The artist capturing Devon’s wild beauty on canvas

PUBLISHED: 15:44 24 July 2020 | UPDATED: 15:44 24 July 2020

'How I love the evening light' by Melanie Cormack-Hicks (cropped)

'How I love the evening light' by Melanie Cormack-Hicks (cropped)

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Melanie Cormack-Hicks gave up teaching to paint full-time

Every Moment of Forever by Melanie Cormack-Hicks (cropped)Every Moment of Forever by Melanie Cormack-Hicks (cropped)

The Devon village of Beer is known for its beauty and its art gallery – it’s no surprise that artist Melanie Cormack-Hicks is finding success in her vibrant semi-abstract interpretations of the surrounding area.

Her work has more than a splash of the impressionist about it – and small wonder as the village left an impression on her from her first visit. “I was still working in a secondary school when I first visited Beer, and it quickly became a place I yearned for,” she remembers. “I started painting the sea here – even now, it’s pretty much the only place where I paint the ocean. Driving down the Devon lanes towards the village makes me smile and leaving is always a wrench.

“From that very first visit, I dreamt of one day having my paintings hanging in Marine House Gallery – but the fantasy felt a million miles from the reality of teaching GCSE art!”

Melanie was working as an art teacher in the Cotswolds when she rediscovered her artistic voice while on holiday with her family in Beer. Surrounded by ink- splattered pebbles, she longed to create evocative artwork that mirrored the raw energy she felt in the landscape.

Melanie Cormack-Hicks painting seascapes plein air. Photo: Melanie Cormack-HicksMelanie Cormack-Hicks painting seascapes plein air. Photo: Melanie Cormack-Hicks

Her work was further inspired by the artist Michael Bernard who was on show at Marine House seven years ago. The energy in his work gave Melanie the confidence to revisit her creativity and begin painting again.

“When I saw the techniques Bernard used, I realised that I’d spent so long encouraging my students to experiment with their own artistic voice that I’d overlooked my own.”

Gone were the smooth, flowing strokes of her university oil painting days. Instead, she discovered the joy of throwing ink and paint at a surface, squirting on water and letting the inks bleed, and flicking on masking fluid that would later reveal little jewels of underpainting.

“I start every painting with a good dose of visual chaos that leaves me scratching my head and wondering if I’ve gone too far – but it’s this process that allows each painting to find its own strength and voice,” she explains. “The energy in those initial marks, the way I have thrown the paint and allow it to drip and run gives me a framework to respond to throughout the painting. It’s really important to me that I allow that energy to shine through and retain raw mark making as well as areas of refinement and calm.”

'Basket Full of Dreams' by Melanie Cormack-Hicks (detail)'Basket Full of Dreams' by Melanie Cormack-Hicks (detail)

Being mindful and present is the most important part of her artistic process, she says. “It allows me to feel the landscape and translate that feeling into paint – whether I’m working in my local woodland, on my beloved Beer beach, beside a pond or river, or on a windswept hillside.

Read more: The Exeter artist whose mosaics hang in collections around the world

Glinting Secret by Melanie Corrmack-HicksGlinting Secret by Melanie Corrmack-Hicks

Her landscapes and seascapes have proved popular. “We often have memories attached to places, or we yearn for certain environments. When I’m painting, I am using colours and marks based on how I feel about a location. This allows the painting to evolve and find its own voice, rather than be an exact representation. Once a painting is complete it is no longer mine, I step back to allow the viewer to step in. This allows them to attach their own thoughts and memories to a piece, because it becomes attributed to a moment which is personal to them. That curiosity within the viewer means my art often evokes deep-set memories and feelings.”

She left teaching and began working as an artist full-time three years ago. She was invited to exhibit at both Saatchi’s The Other Art Fair and Bath Art Fair.

But she says nothing beats the achievement of having her paintings in Marine House Gallery – alongside those of her inspiration, Michael Bernard. “The thrill for me is that people really connect to my artwork. Every painting has its own narrative, but it doesn’t aim to tell a story – once I’ve finished a painting, I step back so the viewer can find their own narrative. And they do. In fact, my art often evokes deep-set memories and feelings.

Melanie Cormack-Hicks in woodland. Photo: Melanie Corrmack-HicksMelanie Cormack-Hicks in woodland. Photo: Melanie Corrmack-Hicks

“I now know what it means to paint. It is the joy and curiosity that leads to finding your own process and your own unique visual vocabulary.

“Every day I ask myself: ‘what happens if’? It is this challenge that harnesses my energy and in turn feeds my creativity.”

So, what has Melanie gained from her experience? “It took courage and patience to turn my world upside down and become an artist. I learned to listen to the inner voice that was guiding me to be brave and live out my dream – and I’m so glad I did.” u

Melanie’s show at Marine House runs from 19 September to 2 October.

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