Getting to Know Melissa Shaak

We are happy to introduce our newest Core artist member Melissa Shaak. Below she talks a bit about where she is coming from and the artistic journey that led her here.

Melissa Shaak

Melissa at Fountain Street reception.jpg

I stepped into art-making in mid-life, seemingly by accident. A dear friend happened to mention an experiment she had tried in her work with hospice patients, asking them to respond with their preferences for paint colors and combinations. I left that conversation with a deep longing, wondering if perchance some kind soul might do that for me when I was dying. The next morning, I awoke with a happy realization—maybe I didn’t have to wait until I was dying. I called my friend. When I arrived at her house, she had containers of tempera paint lined up on the table and a big roll of white paper spread out on the floor. The prompt that she used to start me off was, “What color wants to go first?” And thus it began.

That was a decade ago. What a joyful journey it has been. In the early years I took courses with Adria Arch, who offered a rich variety of methods to tap what she calls “The Infinite Well” of creativity. The most accessible for me was making monotypes with a gel plate—applying acrylic paint with a brayer, hand-pressing paper into the plate, pulling it back, scraping through layers, then repeating, again and again. Each new image was a revelation. This way of working, “indirectly” (i.e., applying paint to the plate rather than onto paper or canvas) and with a brayer (rather than brush), gave me an entrée to an intuitive, productive path. It allowed me to clear the hurdle of my fixed image of artist with paintbrush, palette, oils, canvas, smock and, oh yes, beret.     

Along the way I shifted to painting directly on paper. I wanted to create images larger than I could produce with a gel plate. While making this big change, I retained many aspects of my monotype process. I enlisted my printmaking tools—the brayer to apply the paint and a palette knife to scrape away. I used the same kind of paint, fluid acrylics. I continued building up layers in an unplanned and improvisational way. Gradually, other shifts occurred as well. I took up brushes and have used them with growing frequency. I took delight in paintings that started to appear surreal or, better yet, whimsical. I took courses at Tufts’ Museum School with Robert Siegelman, who generously encouraged my impulses to add performative elements to my 2D work. Who knows what else will emerge? I can’t wait to see!  

I mentioned that it has been a joyful journey. Even with the ups and downs inherent in art making, I count my lucky stars every day. There have been many wonders along the path, but three stand out as most memorable: first, the surprising moment when I realized that my attic could make a very serviceable art studio; second, when I “married the muse” in a performance piece at the New Art Center’s Creativity Lab; and, finally, when I was invited to join Fountain Street Gallery. I’m thrilled beyond words to be part of this dedicated and richly-talented community. Anyone have a beret?