In the Waves, 2021, was a series of live free public art performances activating the landscape and evoking the urgency of rising sea levels and a rapidly changing climate. The project was curated by Dodie Kazanjian and presented with Art&Newport. The artist invited members of the local community to join the ensemble of this inclusive movement-based public artwork to create a shared meaningful experience about urgent environmental themes. She painted 50 “wave paintings”, ranging from 25′-45′ long on site, observing the ocean each day and changes in light and weather on a textile made of ocean recycled plastic trash. These painting were then activated by the In the Waves ensemble in performances with the ensemble, led by the artist in collaboration with choreographer Davalois Fearon.
McGill lived in Venice from 1991-93 and returns regularly for inspiration and work. In 2019, she presented her seminal work Red Regatta in collaboration with the Associazione Vela al Terzo Venezia. Red Regatta was an independent public art project that activated Venice’s lagoon and canals with four large-scale regattas of traditional vela al terzo sailboats hoisted with hand-painted red sails in 2019. As the boats glided though the lagoon in unison against the sky, sea, and cityscape, the reds reference forces of life and passion, alarm and urgency, and Venice itself—from its bricks and terra cotta rooftops, to its flag and history of trade in red pigment, to paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, and other Venetian masters.
Red Regatta was inspired by her observations over more than two decades of the challenges Venice is facing given the impact of climate change and overtourism. Melissa’s intimate knowledge of Venice and her deep personal and professional relationships in the city made it possible for her to develop this ambitious project. She is particularly passionate about the collaborative aspect and the fact that Red Regatta involved over 250 Venetian partners, as well as the United Nations Permanent Mission of Italy, The Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Oceana/Sailors for the Sea, Ocean Space, Spazio Thetis and many others . The project was curated by Chiara Spangaro, with project manager Marcella Ferrari, and co-organized by Magazzino Italian Art, with support from Mazzoleni.Other projects still related to the city of Venice are: the sculptural sound work, The Campi (2017) that invoked daily life in the Venetian Campo and was presented at Carlo Scarpa’s Casa/Studio Scatturin, Università Iuav di Venezia and Giorgio Mastinu Fine Art in Venice, Italy.
In 2022 she started Lifeline, a water storytelling project in which the Po River, Italy’s longest river, is our ancestral narrator. The Po’s network of braided channels, like lifelines, inspires this weaving together of the river’s story in its own voice with those of its local community, with specific attention given to underrepresented female stories. They flow together in strength, beauty and wisdom in order to envision and enact the river’s regeneration.
Melissa McGill and a team of local collaborators are embarking on a story-gathering journey that will be presented in chapters, taking the form of a film project, an artist book, artworks and an experiential collaborative public art work.
In 2021 McGill started a new body of expressive paintings of water and waves. These works explore ways to describe the world on its own terms, showing how the water inside us speaks to the water surrounding us. The calligraphic evidence in nature reminds us how our primordial mode of being is without “edges,” without definite separateness between things, but exists in a non-linear, circular time that pervades the planet. The artist makes her own paint using organic indigo and chlorophyllin derived from mulberry tree leaves, mixed a fresh homemade protein rich soy milk binder. The works explore the language of water in a way that is simultaneously intimate and epic.
McGill has exhibited her artworks nationally and internationally since 1991, including solo and groups exhibitions such as: Canaletto and Melissa McGill: Performance and Panorama, The Lightbox, United Kingdom; Manitoga, Garrison, New York; Mazzoleni, London – Torino; Magazzino Italian Art, Cold Spring (NY); The Permanent Mission of Italy at the United Nations, New York; Totah, New York; White Cube, London; Power House, Memphis; Palazzo Capello, Venice; CRG Gallery, New York, Zabludowicz Collection, London; Norrtalje Konsthall, Norrtalje (Sweden); Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Ghent (Belgium).
Melissa McGill is a National Endowment of the Arts ArtWorks Grant recipient.