Dead Masters: Michele Melcher at Princeton University
By Katherine Whitlock
Michele Melcher recreates portraits from the 18th and 19th centuries with 17th-century Vanitas and Memento Mori symbolism. Donned in truncated Elizabethan collars, tricorne feathered hats, and Louis XIV style wigs, Melcher’s paintings still acknowledge the original voracious and downright insatiable rococo lifestyles of the subjects, except there’s a twist—her subjects are all pristine, perfectly painted, toothy grinned skeletons. A burst of near audible laughter emanates from the paintings’ surfaces as each skeleton seems to gently impose the inevitability of death unto the viewer. Melcher explains, “Death is something that nobody in our culture really likes to think about, so it’s off-putting and morbid to a lot of folks. It’s definitely scary thinking about time passing, loved ones, pets, and friends dying, being old and alone. That is something that I think about every day and it scares the shit out of me. I think it scares the shit out of most people and that’s why they avoid talking about it. But in the end, it comes for everyone. You might as well acknowledge it.” It’s as if Melcher paints the smiling osseous matter in such a way to celebrate the beauty of living a virtuous life rather than fearing the unavoidable. She makes it very hard not to smile back at these delicate works and makes it easy to discover a new perspective of the repurposed portrait based solely on the subject’s human scaffolding.
What is more, Melcher succeeds in maintaining the integrity of the original works of art painted by the Masters, some of which date back 300 years. Her innate oil painting skills are literal strokes of genius— backed up by the fact that she converted to oils from watercolor less than three years ago. It takes a certain person to be this dedicated to a process so driven by death, rebirth, history, and humor. It all clicked when I went to visit Melcher’s studio on a dreary October afternoon right before Halloween (which also happens to be her favorite holiday).
And if that wasn’t enough, the quaint and quirky little town of Carversville, Pennsylvania where Michele lives and works is tucked inside forests and farmland, steeped in layers of history and lore. The town that day was blanketed with thick cloud cover, the trees were just beginning to lose their leaves, and the smell of damp soil permeated the olfactory. I felt like I was in an Edgar Allen Poe portal. We went to the local cafe which doubles as the post office, and triples as the local gallery. The lunch rush had subsided and was able to sit for a bit while she told me about the town’s architecture, and how everything is somehow renovated or repurposed to meet the needs and aesthetics of the townspeople. “You never know what you will see out on a back road around here. Some old stone ruins, maybe a 40-foot tall dinosaur sculpture in someone’s yard or a Chinese pagoda in the middle of a cornfield. George Nakashima’s studio is down the street!” It was then I realized how much decay and rebirth Melcher experiences on a daily basis. It’s no coincidence that her environment seeps into her psyche as she finds the bare essence of each painting as she strips the painting down to the bone while still preserving the historical context.
In addition to her exhibition titled “Dead Masters” at Princeton University, Melcher will have work in the upcoming March exhibition, “Everything But The Kitschen Sync” at the world-renowned La Luz De Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles, California opening March 6, 2020.
January 31 – March 20, 2020
Monday – Friday from 9:30 am – 4:30 p.m.
Dickinson Hall, Room 113
Everything but the Kitchen Sync
Mar 6- Mar 29, 2020
La Luz De Jesus Gallery
Los Angeles, California
Michele Melcher is a classically trained fine artist and illustrator. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1997 from the renowned University of the Arts located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For over twenty years Michele has honed her craft as an illustrator specializing in editorial, portraiture, and advertising for clients such as the AARP, American Express, The Chicago Tribune, and the Smithsonian.
All the while she has been creating and showing her work in galleries both regionally and internationally. Michele’s work follows themes of folklore, legends, the supernatural and the natural sciences. Her latest paintings pay homage to the decadence of 18th and 19th-century portrait masters as well as her interest in the themes and symbolism of vanitas and memento mori.
Michele creates and lives in the historic village of Carversville, Pennsylvania with her loving husband and her two black cats.
Follow Michele Melcher on social media on the following platforms:
- Instagram @_michelemelcher_
- Facebook @michelemelcherillustration
- Twitter @michelemelcherillustration
Contact Gallery Director Matthew Gardocki for purchase info: