Melissa Egan

Bad Boys

October 19 - November 2 2013

‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know', so goes the cautionary saying about ‘bad boys'. Cocky, brash, and indifferent to the norms of their times, ‘bad boys' have always generated a curious appeal. Cavalier in attitude and living on the edge, they beckon excitement and a walk on the wild side. With a splash of characteristic humour and a twinkle in her brush, Melissa Egan dusts off the old history books and emancipates the ‘bad boys' of Australia's Colonial era.

The exhibition's large feature picture is Mutiny. The year is 1789 and the ‘bad boy' crew of the good ship Bounty has set their captain adrift in an open boat. William Bligh and a small group of loyalists stand in stalwart consternation alongside two breadfruit trees originally bound for Jamaica. From one of the trees streams a long pennant in a clever little nod to Hieronymus Bosch's subversive Ship of Fools painting. Against the most incredible odds Bligh survived the ordeal to later become Governor of the new colony. In the work Bligh and the Butcher Bird, he raises a goblet filled with what looks suspiciously like his outlawed rum, Bligh's expression is inscrutable. Perched on the glass's rim a hook-billed bird observes - a presage to Bligh's second mutinous deposition? Unsung Hero finds the governor attempting to hide from the renegade Rum Corps officers who subsequently place him under house arrest.

The Bad Boys series delightfully documents the deeds and outcomes of foolhardy but enormously courageous individuals like Captain Thunderbolt and Ben Hall. Several paintings are devoted to the cattle rustler, Captain Starlight. They highlight aspects of his extraordinary feat in droving an ill-gotten herd across our vast and arid continent by way of the very same desert track that had claimed the lives of Burke and Wills only ten years earlier. The distinctive white bull he exchanged for rations along the way proved Starlight's undoing, but when brought to trial, the jury members were so impressed by his achievement that they found him innocent!

In the Bushranger With Bilbies painting only a few tiny stars and the glimmer of a watery moon are visible through the mist-laden atmosphere. Such is the power of this painting that we can almost smell the pungent scents adrift in the cool night air and hear the soft gurgling of the swollen creek. On the grassy bank an older, if not wiser, Captain Starlight sits in a state of heightened awareness. Something extrinsic has disturbed the pervading sense of quietude. The bushranger's ‘companions' seem to share his attentiveness, even the usually elusive platypus surfaces to check what's going on.

Obliquely referencing a famous Leonardo da Vinci work, Egan sets the scene for Ned Kelly's last shindig outside the Glenrowan Hotel. However this is no simple supper, it's a veritable Banquet. The gang's all here and animals, one native the other introduced, preside at either end of the long table. There are a couple of unexpected interlopers as well - the omnipresent Edmund the Ermine among them. It is said that the era's ‘bad boy' anthem - The Wild Colonial Boy - had been sung heartily at the inn the night before 26 years old Ned was captured. The demise of the Kelly Gang in 1880 brought to an end nearly a hundred years of bushranging bravado, but with Egan's mastery of the brush and quite remarkable ability to relate a good yarn, all the vainglorious heroics, carousing, intrigue and pathos once again assume centre stage.

Brisbane-based Melissa Egan was born in Sydney and grew up in Tasmania, Canberra and Singapore. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the ANU, Canberra and has been a finalist in multiple prestigious art awards including: the Archibald Portraiture Prize, 2012; the Sulman Prize, 2006; the Doug Moran Portraiture Prize, 2008; the Portia Geach Memorial Award, 2009, 2006, 2005; the Blake Religious Art Prize, 2008; the Fleurieu Peninsular Biennale Art Prize, 2004, 2002, 2000; the Kedumba Drawing Award, 2006 and the Tattersalls Invitational Art Prize, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2004, 2003, 2002. Her work is held in corporate and private collections both in Australia and overseas.


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