By: Monteque Pope-Le Beau
Edited By: Colleen Page
Images By: Melissa Moss
The Art Of Monteque went to the sleepy artistic hamlet of Asheville North Caroline in the colorful fall to speak with artist Melissa Moss who is wonderfully gifted. After working in publishing for sometime Melissa chose to leave, for a life that would make her happy and make her dream come true. Melissa’s art is both refreshing and uplifting as Melissa herself.
What was your family life like growing up?
Melissa Moss: It was just me and my mom. I’m an only child and my dad was not around. My mom was and is amazing. She treated me with respect and always listened to me. It definitely wasn’t easy, raising me on her own, with just a teachers salary. But she never made me feel like a burden.
In what way did the time you grow up in influenced you?
MM: I’m not really sure. I’m definitely liberal so maybe I’m a product of the 70’s. I still love the fashion and colors from that era.
It was a great time for music, art, and fashion.
MM: Yes it was.
How and why did you come to be an artist?
MM: I had always wanted to be an artist, but didn’t really have the confidence to pursue it. I didn’t even know if I had the skills to do it. I was in a well paying job in publishing and absolutely hated it. It took being that miserable to really look at my life and realize that I had to do something else. I thought about opening a gallery. But then I took some classes at UCLA and realized I could draw and that I loved combining color in unusual ways and then it just took off from there. Ideas were popping and I got into a couple of galleries with my early work. In many ways, I’m glad that I hit rock bottom with my career because if I had been happier I might not have been forced to get out.
The path of an artist can be hard sometimes what inspired you to follow this path?
MM: I have always loved art and have collected a lot over the years. Once I realized that I could actually make art and had a voice, it just kind of happened on its own.
Was your family supportive of your decision to become an artist?
MM: Early on in my career, only a couple of years out of college, I quit my job to go backpacking in Europe. This made my family nervous. They thought I was throwing my career away and that potential employers would question the gap in my resume. But it was something I had to do and had been saving to do it for years. I ended up getting a great job in Chicago when I came back. And most employers that asked about the gap in my resume thought it was great that I had gone to Europe. They were envious.
That is something to be envious about. Not everyone gets to do something like that, but how did your family take this new change?
MM: With this switch in my career my family understood it. They saw how unhappy I was and knew that I had a safety net. My family are now my biggest supporters.
Did you have mentors to help you in your artistic development and who were your mentors?
MM: I didn’t really have a mentor. I did look at a lot of art though. My favorite thing to do was visit galleries in L.A. Early on I got accepted into a coop gallery in Venice, CA and there I met some amazing artists and friends. We would get together and bounce ideas off of each other. I would consider them my mentors even though we were all going through the same things together. Their names are Cathy Nichols, Outi Harma and Marisa Haedike.
It is truly important to have that sense of community along with the support from your colleagues and peers.
MM: I can’t agree more.
What were the early years as an emerging artist like and what was your “Aha Moment” that made you realize you had made the right decision?
MM: Everything happened quickly in the early years. Etsy was just getting off the ground and all of my artist friends were talking about it and joining. The coop gallery in Venice was where everything really started though. Once I figured out how to make cards and prints my sales really took off. My “Aha Moment” was probably when the checks started coming in and I realized that people actually wanted to buy my stuff.
When you start to see the checks coming in, that can be an empowering moment. When did you know this was who you were meant to be?
MM: It’s sad to say, but I think it’s when I started making money. I hate that art is tied to money but it’s the harsh reality. And now being an artist is who I am. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Or going back to a 9-5 job.
What was or is your “Dark Nights Of The Soul” as an artist?
MM: My struggle has always been painting what I want vs. what will sell. I think this is a struggle for many artists. I gravitate towards dark and sad subject matters. But they don’t sell as well. And I have to make a living. If I can combine the darkness with whimsy they do better. But it is always a struggle. After the one-two punch of Valentine’s Day and then Mother’s Day I have to take a long break from “sweet”.
