Sunday 21 January 2018

What Lies Beneath: Blondi, Birba and Pippo Attacking a Porcupine by Holly Melia

Blondi, Birba and Pippo Attacking a Porcupine by Holly Melia, Watercolour on handmade cotton paper

Blondi, Birba and Pippo Attacking a Porcupine by Holly Melia
Blondi, Birba and Pippo Attacking a Porcupine by Holly Melia

Niall MacMonagle

'I live right in the middle of the Tuscan hills, surrounded by olive groves, vineyards and oak woods." How's that for an address? Beats Buckingham Palace or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue any day.

It's where artist Holly Melia - raised in Kerry - now lives. Her neighbours include "wild boar, porcupines, roe deer, badgers and foxes". But with foxes, "it's a love/hate relationship as I have always kept hens, even as a child. I was the hen minder!" Protecting the henhouse aside, how wild is wild? "Don't corner a wild boar or porcupine with their young and don't stand on a viper!"

The hills are lined with rows of grape vines and olive trees. "I love the dark cypresses silhouetted against the sky and the seasonal changes when the vines go from acid green in spring to deeper green and then to rusty oranges and reds."

Melia's favourite subjects are animals, tropical plants and flowers, and this work features her neighbour's dogs: "Blondi (centre) is friendly, intelligent and mother to not-so-intelligent Birba (left, meaning naughty), and Pippo (right), the one I don't trust. I was minding them, allowed them out only one at a time or they'd head off at top speed chasing porcupines. They'd come back stuck with quills, evidence of the porcupine's tough fight. Blondi lost sight in one eye, Birba had to have an eye removed, Pippo, the leader of the pack, rarely got injured. The dogs escaped one evening. I couldn't sleep with the worry and they came back covered in quills. Birba had one right through her nose."

This watercolour is a savage work. This is Nature "red in tooth and claw", and yet those leaves against the deep blue sky make it beautiful.

Holly Melia couldn't imagine anyone wanting "such a savage scene on the wall!" but "a lovely Norwegian bought it for his wife. She loved it. They had holidayed in our farmhouse and Pippo used to follow them to the local restaurant in the evenings and wait outside."

Melia's work also hangs in Ireland, Italy, England, America, Canada, and Switzerland.

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