Melissa Gwyn

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Ovoid (clutch), 2012 Oil On Panel 36" X 24"
Ovoid (clutch) detail, 2012 Oil On Panel 36" X 24"
Fabergenic (model organism) 60" x 48", 2010 Oil On Panel 60" X 48"
Fabergenic (model organism), 2010 Oil On Panel 60" X 48"
Broken Lattice, 2011 Oil On Panel 20" X 16"
Broken Lattice detail, 2011 Oil On Panel 20" X 16"
Fabergenic, 48" x 36", 2010 Oil On Panel
Fabergenic, detail, 48" x 36", 2010 Oil On Panel
The Late Faberge, 2008 Oil On Panel 48" X 36"
The Late Faberge (detail), 2008 Oil On Panel 48" X 36"
Ovoid Clutch, 2012 Oil On Panel 36 X 24 Inches
Quick Facts
Lives in
San Francisco
Works in
University of California at Santa Cruz
Yale University
Artist Statement


Uncharitably beautiful and paradoxically frivolous, Faberge Eggs seem unburdened with portent, despite their provenance as signature possessions of the last Czar of Russia. They are emblematic of the ruinous authority of his rule and of his demise. Precious few in number and immaculately conceived, I think of Faberge eggs as harbingers of collapse. That is part of the reason why I paint them.

I use the word precious thoughtfully, since it not only refers to the rarity and value of the jeweled orbs in art markets, but to rarified eggs that, in the sense of biology, may conjure human anxiety about aging. In these paintings I reflect upon A.R.T. (Assisted Reproductive Technology) and draw parallels between the miraculous creations conceived in the jeweler’s studio and through the métier of medicine.

Simultaneously kitschy and substantial, idiosyncratic and political, my paintings from this series are animated by formal, technical and material contradictions. The compositional principle for most pieces is a centered circle, yet my work is about instability. I employ 15th c. linear perspective in order to allude to 3-D wire-frame renderings instrumental to medical modeling. Excessive splurges of oil paint and preciously crafted imagery on the painting’s surface belie social commentary on class, technology and human vanity. The space between these contradictions is where the form and content of my work evolves.

The subjects of growth, excess and collapse have been central to my work for more than twenty years. Drawing upon the opulence and detail of Netherlandish painting and the sensual materiality of Abstract Expressionism, my work explores an “embarrassment of riches” that is both visual and thematic. Decadence is core to my visual sensibility and my tendency to obsess on detail through the material potential of my medium. I often think of my father’s admonition about taking things too far, “You don’t want to gild the lily.” But, with affection for my father I contend that “gilding the lily” is exactly what makes sense to me in these times. Nature in artifice, artifice in nature, conservation, restoration, death of painting, reanimation and artificial life, it seems a gilded lily is the emblem in the back of my mind.

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