I think we all do!
What is the driving force behind your work and what is your process?
MM: I think the driving force is to create “a moment”. Something special and magical that will make the viewer feel something. My process is to start with a detailed sketch. I am not the type of artist that can just start painting on an empty canvas (or wood, in my case). If the title of the piece comes to me first it’s better, but I work the other way too. I am very particular about the colors and I think most of my time goes into mixing the perfect color. I know when it’s not working and have to fix it. I drive myself crazy sometimes.
I don’t think you could have stated any other way.
MM: Thank you.
You welcome. Could you tell us what projects have you worked on that you are most proud of and why?
MM: I think I’m most proud of the work for my solo show in Hong Kong in 2012. My best friend Joe had died earlier that year and the paintings are about our relationship and getting through the grief. I also changed my painting style for the show. I started working with glazes and blending the colors for a more gradated look instead of the flat colors of my earlier work. So much emotion went into those paintings and I think it shows. I only wish he could have seen them.
With what is going in the world and the attacks on arts what keeps you motivated?
MM: I like trying new things. I try to reinvent myself every year or so. New styles, new creatures, new colors. I have to mix it up otherwise I get sad and don’t feel like painting.
What are your thoughts on artist support and project funding? In what ways has it helped and in what ways does it need to improve?
MM: It’s interesting. I think it’s a good thing. There are people out there who want to support the arts but aren’t really sure how. The kickstarter campaigns are a great way to get people involved.
What is your opinion on the state of the world and particularly the United States?
MM: It makes me sad. Election day was yesterday. I live in Asheville, NC. The city is very progressive but the state is not. It is so strange to me how everything has become political. Even things you think would just be common sense.
We live in a different world now, nothing is as simple as it use to be.
MM: That is very true.
Looking back do you have any regrets or things you would do differently?
MM: I wish I had started off making art. I wish I had gone to art school, but I also believe that everything happens for a reason. Having the job in publishing allowed me to build up a savings that let me take sometime to figure out the art thing. But I do sometimes wish I had more proper training.
You do know some of the greatest artist of our time were not trained?
MM: I know, but I think it would make me feel better about it.
How do you see the role of the arts in todays world and what do you think is needed to keep the arts thriving?
MM: With all of the social media out there it is really easy to see fantastic art. And to stay connected with that artist. That being said, it also makes it harder to be seen and found. There is so much out there and that’s good. But getting through it can be overwhelming But it will keep the art world thriving.
What are your views on art education?
MM: I think it is so important for it to be offered to anyone who wants it. Arts spending is often the first place to cut and it shouldn’t be. I think teaching art is different from when I was a kid. I remember in my art classes being told exactly how to do something. I remember one exercise where you had to make a scribble drawing, but couldn’t pick up the marker from the paper. Well, mine looked unbalanced and I had to go back and fill in some of the gaps. I got a bad grade on it. But I was seeing it as art and it bothered me that it didn’t look good. I think the process is important to learn, but interpretation is also important. Finding your voice is more important than doing it “correctly”. In my opinion.
What do you think about the state of our educational system and how do you think it can be improved?
MM: This also makes me very sad. North Carolina is last in the nation for teachers salaries. I don’t understand how this is a political issue. Doesn’t everyone want their child to have the best education? Why is education spending considered “liberal”?
I don’t know. I thing to have a nation you have to a good educational system and that means making sure the teachers are taken care of.
How do you feel about communities and how the art plays a role in helping them to thrive?
MM: Asheville is just one big art community and I love it. So many people here are following their dreams. And most are not getting rich from it. It’s just what they are driven to do. It brings everyone closer, I think. Even when times are tough, which they are.
Asheville is a wonderful place full of gifted artistic people in a beautiful setting.
MM: Yes it is.
What are your thoughts on the environment?
MM: I think it’s strange that this is political too. I do all I can. I hope that it becomes an issue that is important to everyone someday.
What are you passionate about?
