At Motley, we could not be more privileged to work with the creative minds that we do. We love that creativity can’t be systemised, predicted, coded or copied. It has a million different guises but it is still the thing every culture has in common, from cavemen to the sistine chapel. The artists that we work with are a reflection of what we stand for, and that’s why we want to share their stories with you.
Melissa Wickham is a Bristol-based scenic artist who has worked on a range of large-scale projects, ranging from fashion and advertising backdrops, to television sets, interiors and artworks. Her favourite thing to paint is the sky, which she has created countless variations of over the years. For the launch of our Motley x Francesca Villa ‘Don’t be a Wallflower’ campaign, we teamed up with Melissa to create imagery unlike anything we’ve done before. Here, she tells us about her work, inspiration, and collaboration with Motley.
Melissa, you’ve had an amazing career so far. Where did it all begin?
At school I didn’t ever think that being an artist was something I could do, even though I really enjoyed it. One of the main things that sparked my interest in creating scenery was watching behind the scenes videos from films like The Phantom of the Opera when I was about twelve. I realised that there were so many creative jobs out there that I had never heard of, and so many aspects to these films that had to be physically made by someone, which I found amazing.
I decided that if I was going to pursue it, my art should be applied in some way. Studying illustration at Falmouth gave me a reason to be creating work and telling a story. Yet, I found myself painting backdrops on my bedroom wall whenever I got the chance. Then I began interning with set designers in the holidays, which is how I started out on this career path.
What influenced you to focus on scenic artistry in particular?
When I was a child my aunt painted her living room with a sky on the ceiling and a fresco-style scene all around the room. It was an amazing and transformative space. As it’s quite a distant memory, I didn’t realise until recently that it must have had a pretty big impact on me. A big part of what drives me to produce large-scale artworks is changing the experience of your surroundings.
What is it about the sky that makes it such an interesting subject?
It’s constantly changing – I’m always looking up at it and pointing out the different cloud formations or the different subtleties in the colours. Sometimes it has the most perfect lighting – it’s just beautiful. However hard you try, you’re never going to make it look as good as the real thing, so it’s a never-ending challenge!
But I still enjoy trying to capture some element of it, some imitation of the reality but with a painterly feel. Sky backdrops and interiors are seemingly my specialism now which I’m very pleased about.
Do you use any special techniques when creating your work?
Sponges are key for painting clouds, and I often use a spray gun for creating skies – it’s great for gradients and blending. I like to imagine that the spray gun process is in some way relevant to the actual thing – clouds are built up of lots of tiny droplets, so when you build up layers of tiny paint droplets you’re more likely to make it look authentic… or so I like to think. In my own work I like to use washes of colour and build up layers. I sometimes use a massive window washing squeegee for that.
Which artist has influenced you the most over the years?
I don’t have one singular artist who has inspired me. Three who stand out are Monet, Turner and Klimt. Especially Monet – I love the softness of the pastels, and the way that the light is painted. I guess that has been quite a big influence on my personal work .
When I began to get into set creation, I always admired the work Tim Walker and Shona Heath produced together. I also really love Yuyoi Kusama’s infinity rooms and TeamLab light installations. Anything where you’re totally immersed and it changes the way you feel. That’s the kind of art I like – when it transports you to a different place or emotion, sometimes a bit brighter or more exciting than real life.
If you had to choose a favourite artwork, what would it be?
That’s so difficult, but I’d probably go for one from The Water Lilies series by Monet. I wouldn’t have previously thought that Monet was such an inspiration for me really, but I guess he is. You don’t really realise what the references are in your head, but if I’m honest that’s probably trickled in there.
Do you see a connection between jewellery and art?
I do. Art inspires jewellery and it’s an art form in itself. Also, in terms of the consumer. People choose to surround themselves and adorn their walls and their space with their chosen artworks – there’s some form of self-expression involved in the environment they want to create. It’s the same with jewellery, you just adorn yourself with smaller artworks. The kind of jewellery you wear definitely says something about the type of person you are.
What is your favourite piece from the Francesca Villa collection?
To see more of Melissa’s work, visit her instagram profile: @melissawickhampaints