Artist Melissa Alley on Mesmerism, Mediumship, Auragraphs & Art

Artist Melissa Alley's relationship with the College and, indeed, mediumship, runs deep. In this interview, she shares her fascination with mesmerism, mediumship, intuitive art and the power of presence...

By: The College of Psychic Studies.   Posted

Mediumistic artist Melissa Alley has a long history with The College of Psychic Studies. Not only did her mother attend classes here (with skills such as psychometry duly passed on to her young daughter), but one of Melissa's beautiful artworks, Aunt Kitty (below left), hangs on the College walls as part of our collection. Melissa studies mediumship with senior College tutor Anthony Kesner, and teaches her ever-popular Make Inspired Inner Portraits Inspired By Photographs workshop at the College, too. As a mesmerist, medium and artist, Melissa has many stories to tell... here, we invite her to share a few!

What does a day in the life of Melissa Alley look like?

"I'm fortunate to work both as an artist and as a hypnotherapist/mesmerist (under my married name of Tecklenberg). I prefer to treat clients in the morning then have lunch followed by painting in the studio. I'm really blessed because I walk across two parks to get there, which includes the bridge across Burgess Park lake (in Walworth, South London, UK). Yesterday, there were baby moorhens and a reed warbler singing away. This act of observation and connection with life really fills me up emotionally and spiritually and helps prepare me for work in the studio.

I find the act of looking and being present is so important, so when I get there I will sit with my current pieces until I get a gut response about what to do next. My process is very much about an energetic, intuitive response, feeling and flow and usually takes quite a lot out of me, so I leave feeling pretty exhausted. After a day like that, I will spend the evening watching tv (with a cat on my lap) and roll in to bed about 11.30pm.

When I don't have clients, I get to the studio pretty early and have the luxury of nothing to break my flow. However, it is completely possible to do very productive work in short spurts. For instance, when my son was little, I could only snatch brief episodes in the studio and had to train myself to get in to the flow very quickly. Other days, I might have a client in the evening so I take the day to work on admin.

In my therapy practice, I'm helping people overcome very deep issues such as emotional abuse and trauma, though recently, I've had quite a few clients who needed help resolving past relationships so that they can attract a new partner. All of this is an utter privilege. I find that my therapy and art practices go hand in hand and feed each other. My paintings are very much about people and people are my passion."

How did you first come to start working with photographs?

"I have always painted intuitively and I was taught by the visionary artist Cecil Collins in the 1980s, so my paintings have hovered between figurative and abstraction. When I joined a mediumship circle (2007-2018), the medium encouraged me to make auragraphs (images above and below left). I loved that my hand would instinctively know what colour to pick up, what mark to make. These drawings became very in-depth and I learnt how to explain them, often drawing out a 'key' so the sitter could interpret it for themselves. 

In 2014, I was invited to exhibit in the old J. H. Stone foundry that was going to be redeveloped. For Deptford Stories (below) I went to the historical library to see what inspiration I could gain from the employment records. I found 'engagement slips' filled by staff on joining the foundry in the 1920s. These included their names, addresses, dates of birth and signatures. I made individual paintings which were like inner portraits and hung the painting above its correlating engagement slip. Each one was very unique to the person and it was fascinating to see them brought to life, hanging in what had been the old foundry staff room, which seemed very fitting.

Inspired by this, I was transfixed at a boot sale by a table of vintage portrait photographs. I bought quite a few and when I was invited to exhibit next door to The Nunnery in Bow, London, I decided to use these photographs of women as my inspiration. 'Aunt Kitty' (below right), which is owned by The College of Psychic Studies, is part of this series. Again, I was totally amazed at the information that flowed out and this was the beginning of my working with photographs.

I began working from Victorian carte des visites and including the photograph on film over the painting. It was fascinating to see how the two interacted. In one of these paintings, for instance, you can see the person from the photograph a bit older with a very dominating male presence standing over her. I want to give a voice to people where they often would not have been able to have much of one in real life. One of this series was included (and sold) in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2021."

Can you share a little about your creative process?

"For decades now, I have worked very much from flow and intuition and I go in to a semi-altered state whilst painting. This started with my earlier paintings when all sorts of people and animals would emerge, on to making auragraphs and then working with photographs etc. I've realised that creating an energetic connection to the photograph or other object of inspiration is very important as all the information flows from that. There are then other considerations such as materials, what kind of brush, pencil, etc, what kind of width of line, what colour etc that has to be decided on whilst retaining flow. That is a challenge that gets easier with practice. 

I visit exhibitions and engage with art. The education that comes from actively looking flows out of us intuitively in to our artwork but with our own individual twist. Personally, I find art from the early Renaissance particularly inspiring. I don't follow any particular religion but there is something deeply affecting about art created out of an act of devotion. The spiritual energy contained in the pieces is something I hope to instil in to my own work."

