 cms
Acrylic on wood, 30 x 30 cms
Striding Spirit, 1997
Mixed media on paper, 71 x 66 cms
Mistress and Maids, 1999
Oil and sand on wood, 123 x 75.5 cms
Acrylic on paper, 50 x 33 cms
I was very fortunate to have Cecil come to my college once a week to teach. I studied with him from 1985-1989 and the drawings in this section were made in those classes. His method chimed in with something that I was trying to achieve – a letting go to obtain something more sensitive than the conscious mind alone could achieve. His technique with its multiple “instruments” (Chinese brushes, quills, reed pens, red chalks, charcoal and pencils), combined with the use of left and right hand, mouth, foot, movement, music and a usual maximum of one minute poses, meant I would get confused and surrender my previous means of control. As Francis Bacon said in his interviews with David Sylvester
"They come over without the brain interfering with the inevitability of the image. It seems to come straight out of what we choose to call the unconscious with the foam of the unconscious locked around it – which is its freshness”
I found the concurrent use of both hands very useful as it trained both sides of the brain – the left and right - to co-operate, creating a harmonious union of the analytical and intuitive. I enjoyed this alchemy of creating and communicating something in unexpected ways.
“I think that the mystery of fact is conveyed by an image being made out of non-rational marks.”F.B .
Through making these drawings, I got in touch with a desire to communicate the “other” whatever that may be; a sense of the timeless, the divine, the soul, the essence. Not from a religious perspective, but from a connection to the archaic, through memory, ancestry, the collective unconscious……. The Colour and Curve series was born from this and it was, I feel, more effectively communicated in the Loss paintings, leading into Manifestations, my current work.
N. B. It may seem strange to quote Francis Bacon in the context of Cecil Collins as they were spiritually and ideologically diametrically opposed. However, I studied them simultaneously, and found them both to have a similar concern with finding methods of accessing the subconscious.
1. Drawing in Cecil Collin's class of Alex Kingston, 1986
Alex Kingston, The Sea 1, photo etching, 1-35 (1).jpg
Alex Kingston, The Sea II, 1987
Cecil Drawing, Motion IV
Drawing in Cecil Collins class, 1986
Cecil Drawing, Contemplation I,
Colour and Beat
These pieces, comprising 4 x 4 x 3/4 inch wooden tablets placed in grid formation, are concerned with exploring and manipulating the spacial and rhythmical qualities of colour and light within a rigorous structure. Music has always inspired me and these pieces are my expression of its fluidity and its underlying structures and constraints.
The Colour Fugues are site-specific installations. All five facets of the tablets are painted with different hues of colours that interact to create a dynamic interplay. Colour Fugue I (installed in a hallway), consisted of over 300 tablets and the viewer experienced an oscillation of colours alluding to a kinetic movement depending on whether you were walking from right to left, left to right or up or down the stairs. “Melissa Alley enlivens the basement with the syncopated beat of brightly coloured squares.“ Sarah Kent on DIY: 19 Variations on the Theme of Wallpaper (co-curated by Alley), Time Out, 2000.
In Colour Fugue II three rows of tablets were mounted up high to create a frieze that compelled the viewer to look upward to the ornate architrave of the Regency property. I wanted to highlight over-looked elements of buildings and to combine this with the experience one can have when entering a religious building and on sensing something above, look up to discover beautiful frescoes or ornate gold carvings.