Elyss McCleary

My art practice explores the spaces that shift between representation and abstraction, with a focus on painting and drawing. Working predominantly in oil paint, I use colour, gesture, materiality, compositional rhythms, and intuition to create spaces that are both a reflection of the everyday and something that expands from it.

My upcoming show, at Nicholas Thompson Gallery in Melbourne, is a presentation of new paintings that explore the sensation of luminous colour with a focus on intimacy. Its title, A Tender Anchor, recalls how formal elements create different harmonies and relationships in paintings, just like we do in our own human interactions. Colour, marks, and forms anchor one another, each element affecting the next. For me, painting always connects me back to my human relationships and to my fascination with the energies in the world around me, reflecting back like a mirror. Madeline Simm wrote in 2022 of my paintings that “mirrored proportions face each other in an exchange.”  

Everyday experiences have always inspired my work. I observe colour, textures, lustres, and forms from the world around me and take these back to my studio, where I transform them into paintings. Everyday elements include light seen in windows and screens, sensual body parts, horizon lines, landscapes, skies, and eyes, to name a few. Particular framing elements, such as light-spectrum bands, often flank the edges of my work, as permeable barriers. Frames contain activity, narratives, colour, forms, and sentiments, and I therefore use painting as a way to open up a space, much like a portal. 

My paintings start with a small collection of colours and some larger compositional forms, or words that form an impetus for the work. Some paintings happen quickly, and I feel like there is something bigger driving the process. Most paintings go through many changes, and are built and altered through washy and heavier layers. However, characteristically, I use very fluid paint. Compositionally, there is often either a void space in the central part of the work or a dabbling of activity across the plane. I keep working until the “anchoring” feels right.

I am very affected by colour and light; “From hues that are luminous and strident, to moments of recession or haze, to a carefully chosen palette that alluringly sets beauty alongside disagreeability, Elyss clearly holds belief in the potential of colour, and then gifts this to us” wrote Tiarney Miekus of my work last year. 

One of the processes I think is very prevalent within Tender Anchor is what I call “colour flipping.” This term came to me some years ago and continues to be important to how I work. Colour flipping could be thought of as my very considered use of particular colours to generate specific energetic potentials. The process is both exciting and challenging for me as an artist, as colour combinations change drastically with different scales, materialities, and in relation to varied subject matter. Through colour flipping, I choreograph the drama in my paintings.

When I paint, I think of myself looking through a psychological lens where colours, gestures, and forms mingle and relate to one another. Painting allows me to stay open and sensitive. Through this approach, my paintings amplify the varied sensations of my everyday observations – be they vital, funny, sensual, or melancholic – making them into their own entities with their own life force.   

This essay was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 62, 2023. 

A Tender Anchor
15 March – 1 April 2023
Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne

Fever Dreams
27 May – 9 Jul 2023
Counihan Gallery, Melbourne

Interval Diagonal
9 June – 9 July 2023
Divisions Gallery, Melbourne

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