Melissa Thomas – artistry in place

Words by Rob Cairns

Melissa with her tonalism paintings

According to Noel Gallagher (Take 5 – ABC iView), “you have to work in a creative space to be creative”.  Well, artist Melissa Thomas works in her mud-brick studio where this creative space spreads into her “3 acres of gardens on the 6.5 acre property” outside Hurstbridge where she lives the creative life with her parents who also contribute.  The gardens contain many of Melissa’s metal sculptures, each telling a story that, with landscaping, the lake, trees and plants bring to mind the term “genius loci” – a collective “spirit of the place”.  Just being there is a buzz, with curated vistas at every turn.  An evolution that began on arrival in 1983.

She has a reputation as a problem solver for her public and private clients.  Often working with her father, who brings an engineering mind: they worry, muse and think together over client challenges, in search of light bulb moments that have led to notable successes. 

One major piece commissioned was a metal bi-fold fence. It opens (partially or fully – like vertical window blinds) from a private courtyard to view an adjacent public park in Hawthorn.  Another, from working with the chief landscape architect for the Royal Melbourne Zoo, Melissa created the metal formed animal shapes designed to spark the imagination of children.  One could go on.  Her work has featured in magazines, newspapers and TV shows. 

Melissa also works in two other mediums: Glass (sometimes blended with metal sculptures) and tonal painting.  For Melissa, tonalism is at the core of her creative practice.  Its disciplines guide all her art forms.

Studying it under David Moore at Montsalvat she learnt to pay attention to first impressions, to proportion, to the building of form, to light and shade, then colours (warm and cool); all without embellishment.  It was six months in monochrome before David let her paint in colour.  Melissa sadly says: “Kids aren’t taught these basics, today”.

Supplied by Melissa Thomas

Melissa took to tonalism.  While on a painting retreat in Tuscany with David and others, a colleague said that Melissa was a machine there, when it came to productive output. 

You can visit Melissa, see her productive output, her studio and adorned gardens, through