Dawn Mellor

Before we begin, I must be brutally honest and say that I definitely preferred the way that Liv Wynter delivered her art presentation, and yet I still enjoyed the talk by Dawn Mellor because of her clear level of passion behind her artwork and herself.

Dawn was at the Royal College for MA in Art when she got a gallery representation. She didn’t have space nor money and so quickly had to move to a larger gallery. She didn’t understand the system that she was in but it changed her and her work to what it is about now.

She made a large series of small figure paintings of various public figures which was satirical to the national gallery. She created a character that was influenced by the media – magazines etc – which added further impact to her artwork and also influenced her own studio space. Dawn had to learn on the job how galleries worked and found very quickly how to irritate collectors and galleries so they were not able to select one or two of the works she created, or the value of the pieces would be lost.

Economically, her paintings weren’t selling. She was told for one of her exhibitions that she would have a two year warning but ended up with only a six week one. This was the realisation that she was a gallery filler. For this exhibition she used Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz as a satirical terrorist (as there was a lot of terrorism in the states at that time). Regan from The Exorcist was her girlfriend – lesbians and bisexuality being something that many Americans were against. This exhibition resembled that the devil can affect you rather than coming from within. Both of the characters – Dorothy and Regan – are ‘old-time’ American icons. She also used war time sights within these paintings to add to the satirical effect.

Another series of paintings named ‘Freeze’ was a set of painting that were going against the collector market. Dawn was told that she could make a body of paintings inspired by someone who has been economically successful in art. She completely and utterly went against this and did, what else, but zombies. These, as Dawn found surprising, sold well, but some people took it as an assault on the women who are in the paintings. Although she does not deny this, she was initially focusing on attacking the society of which these ladies came from rather than the ladies themselves. The fact that these paintings sold well was problematic for her because they were so popular and the gallery wanted more because they were so. She further resisted with paintings.

On a quick side note, Dawn admits that you often have to understand the context of the paintings and portraits, which are often from films, to understand some of the paintings that she has created.

She was pushed into the next gallery even though she had incredibly bad instincts about it (turns out she was correct and the man who runs the gallery still owes her money now).She did a collection here of ‘The Conspiratists’. This was attempt to make a resistance of the ‘yourself’ and to be more of a collectivist community again. Dawn created a theatre or horror narrative which was easily understandable so then everyone could get the message that she was trying to put across. There was a narrative throughout this series of paintings to create an aggressive and irrative gallery. This was also increased by the positions of the paintings as no matter what position you place them in a gallery, it is ensured that the works will be looking at each other.

Dawn found out that she was expected to make money to fund the other artists who’s edgier work doesn’t sell and so she found she needed to make her work ‘worse’ to break this. In the artist talk in particular, she also mentioned how she finds that painting is stuck. There are endless statements of intention, interaction and to push painting towards the public but they do not fund the artist. As it no longer ‘ticks the boxes’ for art, there is no funding for painters.

Paranoia, anxiety, and being under attack – Dawn is self-mocking in her own space. This gives a psychological impact on her as she works in this space ever day. By using satire in her work, she is able to escape this. The narrative of her work and herself changes as the dialogue as the time changes. She has been called everything from pervert to lesbian and homosexual. This has greatly influenced her artwork.

The left the galleries that she was at in order to break free. This is where she met Andrew Hunt where he showed some of her work. This was in 2014, in a space above a library. (Warning: some of the facts here may not be correct as I could not find the corrections online and I was busy writing to collect all the details!) This was based on Helen Muran who was depicted as two maids based on The Maids by Jene. Helen often paid the Queen in movies and TV shows. There was sexual frustration as they made no release when they killed Madame.  Throughout this, Dawn was thinking about class and used Helen as a vehicle for this. There has to be a responsibility for the roles in which artists and actors choose. This work, however, unlike many others of Dawn’s, still functions even if you do not understand the text. Dawn did feel like getting a show in a library, especially the library of the place you came from, is the epitome for a local artist.

After that, she made the artwork that she wanted to do, which made the point that she wanted to make. There were various portraits of characters in different positions of an art gallery. These, somewhat like the library exhibition., were based on women who are in film who played the maids. Dawn found that with these artworks, she wanted to break away from the pristine, white artworks that are traditionally hung in galleries. This series of paintings were shouting that people with the most power to speak about topics were not speaking up. The women painted were from various decades, and some were famous faces, whereas some of the women were only in one film from twenty years ago or so. Within the art gallery itself, the man had no money and so dawn managed to write her own press release – something that is a little rare for artists to be able to do these days.

Dawn critiques art galleries, through that series of work, and generally, who are taking advantages of young artists and interns and the fact that the galleries often want limited free edition prints which they can sell of and make money from, without anything going to the artists themselves.

She was told to paint ‘beautiful’ people (socially), but the women that she paints aren’t always seen as beautiful, even though she found them so. This was found to be problematic. Dawn also paints and uses icons of individualism into a left-wing technique. In one of her paintings, all the characters painted are Regan from The Exorcist and all the lyrics used were from Madonna songs.

The process of developing paintings is also quite unique in some ways. At the moment, Dawn admits to lifting a portrait from the internet, from magazines as she is being lazy. She makes simple portraits and then over time works on top of them. She used an example of recently where she had painted policemen and cops. One night, she came home hungover and in that moment understood what she was doing and began working on them. Dawn also added that she often waits for an angry day to do the destructive parts of the painting.

For other research and articles;

Studio Voltaire

Hunger TV

The Guardian


Sources: DorothyDawn MellorDawn Mellor (1)Dawn Mellor (2)Helen MirrenAudrey HepburnDorothy (1)

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