Melanie Siegel – Allegories of an Urban Longing for Nature
In the works of the Munich-based artist Melanie Siegel, landscape painting is experiencing a rejuvenation that not only opens up new perspectives on a traditional genre, but also investigates our relationship to reality at the same time. The scenes, which appear realistic at first, present seemingly idyllic motifs of suburbia: they show a garden gate overgrown with hedges, perfectly rectangular tennis court facilities lined with trees, a sky crisscrossed with power lines, or a bird’s-eye view of a meticulously maintained swimming pool surrounded by greenery. It soon becomes clear that these are all liminal spaces, where the natural world and the artificial collide, where organic growth meets human construction.
These visual worlds are in fact no less constructed than the cultivated landscapes depicted within them. Fragments of reality serve as just one element in the creation of these works. Siegel collects these fragments of the real world as impressions from everyday life and lately even from satellite imagery, then, returning to the atelier, she expands on them with associative and imaginative aspects, diligently plans the composition, lighting, and atmospheric effects, and diffuses them with painterly techniques. Upon closer inspection, the believability of the images, both in terms of their content and their form, begins to crumble. The apparent realism of her painting disintegrates congruently with the realism of the motif: with some sections left abstract and a composition made up of numerous dabs of the brush, glazing, and impasto, a dynamic tension emerges on the surface of the painting.
This dynamic tension is heightened by the unconventional framing of the scenes, which emphasizes the impact of the carefully arranged spatial constructions. In particular, the newer works often involve stepping away from the subjective viewpoint. Especially when depicting architecture, tennis courts, or pools from a top-down perspective, as the view is further distanced from the ground, it becomes increasingly objective. Nevertheless, these motifs maintain a hint of the mystique that permeates all of her paintings. By dispensing with anything that could be interpreted as anecdotal, these scenes seem to exist outside of any specific moment in time, but yet they also evoke the feeling that the situation could turn at any instant. The tranquility of the foreground is subtly superimposed with an ambivalently charged atmosphere that makes the scene oscillate between harmony and alienation. Hanging in this precarious balance, it constantly remains an open question to which side the scale will tip, and it is left up to the subjective expectations of the viewer to decide. However, one thing remains clear: In her impressive pictorial creations, Melanie Siegel pierces to the core of her subjects by putting them through these transformations, thereby capturing their essence.
She creates allegories that are expressions of our time, telling of the divergence between a longing for nature and human intervention in the environment, of the discord between authentic places of respite and our urban compulsion toward optimized order. The reality constructed by mankind is put to the test just like the illusionism of the image; both turn out to be purely hypothetical. With her works, Melanie Siegel lends a contemporary visage to landscape painting, proving that the potential of this genre has not nearly been exhausted yet and, due to current debates, it is perhaps even more vital than ever.
Anne Simone Krüger, Art Historian
(Translation by Theodore Kuttner)