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Jenny Mellings

Although rooted in Southern England, Jenny has travelled widely and gathered influences from Europe and beyond. Painting is fundamental to her practice, especially with earth pigments and minerals.

In previous years my activity involved selecting and processing fragmentary images from multiple sources, including those related to our engagement with the virtual world of the internet. Throughout earlier work there has been a dominant theme of the layering of imaginary visions onto elements of perceived reality, which continues into newer work that has sprung from various different sources. At this point (2024), I’m responding to a particular site not far from my home in South Somerset where there is an archaeological dig in progress. I’m currently making work informed by this which includes both documenting the site through photography, drawing and painting the site as it changes. There is layer-upon layer of history beneath the soil there which is slowly being uncovered, so most of my new work for some time will relate to this. Current plans include making work (painting/drawing/photography) as reportage on what’s happening at the site, and also incorporating earlier themes of my practice as described below.  Additionally there are potential plans to develop sculpture/installation/film in the landscape surrounding the site. 

For the past few years I have increasingly used natural pigments in my work (both found and also commercially prepared). These range from local earth colours to lapis lazuli and Egyptian Blue. Recently, using oak galls and walnuts from the vicinity of the dig I’ve also made drawing ink.

Earlier I made many paintings on Khadi paper including a series relating to Calais Jungle camp (following a volunteering visit there in early 2016), an East Devon Way commission of 25 paintings in 2018. During the pandemic from 2020-22 my palette turned almost exclusively to blue as  cyanotype techniques were combined with painting with lapis lazuli, other blue pigments and watercolours. Now the colours have changed again with continuing work relating to the landscapes of other planets, south coast of England seascapes and the nearby, rapidly evolving archaeological excavation.

Some much earlier pieces involved the appearance of motifs derived from 'emoticons' commonly used in email exchanges. They were used as 'vessels' for the containment of themes related to, or in contrast or conflict with the background image, and paintings were arranged in formats which are derived from computer screen window layout. Later the confines of the traditional rectangular surface format was fractured in favour of smaller 'components' which can be freely arranged across a supporting surface. Much of their content is based upon visual and other material received via the web in various contexts, but is not confined to those sources. Alongside ideas related to sensory overload in my work, there has been perhaps a stronger thread that is much more to do with the opposite. Recently I've been considering ideas surrounding the knowledge that sensory deprivation can induce such phenomena as visions and many other experiences in which the brain can compensate for lack of stimuli arriving through all the senses. Of course such happenings in people's lives vary from religious visitations, visual and auditory hallucination, and waking dreams, memories or intrusive thoughts that can temporarily override reality. This relates very much to current work as I repeatedly visit an area of landscape where real evidence of the lives of previous inhabitants of my town are being rediscovered, providing much stimulus for the imagination. 

In the past I have also worked with such ideas by means of film/stop-motion animation in which drawing has been overlaid onto and developed from an underlying photograph. By doing so, I was able to extend sequential narrative in a reflexive and spontaneous way, and these kinds of processes may be taken up again at some point. Some earlier work was related to the effects of war/conflict. This has not been consciously maintained as a guiding force, but appeared more as a result of being subject to media influences. An early film (Crisium) completed in autumn 2003 was based on the idea of earthly visions animated against a lunar landscape, for which resources included appropriated images from historic engravings and also from the news. It partly rested on the idea that either an image or a landscape empty of life could each generate a response in the form of a flood of visual images, and sometimes words to the brain. During the past year I have returned again to using landscapes from beyond our physical reach, those of untrodden other planets visible only through high technology. Currently in 2024, the churned-up earth of the archeological site with its odd shaped pits and strange markings somehow relate to inter-planetary landscapes and have a similar mystery about them and tendency to trigger ‘visions’. 

Previously I painted in a roughly Expressive/Surrealist style and frequently made narrative, allegorical works with mythical references and some images appropriated from ancient art. Influences Traditional European figurative painting (particularly landscape), prehistoric and multicultural art, contemporary film and photography, animation, painting, drawing, the internet, life in general both on my doorstep and the furthest reaches of the known world!  

As for other work, In the past I have led art clubs for children and young people at Spacex Gallery, Exeter, and also at other venues such as the Royal Memorial Museum, Exeter, CCANW, Plymouth Arts Centre, and Thelma Hulbert Gallery. My role at Plymouth University as Associate Lecturer in Fine Art was between 2005 -2015 (also was a visiting lecturer in fine art and  illustration previously). Additionally, I taught History of Art  A level at Exeter School from 2003-2006, and have run animation workshops for 'Animated Exeter' and related events from 1999 to 2009 in various schools and institutions, helping young people to create short animated films some of which were shown at First Light, Young Co-Operative Filmmakers and other events. From 2021-2023 I was lead artist in a Culturally Chard project (initiated by SAW) and have also been involved with exhibitions and workshops in the Somerset area from 2019-2024.



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