Saturday, February 18, 2012

Wisdom and Whimsy: Meet Melissa Townsend, Artist

"Zoe" by Melissa Townsend

Meet Melissa Townsend, Artist.

I first saw Melissa's compelling owl paintings on the wonderful design blog I was enchanted. One (at least) of her paintings is on my short list of new art I want to acquire. I can't exactly tell you why I am so drawn to her owl paintings, but perhaps it is that interesting combination of intensity and whimsy. I think she has captured something special. When I interviewed her, I gained a bit more understanding behind the power of the paintings.

Melissa's statement about the owl series is quite profound.

The owl/bird paintings come from a place of desiring freedom in life. A freedom to be and to exist with purpose, with great delight, even when suffering comes. Opportunity to discover the depths of who you are, your potential, and your biggest dreams. Freedom that speaks to the profoundness of endurance, and not giving up. Not so long ago somebody said this to me: "on the other side of pain is break-through." I have realized this to be a true statement.

"Burton" by Melissa Townsend

"Carl" by Melissa Townsend

"Olivia" by Melissa Townsend

"Stewart" by Melissa Townsend

"William" by Melissa Townsend

I got to ask Melissa a few questions about herself and her work.

Q. How do you describe your work to people?

A. Most of the time my work appears whimsical, fun, light and quirky. However, the work is quite intentional on a deeper emotional and spiritual level. I sort of imagine the painting being infused with a message of hope and a richness that is felt more than anything. I have found that the measure of depth in certain pieces is usually quite unexpected by the viewer. That is why most of the time it is left unspoken. But, the deeper meaning is important to me and definitely present.

Q. What led you to the work you do today?

A. Definitely a lot of doodling with my favourite pencils, playing with colour and paints; looking at photography and pretty things; letting my imagination run; overcoming fear and doubt and of course breaking some art school rules.

Q. What is your background and training?

A. At age 12 we moved from central Alberta to a secluded, out of the way small town in Northern British Columbia where art training was limited. My parents sent me to private watercolour classes from a nearby neighbour who painted for fun. Soon after that I started to attend more specialized out of town summer school art classes. Because we were so isolated, my parents ordered art supplies for me through the mail. I still have one of the paint brushes, a palette and a couple of the paints from that time, just for keepsakes. After high school with 2 local Scholarships and the graduating Art Career Award, I headed to Malaspina University College, now called Vancouver Island University. I later transferred to NSCAD University, in Halifax, where I graduated with a Major in Fine Art and Minor in Drawing. I continue to study on and off with local artists and through the local Extended Studies Program at NSCAD University.

Q. How did creativity emerge in your life?

A. I drew and daydreamed from the beginning. It was almost a problem. Ha! Indeed there are crucial things that have impacted and inspired the creative side of me. I have been very influenced by my dad, a musician and music teacher, who continuously played stunning music around my brothers and I! I can't forget my mom's inventive cooking. She is like a cyclone in the kitchen and without exception, composes the most incredible masterpiece dishes, every time. But it was when I was 12, during a summer art class where I distinctly remember being quite proud of this little bird I had made out of pencil crayons. My instructor seemed very pleased with my work. I could see that my parents saw something special too, something creative, worth looking into. This was a pivotal moment where I really started to sense that push of wanting to create. I cannot emphasize enough how the act of dreaming has been a key ingredient for my inspiration and in making art!

Q.  What is the source of your inspiration?

A. So many different things. Excitement and hope, if you can imagine the feeling being tangible. Dreaming crazy big dreams and journeying through faith kinda go together for me. Interior design, beautiful photography, other artist's work, pattern, colour, fabric, the sky, the plains of Alberta, a special moment, somebody's story, music and knowing that I'm doing what my heart desires. When I work hard, it inspires me to want to work harder. I guess to sum it up, all of life inspires me and I never know when inspiration will hit.

