This Tuesday I had the pleasure of visiting Melissa Scott-Miller in her studio-home to chat about mixing children and paint. Comparing to mine – one boy of six, Melissa’s twenty-one and thirteen year old kids plus an impressive art career adds up to a major achievement. We focused our chat around the specifics of being a women artist, portraitist specifically. The visit was conducted in conjunction with the Bulldog Bursary granted to me for the year by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters of which Melissa is a member. The bursary allows its recipient access to the RP member artists and this is a report of one such visit.
Upon entering the studio, large self-portraits drew me right in. A great men’s coat hanging in one of her recent self-portraits is a symbol of a monumental life change and looms large in the picture. The sartorial pursuit seen her through her work. It marks the emotional changes that have now arrived at an acquisition of much more feminine and subtle – velvet coat – Melissa’s most recent find that will surely make onto her canvas soon.
Melissa described an incident when years back attempting to make a conversation at the Varnishing day of the Summer exhibition at the Royal Academy with a dignitary, she had to look down and find her daughter on her knees begging to leave. Managing child care and a career in art is a juggling act, especially for a single mom with two kids. The distraction from organising kids lives, putting them to bed early, skipping opportunities to travel for work may put a dent on every artist’s confidence.
Melissa finds positive aspects of this reality: thanks to her children she finds herself more in touch with what’s happening in contemporary culture, gets fresh ideas for her paintings. And it pours out through her art – the personal touch with the real day-to-day life and clear ownership of her experiences. Her paintings, always done from life, record her view on the rich canvas that is contemporary London.
Choosing to paint from life alone, Melissa values other people’s time. She worries not to come off demanding and yet realizes that male painters like Freud probably did not make space for thoughts like these while expecting their sitters to spend hours days sitting them for the portraits. You are welcome to prove our conclusions wrong.
Melissa’s tenacious work won her a number of prestigious awards and titles, gallery representation on both sides of the pond. She lived through many episodes where putting down her brush would be the easiest thing to do but instead she carried on, raising children and painting on. And if it’s not enough, she now she lectures at Heatherley’s Art school and Prince’s Drawing school, as takes Joey the while labrador for walks three times a day in Caledonian Park.