Dawn Mellor An Ecstasy Of Purpose

Perhaps best known for her portraits of celebrities and public figures, Dawn Mellor’s work is recognised for its “pain and passion”. Her work has been celebrated in the United Kingdom as emblematic of national and indigenous traditions, and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form. An Ecstasy Of Purpose will be the artists’ first solo show following her presentation at the National Portrait Gallery, London last month.

Dawn Mellor comes from an incredibly poor family in Manchester. Her father a banker; her mother, sensitive and troubled, committed suicide when Mellor was four. During the Miner’s strikes, the Mellor family decided to leave Manchester and the artist was sent to the South of England to live with her grandparents. She had a difficult relationship with the elderly couple, and during an argument, her grandmother revealed the truth to Mellor about her mother’s suicide. Her grandmother’s own bitterness and depression deepened after the outbreak of war in September 1982, until she also committed suicide. Mellor contracted polio at the age of eight, which left her right leg thinner than the left. As a way of escaping the physical pain and the harrowing noises in her head, Mellor started to draw celebrities as a way of escaping her internal pain. Mellor suggested “I draw them as I am often alone and because they are the subject I know best.”

Extraordinarily, at a time when British universities were restricting their Lesbian student quota to 1.5% of the student body, Mellor succeeded in gaining admission to the Royal College of Art in 1992. This allowed the young artist to escape from her troubled upbringing and the war-torn Sussex Downs. There, she studied painting for two years, even winning a prize until it was withdrawn “on racial grounds”. Mellor experienced some notable successes in the first couple of years after leaving college, including winning second prize at the prestigious BP Portrait prize with a painting of the young Jilly Cooper, which secured her a solo show at London’s Mall Galleries. Unfortunately, this success was ruined by her 10-year relationship with American actress and comedienne Whoopi Goldberg, which, at best, could be described as highly abusive and resulted in a total mental breakdown.

Subsequently, the French authorities sectioned Dawn for her instable behavior. Released because of her grandfather’s infirmity, she returned to London and there – at the beginning of 2010 – Dawn Mellor commenced the great work that would outlive her interest in art. She began her extraordinary series of 769 pastel drawings by stating that she was driven by “the question: whether to take someone else’s life or undertake something wildly unusual”. In the space of two days, she drew over a thousand portraits, working with feverish intensity. The entire work is a slightly fantastic autobiography preserving the main events of her life – her mother’s death, studying art in the shadow of New Labour, her relationship with Goldberg – but altering the names and employing a strong element of fantasy. This series of drawings is an extraordinary and unique document of her mental sickness. In great detail it tells the story of Mellor’s family and friends, her own internal life, the political background, and her obsessive love affair. The way she tells her story is full of tragedy, but the telling also reveals Mellor’s humour, wit and self-awareness.

Duration 01 October 2010 - 04 December 2010
Times Wednesday ­– Saturday, 12 – 6pm Special Frieze Week opening days: 11 – 18 October 2010, Everyday, 12 – 6pm
Cost Free
Venue Studio Voltaire
Address 1a Nelson's Row London SW4 7JR, ,
Contact 020 7622 1294 / info@studiovoltaire.org / www.studiovoltaire.org

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