Apart from creating your work, do you have any spiritual practices that you lean into?

"I have recently experienced uncanny and synchronistic experiences that have lead me to enrol in mediumship classes at The College of Psychic Studies with Anthony Kesner. When I trained with a medium before, it was very much about my drawing. I want to explore my other mediumistic traits. I see this much like the continuing professional development that one is obliged to fulfil as a therapist. 

The better I get at mediumship, the clearer the information I receive, the more I am able to talk about the evidence that is contained in my paintings. This is especially useful as some of the photos I use are antique and the subjects are no longer physically present."

Can you share a little of what you are working on currently?

"I visited the New York Historical Library when I was last there and became transfixed by a collection of cabinet cards contained within the collection. These are from the Vanderbilt Costume Ball, 26th March 1883. I'm inspired by the beautiful costumes and studio settings. For instance, if someone was dressed as a bee, the background would be some woodland setting. There seems to have been a real trend for people to dress up as Dresden pottery figurines. I've started the series and it's quite fascinating when you relate the photo to the painting as you can see how the choice of costume expressed an aspect of their inner life. To balance these paintings of very privileged New York society, I have found employment records for the Aster Hotel from the 1930s. On one side it lists their position often with a piece of paper tacked on with the reason for their dismissal, such as 'too slow', or 'inebriated'. (Watch Melissa showing us around these Vanderbilt Costume Ball works in this video).

Another body of work I have been focusing on has been combining my painting with my practice as a mesmerist. I've been collecting water from the lake I pass, then mesmerising it to amplify the information that it holds and adding paint to it and letting the images take form. The results have been so exciting that I decided to do the same with people's DNA. So, I've been creating people's portraits by collecting their DNA in the form of saliva, adding it to water, mesmerising it and the paint and and again, this has been so illuminating and inspiring!"

How did you discover the College of Psychic Studies?

"I come from a long line of women fascinated by mediumship and it was my mother who introduced me. I can remember her doing a course at the College when I was a teenager. Inspired by what she was studying, she got me to practice psychometry on a piece of someone's jewellery which was a very memorable experience."

What is your favourite aspect of teaching your workshops at the College?

"Well, you have probably picked up by now that I'm totally engaged by people. I absolutely love nurturing and inspiring and if I can help someone start on their personal journey to becoming a spirit-based artist, I'm really excited about that. The interesting thing about this way of working is that it is so individual to each person so a lot of it is about our relationship to ourselves and our inner critic. If you know how to deal with that horrible, negative voice, connect to your own inner knowing and allow yourself to freely express, you are on to a winner, so to speak!"

What advice would you give to a budding spirit-inspired artist?

"Pretty much the above, but I would add that you need to give yourself space and be patient. Sometimes we make artwork that we aren't ready to see, by which I mean, that we look at it and we are very critical because we aren't ready to see the information contained within it. However, if we put it aside for a few days, or maybe weeks and return to it, we can find that there is something of great value. 

When I made the body of work for the Apartment show (which included the piece owned by the College), I couldn't see any of the information held within them at the time when in reality, there were often figures and animals and all sorts of references. It was when I returned to them a couple of days later that I realised their real content and value. So, be kind to yourself and be playful! Let yourself experiment and be imperfect because if we strive for perfection, we often close off other more intuitive ways of being."

Quickfire round:

Coffee or tea or…? Most definitely tea; Earl Grey tea leaves made in a pot, but I also need a cup of strong coffee to start my day.

Favourite movie or book…? I love quite surreally funny and magical movies but a book that made a lasting impression was To Kill a Mockingbird because (to me) it is a book about fairness and empathy which is so beautifully crafted that when I read it as a very young person, I was totally able to understand the emotional intelligence of it.

Song that holds the most memories for you? My sister and I used to sing Summertime whilst improvising harmonies over each other. I enjoyed it so much because it was very creative and therefore inspiring but also because it was about responding to the other, willing to adapt to whatever note the other was singing.

Go to breakfast? The lazy part of me would say peanut butter on wholemeal toast probably mixed with something sweet like a banana sliced on top.

Top travel destination? New York…. I love the energy but also the art. There is so much to see and we have very close friends, like family, who live there so it feels like another home when we get the chance to go. We're also about to go to Venice for the Biennale, which I also love. These big injections of art are so inspiring (as well as completely exhausting!).

One thing you can't live without? Well, family and friends of course, but also cats!! I could never imagine my life without some feline company.

Star sign? My star sign is Taurus, in fact I just had my 62nd birthday (yikes!)

Don't miss Melissa Alley's wonderful in-person workshop:

Banner to Melissa Alley's workshop

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