Early work by Melissa West

Melissa West

Melissa Gayle West is a professional painter living in Seattle, Washington, specializing in portraiture. She creates vibrant oil portraits in a style called lyric realism.

Melissa was born and raised in New Orleans, a city of light and color and joie de vivre, a place  which has deeply influenced her art. She belongs to a family of professional portrait artists stretching over four generations. Melissa grew up watching both her mother and grandmother (a protege of Robert Henri) paint portraits in the studio in the family home. Since her aunts and her siblings were also artists, painting and art were a core part of family life. 

Melissa has taught classes on art and creativity at the undergraduate and graduate level at the University of Washington, Antioch University, and Bastyr University. Melissa uses art as a means of self-expression in her career as a psychotherapist and life coach. In her four published books, art is seen as a powerful vehicle for healing.

Melissa returned to art after a serious illness in which she asked herself what was left undone in her life. Painting was the primary answer. She bought paints and canvas the next day, and has been painting like her hair’s on fire ever since.

Melissa loves to create portraits that express each person’s unique personality, those special elements that make them truly “them.” She believes that one of the highest forms of art is to capture the inner life and depth of an individual.  

Melissa studied portraiture at Gage Academy of Art, where one of her portraits won the annual Best of Gage Award. She has studied with David Kassan, a frequent winner of the International Portrait Award from the National Portrait Gallery in London. She is a member of the Portrait Society of America, the American Impressionist Society, and Oil Painters of America. Melissa has been featured in juried shows nationally. Her commissioned portraits of people and pets hang in private homes throughout the United States. 

Artist Statement

My portraits are full of depth and aliveness.  I use light, color, and brushwork to express the unique essence of each individual I paint. I artistically express my deep regard for people and animals through vibrant warm colors and looser, less formal brushwork. My painterly style is accurate but also conveys the inner life and depth of my subjects.

I love the threefold challenge of great portraiture:  Does it record an accurate likeness?  Does it truthfully reflect a unique personality?  Is it a good and pleasing painting in its own right? 

As an artist and psychotherapist, emotional empathy is at the core of my work.  I bring to portraiture the capacity to see the unique essence and beauty of each individual.  When I’m painting a person, I’m inspired to express what is most true and important about their heart and soul.

I approach animal portraiture in the same way.  My aim is to capture the essence of the animal, the reason why they are so deeply loved and cherished. I see the individuality and beauty of each pet I am commissioned to paint.  As a lifelong pet owner, I understand the deep and loving bond between humans and animals, and express that love and caring in the pet portrait.

I create portraits that capture the real person, unlike the stiff and formal portraits that are intended to impress. My portraits are alive, juicy, slightly out of the box, and contemporary.