Old Meets New in the Art World

A couple of weeks ago I attended an art opening at the lovely Southport Galleries here in Connecticut, which recently celebrated its first successful year in business. Nestled in the heart of charming Southport Village, the gallery is housed in a former hardware store that has been meticulously restored and transformed into the current light filled space.

In keeping with the tone of this historic New England harbor town, full of  Georgian, Victorian and Federal homes, the original wainscoting, tin ceiling, and roughly-hewn hardware store counter tops were repurposed to retain the authentic vintage flavor. The new gallery is home to both American Masters and contemporary artists who appeal to the area’s sophisticated clientele. Owned Kelsey and Sissy Biggers (TV host and regular Today Show lifestyles contributor), and managed by Katherine Cissel and daughter Sarah Biggers, the gallery is breathing new life into the local cultural landscape.

Seahorse, fresco secco and silver leaf, 36 x 26 inches

The evening I visited was part of the gallery’s First Friday series, when, once a month, they present the work of a contemporary local artist. I was lucky enough to be there when Melissa Barbieri‘s show Indigo was debuting. There was a great turnout and by the time I arrived, quite a few pieces already had red dots. There’s Sissy below in the white jacket.

photos above by John Simoudis

Melissa is a classically trained fine artist, muralist and fresco painter. Now with studios in both Greenwich and Essex, CT, she grew up in Fairfield, learning to paint on site in the Southport Harbor with her grandmother. Starting at 14, she began studying with Frank Covino at his well known studio and her interest in Italian Renaissance methods continued at The Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota. But it was her many trips to Florence and Rome that inspired her to start working with Fresco techniques.

photo by John Simoudis

The series of paintings in the show were produced using the Fresco Secco and tempera methods of Renaissance Italy, an ancient aqueous medium, where all ingredients are organic and come from the earth. The primary substance in Fresco is calcium carbonate, which is the main component in coral, algae and seagrass. Here is Melissa introducing the show that evening

with her description of the series

In this series, Indigo, I chose the deep and ancient blue as the backdrop for my archipelago images. This color  has a rich history as an organic compound which which was prized in ancient civilizations as a dye used in  textiles and printing dating back from India and  Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. In this series I have also introduced the use of genuine silver leaf, 23 k Italian gold leaf, and French India inks.

As you can see, the use of the silver leaf, as below, gives the art a 3 dimensional quality.

These deeply saturated panels evoke the colors of the sea and would be perfect in a house by the water. And just as the gallery’s antique space represents old world craftsmanship reborn and revitalized, Melissa Barbieri’s work, using the time honored technique of fresco, is a melding of the ancient and modern.

Melissa’s works are held in numerous private collections thoughout the United States and Europe. In addition, she recently completed mural commissions in two ocean front homes.

She is currently working on a large-scale nautical chart in fresco for a waterfront residence in Groton Long Point as well as being commissioned for a series of fresco paintings for a pool house in Miami Beach.

The table above in Melissa’s Greenwich studio is an antique pedestal table she refinished and then painted a compass rose on top to resemble inlaid wood. Here you can see some more works in her studio

And if you’d like to see how Melissa’s aesthetic translates to her home, take a look at the charming 1802 post-and-beam house in Essex that she shares with her husband, featured in this CT Cottages & Garden article photographed by Tim Lee.

So if you’re in or passing through the area, I recommend a stop at the lovely Southport Galleries. Not only can you see Melissa’s show, but the work of many other featured artists. And if you should ever need, they also offer curatorial, estate, conservation and research services as well.

31 thoughts on “Old Meets New in the Art World

  1. I’m enchanted by Melissa’s art. Seeing centuries-old techniques applied to a contemporary aesthetic is inspiring. I’m imagining sea-side home with terrific bones and even better updates, with lots of white and neutrals… high and low mixed with old and new…. and one or two or more of these gorgeous pieces on the walls. Delightful!
    I love that I am always introduced to something or someone new on your blog! XO

  2. How marvelous! My Mother owns a set of the most exquisite fish plates that belonged to her Grandmother. The hung at my Aunts and I admired them for such a long time. They remind me of Melissa’s work, detailed, elegant yet an element of restraint.
    Thank-you for sharing.

  3. Melissa’s work is amazing..thanks for the intro! I have never been to Southport…it can’t be that far, I think I need to plan a trip!

  4. The sand dollar work of art is just crazy beautiful! Not just because it had amazing dimension, but her thought process into the layers of where the eye will go is incredible. I was a fine arts and design student in college. Painting was one of my basic courses and I always loved it, but it was not the path that I could naturally call home. She is talent! XO, Kelly

  5. My daughter is considering an
    art major in a couple of years
    when she leaves for college,
    so this is very inspiring. Can’t
    wait to share it with her, as
    her other passion is marine
    biology!! Gorgeous work and
    I love the shot of Melissa’s
    house, as well!
    xx Suzanne

  6. I do love the artwork as it is so fresh. Some of it reminds me od some advertising copy the Dali did for Schiaparelli cosmetics and skincre back in the 1930’s

  7. gorgeous collection…love the subject…and the use of silver leaf to hi-lite the subject yet a little more so… so beautiful….

  8. Wow, Melissa is one talented lady. The detail shot from the mural shows off how detailed the pieces are, I just love it. Thank you for introducing me to another new artist!

    May your Thursday be wonderful,

  9. Gorgeous gallery..was only in Southport once…and I remember it being such an incredibly charming and beautiful town. This gallery looks wonderful and her work is stunning, love her under the sea paintings..the colors are so pretty…how gorgeous would these be for a coastal home! She is very talented. The silver leaf effect on the seahorse is just stunning. Great post..thanks!

  10. Melissa’s work is absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful! Am so happy you shared this. I need to squeeze in a visit to the gallery. Definitely worth the trip, from the looks of these paintings.

    ~ E

  11. These have to be seen to be believed! Unfortunately many of the photos don’t show the amazing depth that the leaf on the fresco creates, although the sand dollar photo pretty well shows it! congrats to mb, nice show, unbelievable turnout. I’ve used her work in a project in Montauk. Perfection!

  12. The textures that the silver leaf provides in your work is amazing. I traveled from California hoping to continue my quest for unique creations and luckily was able to attend the opening of your show. It was like nothing I have ever seen. It was so fresh and new, but classic and simple. Where has anyone seen fresco in recent years by a local artist? The collection does not tire you, it actually leaves you in a quiet awe, as you move from one piece to the next. I personally was so impressed to see the mixed medium of silver leaf and fresco. The gold leaf mermaid and titan was breathtaking and such a surprise to all at the show. I can still remember the underwater scene, so tranquil. Hope you can show in California soon.

  13. Hi Melissa…Very pleased to watch your career develop. I have always thought you could be a great teacher. We need to protect our ancient craft. I miss teaching in Connecticut. Would you consider collaborating with your octogenarian teacher to resurrect an interest in Classical Academic Art, in your area ? I know you have a studio. Is it large enough for a class of 10? What I have in mind is to rent the space from you for a one week class, and have you conduct additional classes at a lower cost, following my curriculum; perhaps one a month, between my annual visits. Surely you remember my course of study. We could kick it off by scheduling a free screening of my DVD#11, ” Paint Like a Renaissance Master “, which shows some of my work and introduces our program. You could advertise the free screening from Stamford to Milford, and surely fill some seats. The DVD sells the program. Art Clubs like The Stamford Art league might have a large room for the free screening. Please give it some thought. It could build some income for you. My schedule is listed on my website frankcovino.com Look it over and pick a week, perhaps in the Summer or Fall. I look forward to your answer…..Frank

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