Q. What other creative outlets do you have?

A. I love eclectic (vintage & modern) house design. I like to draw house plans, it's a little bit of a hobby. I love walking really fast with my dog, Walker. I love hosting intimate dinner parties, but I barely have time for that sort of thing these days. And sometimes my husband and I sing together.

Q. Who are your favorite artists and why?

A. I love contemporary American painter, Melissa Peck. She inspired me from the start and I just love her subject matter and cheerful perspective. We've spoken a little over email and I'd love to meet her one day. I admire her vibrant colours, her pencil marks and how her work makes me feel. Something about her work makes me feel like I'm home. 

More recent discoveries would be Samantha Fox, Michelle Armas and Miranda Skoczek. I am completely swept away by their skill, mark making and colour palettes!

I also have my favourite local Canadian artists: Dennis Austin Reid, Ambera Wellman, Drew Klassen and Barbara McLean to name a few. These artist's make some of my most favourite art!

I have so much respect for French artist, Degas. I saw his work in Paris and was surprisingly overcome with a lot of emotion and inspiration all at once. It was amazing! Also, there's Jackson Pollock. I appreciate his story of his success and heartache. It grips me. Canadian artist, William Kurelek is another favourite. I grew up with my dad reading to us the books that Kurelek illustrated. Plus my dad is also Ukrainian and grew up close to where Kurelek lived. I feel a special connection to Kurelek's work.

Q. What are a few of your own favorite pieces/works and why?

A. My favorite works are usually the ones I've just finished. So truly, I don't think I've made my favorite work yet.

Q. What music is moving you these days?

A. I will always feel a special connection to classical and instrumental music because of my dad and my childhood memories. Lately, I've had Jeremy Riddle playing on repeat. I also really enjoy listening to stories while I paint. My music selection tends to change often and sometimes I need total silence while I work, especially if the work is difficult or intense.

Q. When people see your work, what will they know about you?

A. Of course different people will see different things. Some people will see that I love to have fun. Others will feel the depth and seriousness that I tend to find difficult speaking about. Overall, I would want people to know that I believe in hope above anything else. It's as though the paint itself is holding hope.

       "It's as though the paint itself is holding hope."

Q. What question do you wish people would ask you?

A. I wish that I could ask people more intimate questions and listen to them tell me their story and hear about their own connections to my work. Then maybe I'd be able to open up more and tell those people everything that's happening in the work. With the work up on the wall, I already feel as though I am being quite vulnerable. More incoming questions can start to freak me out. I'd like to know more about people before I share.

Q. What are a few of your favorite things?

A. I really love family, friends and my dog more than anything. I love my mom's cooking, old wooden floors, sparkly things; big windows so the sun can shine in; the prairies; the big prairie skies; pretty pillows; hand crafted things and unique necklaces.

Q. How do you curate your life?

A. I try to evaluate the temperature of my heart... I ask myself "is this a good idea for me - or is this not?" I tend to take a lot of time with this.

Q. Any advice for people trying to follow their dreams?

A. Don't doubt yourself! Overcome fear and anxiety, because those things can steal your dreams. Fully believe in your dreams, especially if they seem impossible! And no matter what kind of bad day you've just had or no matter how discouraged a person has made you feel, don't let your dreams go. You are the only person in the world just like you. And you are the only person that can live out your own dreams. Mila Mulroney expressed it best when she said "you were born an original, don't die a copy!"

Q. What would you want for your last meal?

A. Most definitely a big plate of my momma's & grandma's Ukrainian cooking!! And maybe a nice charcuterie tray.

Q. What is your philosophy of life in 12 words or less?

A. Your dreams are precious, protect them and never let anything steal them.

Q. Where can we find you online?


Melissa Townsend

I love that the first drawing Melissa can remember was a bird. And now her owl series is so compelling. I have no doubt she will take flight.

1 comment:

  1. I have two pieces of Melissa's work and everytime I look at them first I smile, 2nd I think of her and 3rd I can't believe how much I love her work!! Now...I have to have an owl!!