MM: Art, of course. But also just being happy. I wasted a lot of years being unhappy so it is important to stay in a good place. This is why I change my style a lot. I need to be interested and challenged.
What is your favorite destination to travel to?
MM: The beach. No question. Swimming in the ocean is one of my favorite things to do. It’s relaxing and exciting at the same time. I wish we lived closer to an ocean.
In your free time what do you like to do?
MM: I love spending time with my family. My son, Sam, 7, is so funny and sweet. We have a great time together.
What is your favorite memory?
MM: It would have to be the day my son was born. I had been through hell and back with the delivery. Twenty one hours of labor and then an emergency c-section. Just holding him afterward and knowing that he was perfect and finally there. The doctor even commented on how happy I was considering what I had been through. But everything I had been through didn’t matter after I was finally holding him.
That is a wonderful memory.
MM: I think so!
What is your least favorite memory?
MM: Oddly, some of the stuff from my junior high years still comes back to me. The humiliation and meanness. It was a horrible time, but I think it is for most people. But I can still remember those feelings of insecurity. I hope my son has a better time of it.
In this day in age, I think he will.
MM: I hope so.
What moves you creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
MM: Creatively, it is other art. When I see something amazing that someone has painted I feel both excited and envious. But it inspires me to do more and push myself.
Well just to let you know your art inspires others also.
MM: I am honored. I wouldn’t consider myself a spiritual person, but emotionally; random acts of kindness usually make me tear up. Those people are still out there. It’s nice to be reminded. And my son moves me, almost daily. It is going way too fast.
Who is the person you look up to and why?
MM: I look up to my mother. She raised me on her own and loved me to pieces. We talk almost everyday. I also look up to my son. He is so confident and sure of himself. I was not that kid growing up so it still amazes me how strong he is.
Who is the person you look forward to and why?
MM: I have to say, I have some pretty amazing friends. I am very lucky. They are the most supportive and funny people I know. Unfortunately they are scattered across the country. But we always pick up right where we left off.
What is this the goal or purpose you are chasing?
MM: Just to be happy. Sounds corny, I know, but having been unhappy I realize how important it is. Life is short. Another cliché. But true.
I think to be happy is what life is about. I am all about the corny.
MM: I won’t tell!
If you were not an artist what would be your ideal job, where and why?
MM: That is a very tough question. I honestly don’t know because I had another career and wasn’t very happy. I will say though, that some of my jobs were great and it all had to do with my co-workers. If you are surrounded by great people it makes the job so much better.
How do you feel when you are in nature?
MM: At home. I am not the 10-mile-hike kind of girl, but I am aware of nature everywhere. The tenacity of nature blows me away. The will and ability to survive. It drives me crazy when I am weeding our backyard, but you have to respect it. I find so much beauty in the tiniest of plants. They speak to me. I create from that place.
What a wonderful place.
If we circle back to the monumental task of an artist to create change what impact do you want your work to have and why?
MM: I used to dream of being in big galleries or museums one day. But not anymore. I’m thrilled when someone connects with my work and takes the time to let me know. I am very proud to have my work hanging on a lot of walls. And to be given as gifts. I think that’s what it’s all about. It’s definitely a smaller vision, but more rewarding.
Do you have any future projects if so what are they about?
MM: Right now I am just painting for the holidays. I usually have collections for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
Is there a link so people can find out more and help?
Is there an on going theme or premise in your work?
MM: I think it is just creating “a moment” as I mentioned before. I want some emotion to be felt. And for the viewer to be taken to another fantastical world. I very rarely paint things in the color they are supposed to be. Like blue sky, green grass. Maybe I had too many art teachers early on telling me what to do.
Where do you see yourself in five, ten, twenty years?
MM: Hopefully doing exactly what I’m doing. My hand is still steady and ideas are still flowing. I can only hope that will continue to be the case. I am very happy with my life right now. I wouldn’t change a thing. [AOMR]