Many of Mellor’s paintings operate on two distinct layers: a realistic, lovingly rendered element of portraiture, and then a scrum of defacement or visual noise thrown on top. A 2010 painting of a young Dustin Hoffman would be pretty straightforward, if not for the marks and scribbles marring his face, and the fact that the artist has scrawled “I won’t pay your price so it’s your turn to run” across his forehead. Often her subjects are besieged by a sort of vandalism that verges on zombification; the aura of celebrity becomes a pall of horror.
She’s comparatively gentle here. But that doesn’t mean Mellor’s “Sirens” get the glamour shot treatment: they’re still saddled with indignity and absurdity. A portrait of Seeta Indrani (playing police constable Norika Datta in the British series The Bill, which debuted in 1984 and ran until 2010) finds her chewing on a rainbow-colored leaf, with what’s either a part of a gun or a camera soldered to her right eye. Connie Hyde, playing police constable Cathy Bradford on the same show, is seen wielding a raised baton, her face overtaken by a bizarre, frog-colored slime.
By hijacking the narratives of a very particular fictional universe—the female-forward police procedural—Mellor manages her own story, one that’s open-ended, all red herring. By closely cropping her subjects, she ensures that we’re missing all the other trappings of cop drama: the crime, the victim, the clues, the catharsis. Instead—like Lolita Chakrabarti, depicted here playing police constable Jamilla Blake—we’ve got one ear curiously pressed against a brick wall, trying to make some sense of what’s on the other side.