To look at Michelle Molinari’s works is to take a glimpse within a modern Wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities painstakingly collected and arranged to captivate the viewer. Starkly lit and meticulously rendered, these images make modern the age-old genre of the still life.
But all is not what it seems. While the Dutch masters of the Golden Age often used still life’s to consider the fleeting nature of life in order to better prepare for the hereafter, Michelle instead wishes to contemplate death itself: “Death is inevitable,” she says. “It is the collective fate of all, yet as humans we still feel the need to defy the end.”
This perspective deeply informs her practice. Each painting begins with the deceased themselves, which she gathers from various sources and seeks to preserve. The physical process of taxidermy allows her to reconstruct the animals, most often birds, using various materials to pose them for perpetuity. Alternatively, she replicates the bones of her chosen animal with wax or resin, using carving and paint glazes to produce realistic simulacra. Her subjects therefore are no longer merely dead, but defying death, which is reinforced in her paintings. Her art transforms her subjects, eluding the natural cycle of death and allowing them to live on forever in her work.
While death is omnipresent, Michelle does not wish these works to be seen as entirely pessimistic. “The act of engaging with something that was once living enables me to acquire an internal and empathetic understanding of the animal,” she says. “I am more drawn to the manner in which the dead creatures are depicted, which, when viewed in a contemporary context, could arouse sympathy and compassion for them.” This is especially true of birds, to which she gravitates repeatedly. Birds are ever-present in our lives, but are often ignored or overlooked. Michelle’s work celebrates the diversity and beauty of birds, and her paintings compel the viewer to a little look closer at the details of nature that we so often miss.
Michelle achieved First Class honours at the Victorian College of the Arts, and has since completed international artist residency programs in New York and Italy. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of Gippsland Art Gallery and The Art Students League of New York, as well as in many private collections both in Australia and abroad.
Featured image: Michelle Molinari, Birds and Bones. Oil on aluminium, 96 x 120cm.