GREENVILLE — Melissa Anderson was a lawyer in Greenville for 11 years, but one day she woke up and wanted to try something new.
“One thing led to another, and I was on a sabbatical and just took a painting class,” Anderson said. “I’ve never painted other than elementary school, whatever you do there with crayons.”
It was new and presented challenges.
“That’s what painting for me is: creating and then adding and subtracting and trying to figure out how to get where you’re going,” Anderson said.
She said she faced a steep learning curve, which started with that first lesson on mixing paint. A hobby turned into a profession when coworkers and neighbors began to offer to pay for her work.
Twenty-three years later, Anderson paints in her home studio in Greenville. She makes large-scale works, often landscapes of places across South Carolina. One piece hangs at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, and another hangs in the Greenville County Museum of Art. A third is at USC Law School, just down the road from the painting’s subject, Congaree National Park.
Anderson has painted many landscapes but said she’s not partial to one genre: The studio behind her house near downtown Greenville is full of landscapes, florals and still-lifes. One landscape painting is filled with reds, oranges, pinks. Another is blue, green and beige. She prefers the bright colors.
"I don't really want to paint the colors that things are naturally. It gives me the opportunity to kind of interpret it with different colors. For me, I don't want to paint it just as I see it,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s studio is layered with paintings. Four portraits lie on a work table. They toe the line between abstract and impressionist, with wider brushstrokes that coalesce into shapes and shadows that define a face. Anderson lifts a portrait, revealing two other works underneath. It’s about order and disorder, she said.
Connection influences her work. She paints Congaree and thinks of the history of the place, from colonial times up to now. She paints hydrangeas and thinks of her grandmother, whose flower bushes now grow in Anderson’s yard.
Her visits across the state provide subjects for her paintings, like the light that falls through the leaves in the Midland or the voices carrying from a church choir in the Lowcountry. But she also finds inspiration in everyday subjects, such as the flowers snipped from her neighbor’s garden or the features of a stranger’s face at the grocery store.
"I think I've always been aware, but I now look for that,” Anderson said.