Melissa Kurtz - Artist
SJM: Who are you and what do you do?
MELISSA: I am a wife, a mother of 3, I am strong, an independent thinker, a fly by the seat of my pants girl, I am full of joy and Jesus, I have a very competitive spirit, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I am a pretty butterfly and free spirit. I am a self-taught, mixed media artist. I mostly use acrylic paints, watercolors, and handmade papers in my art. I sometimes use metals, found objects, and fabrics also.
SJM: Why do you do what you do?
MELISSA: In 2005, I was involved in a car accident that left my Suburban wrapped around a concrete light pole. Amazingly, I walked away from it, but was left with a head injury and excruciating neck and upper back pain. I am an interior designer by trade, and my accident left me unable to really work. My days were filled with doctor’s appointments, trying to take care of my 3 young children while my husband was on deployment in the Navy, and unable to work because of the pain in my head, neck, and upper back. It also left me with a deep, undeniable, depression. After about a year of struggling through everything, I realized that part of the problem was that my creativity was so bottled up with nowhere to go. I started searching for something to channel my thoughts and energy into. I was searching Etsy one day for inspiration, and came across some mosaic belt buckles, and thought to myself, I can do better than that, I decided my medium would be gemstones, glass beads, metal beads, and vintage jewelry components. Instead of using grout to secure them, I used glue. Eventually, looking for another challenge, I started painting.
SJM: What is your background?
MELISSA: My background is in Interior Design. I have been a designer in Jacksonville for almost 30 years. I studied Interior Design at Iowa State University and FCCJ in Jacksonville. I managed the decorating department at Brinton’s Paint Company for 7 years before opening my own store, Oak Street Designs, in Riverside in 1996. My partner, Denise Moore, and I had our retail shop and design company until making the decision to close in 2001. I’ve worked out of my home studio ever since. It’s been a very rewarding career that has given me much joy and allowed me to meet some amazing people in the city of Jacksonville. I feel incredibly blessed to do what I do.
SJM: How do you work (explain your process)?
MELISSA: I really like using words or phrases in my work. I’m very deliberate in the papers or books I use to create a mood or inspiration in whatever the subject matter is that I’m creating. My ultimate goal is always to bring a smile or joy to the person who purchases my piece. I am a lover of color, and my pieces are always full of intense, bright, colors. Although I appreciate pastel and neutral paintings, every time I have tried to create a piece like that, the color has a way of creeping in and taking over! I think because of my interior design background, balance, proportion, and texture (visual or tactile) are the most important elements that go into my work.
SJM: How has your practice changed over time & what aspect of your work do you enjoy most?
MELISSA: When I first starting creating my belt buckles and jewelry, I didn’t really consider myself an artist. It was more of an outlet of expression for my mental health and sanity. But when people wanted what I had created, and asked for more, I started to value what I was doing, and it made me want to do more. I don’t think I’m any different from a lot of other artists that look for other avenues to be creative in. When I started painting, I think my work was more 1 dimensional and flat. I tended to not experiment with blending and layering colors. Over the last few years, I’ve become bolder with my color combinations, and layering techniques. I‘ve started using molding pastes and pouring mediums in my work to create even more texture. I’m enjoying the collage effect my work sometimes takes on. I love experimenting with blending and overlapping colors to see how they relate to each other and the papers that are used in the piece. I also love creating paintings with all paper. I use cutting and tearing techniques to create the subject matter and different pattern combinations. I’ve also started creating some Monet like abstracts. I think I get a little lost in the creative process, because I’m always surprised in how the patterns and layers relate to each other in the finished piece and not really knowing necessarily how I got there. I love walking away for a while, then coming back to it and seeing a new combination that I didn’t notice before.
SJM: Did you have a mentor?
MELISSA: My mentor is absolutely my best friend, Jennifer McCully, who is an incredibly talented artist in Orlando, FL. I’ve watched her career from the very beginning, being one of her biggest fans. She was the one who encouraged me to pick up a paint brush beside her and helped me create my first piece. She’s always been very quick to inspire me to follow my heart and pull the creativity from within myself. She’s taught me to look for inspiration everywhere around me.
SJM: What is your strongest memory of childhood?
MELISSA: The two people who I feel have shaped the person I have become would have be my mother and my step mother. My mother always allowed experimentation and encouraged creativity. She taught me how to sew, how to cross stitch, and took my sister and I, to pottery
making and painting classes as children. She taught us to think for ourselves and embrace our own paths. She loved to garden and always filled our yard with tons of different colored plants and flowers. I remember sometimes feeling like a square peg in a round hole when I looked at the people around me, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s given me a confidence in knowing who I am as a person and what I stand for. One of my favorite memories, was “wallpapering” my room with the pages of animals out of my Ranger Rick magazines. I remember always walking into my room and just feeling like I was getting a big hug from all the animals and colors that surrounded me.
SJM: What is your scariest memory of childhood?
MELISSA: My stepmother on the other hand, showed me how to be resilient, strong, and taught me never to give up. She taught me my competitive nature. We had horses, and she got me into barrel racing and western pleasure showing. There were lots of times that I fell off my horse but no matter the dirt or tears involved, I was always made to get back on, even if just to sit on his back for a minute. I was never allowed to give up or throw a pity party for myself. The scariest memory I have of my childhood was the summer between 5th and 6th grade, I happen to be standing on the running board of our small tractor, riding with her while she mowed our pasture. When we were returning the mower attachment to our neighbors that she borrowed it from, she thought she would be kind and mow an area of long grass for them. She hit a large piece of equipment hidden in the grass, and it threw me off the tractor and under the back wheels of our tractor. My right leg got hung up as I fell and it badly got dislocated. I had a broken left collar bone, and crushed the bones in my left hand. I was in the hospital for 3 weeks.
SJM: Have you had any other jobs besides being an artist?
MELISSA: In addition to my work as an interior designer, I worked in my family’s paint and wallcovering store through high school, and I’ve worked in retail clothing stores, and waitressed through college. I also got my real estate license 2 years ago.
SJM: What has been your most memorable response to you work?
MELISSA: I have 2 most memorable responses to my work. The first was at the Riverside Arts Market. I had a booth of my artwork, and a women approached and was looking at my paintings and all of a sudden got so excited at seeing my mixed media work of sunflowers, because I had used the At Home in Mitford book pages to create some of the petals on the sunflowers. It was her favorite book, and sunflowers were her favorite flower. My second memory is of a sweet older man who came into a shop where I was delivering some furniture pieces that I had decoupaged with very brightly patterned papers, and he saw one of my tables and immediately purchased it, telling me that he had just lost his wife, and that the table reminded him of her, and it made him happy.
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