Melissa Schappell, a multi-media artist and teacher, is currently exhibiting her artwork at Richard Stravitz Sculpture and Fine Arts Galleries on Laskin Road in Virginia Beach. Let’s meet Melissa and learn more about her art.
TFP: Why is art important today?
MS: It is a language we can all speak. [It’s] a common ground for communication about topics and human experience that may not otherwise be approachable.
TFP: Tell us about your background. How has your upbringing influenced your art?
MS: I was raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended Kutztown University of Pennsylvania where I received a Bachelor of Fine Art and a Bachelor of Science Art Education. In 2020, I received my MFA from Radford University where I also taught art appreciation courses. Now I teach at TCC and the Visual and Performing Arts Academy of Salem High School in Va. Beach.
My experiences with mental health issues from a young age have always informed my work, which explores the spaces between art, psychology, and the semiotics of metaphor, storytelling, and symbolism.
TFP: Do you think artists are born or made?
MS: Artists are born with the raw potential and talent. However, I believe creativity is a process and a skill that requires development and practice.
TFP: Your use of multi-media is unique. How would you describe it? Why are you drawn to these materials?
MS: I am the type of person that would rather order three appetizers instead of one main entree. My use of mixed media came out of being both indecisive and yet stubborn. I don’t like boundaries and rules for what art should be or can be, and I enjoy the tactile challenge and problem solving that comes with non-traditional methods. I also love the spontaneity that can come from unexpected juxtapositions and the dialogue that can be created from them.
TFP: Your works have an abundance of cultural references. What messages does your art convey?
MS: My work often confronts expectations and perceived reality as it relates to gender roles, mental health, relationships, and social constructs. I have always had an interest in the cross-sections between psychology and art. My art practice was born out of my desire to better understand and communicate about my own mental health experiences, but it later grew to encompass research and the experiences of others. Recent bodies of work have explored the environmental factors of mental health, the psychology of expectations, and my experiences with fibromyalgia. I aim to create original mixed media pieces that foster dialogue about current issues by visually expressing them in whimsical, satirical, and symbolic ways.
TFP: Is storytelling important in your art? How so?
MS: Storytelling is essential to my work, but not in the traditional linear way. The works are directional and stage setting, but not conclusive so that the viewer is invited to bring their context and adaptation to the narrative. The viewer and I are co-authors in a way.
TFP: As a TCC professor and teacher at the Visual and Performing Arts Academy of Salem High School in Virginia Beach, you work with student artists. What trends are you seeing among emerging artists?
MS: Students want to make art with a purpose and art that means something to them, but many are afraid of the vulnerability that it requires. There is still a big fear of failure in education right now. Creating work that has a message means they care about it more, and it may place more importance or pressure on the result of that work. I encourage my students to embrace experimentation, trial and error, and to trust the process, which has just as much, if not more, importance than the final result. Ultimately, these kids are facing very real issues and are growing up in a world that is very different from any other generation, and they want to tell you about their perspectives through their artwork.
TFP: What are some of your artistic goals? Personal goals?
MS: My teaching practice and artistic practice will always co-exist. It is in my nature to want to help others in and outside of the classroom. My goals are often about finding the balance between the two alongside my personal life.
TFP: What advice do you have for artists and people who are considering pursuing art?
MS: It depends on if you want to make a career out of it. If so, take business and marketing courses, network, and make artist friends, and be prepared for the grind. It requires a great deal of personal drive, organization, and paperwork so don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek out answers from others in the artist community.
Many people don’t realize that being an artist is running a business, and you have to think about everything from taxes to target audiences. I prefer to diversify my art experiences and stay open minded to multiple avenues of showing my work. I have artwork in Richard Stravitz Sculpture and Fine Art Gallery, I sell work at fine art festivals like Boardwalk Art Show, and I sell through my online store, in addition to exhibiting in the occasional juried exhibitions when I can find the time.
A lot of artists can be shy about putting their work out there or talking to people about their work, but it’s a necessary component. I love meeting the people who collect my work, and fine art festivals give me direct access to them.
Visit melissaschappell.com. Richard Stravitz Sculpture and Fine Arts Galleries is located at 1217 Laskin Road in Va. Beach. Call 757-305-9411 or visit www.stravitzartgallery.com for more information.