Color Theorist Painted Herself an Escape from the Cutthroat Publishing World

Behind that sunny California smile is a shrewd West Asheville artist who created her own path. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

Melissa Moss can thank the National Enquirer for her artistic career. No, she didn’t get her start illustrating celebrity scandals or creeping with a camera around Hollywood. But when the supermarket tabloid’s management took over her publishing company in Los Angeles in 2002, she knew she had to find another line of work.

“They were just as cutthroat and cheesy as you’d think they’d be, and I was miserable,” Moss says. “From that misery came a desire to do something different.”

Newly unemployed, Moss threw herself into art, design, and color-psychology classes at UCLA and began drawing and painting for her coursework. Her eye for color and her skill in creating drolly surrealistic scenes soon landed her gallery space and solo shows; she now works as a full-time artist from her home studio in West Asheville.

Moonlife

When Moss moved to the area with her husband and young son nine years ago, the family swore they wouldn’t buy an old house. “Of course we ended up buying this bungalow built in 1921,” she says with a laugh. “We fell in love with its charm and the artsy, bohemian style around it.”

At first, Moss worked from one of the home’s bedrooms, but increased demand for her paintings — some spurred by the appearance of a piece called Sweetness in a contemplative shot of the 2014 romantic drama The Fault in Our Stars — led her to outgrow the space. To make room, she and her husband transformed their unfinished walkout basement into a cozy, white-walled studio. “I absolutely love it. It’s my own little cocoon,” Moss says.

The walls are covered with shelves of all her small-scaled works, including, most recently, luminous resin blocks and paintings from her new Seedlings series. Each of those pieces features a miniature world, sprouting with delicate plant life and populated by tiny buildings or diminutive creatures. The color combinations are intentionally wistful: pops of pale teal or candy-bright red and yellow emerge from muted earth-toned backgrounds.

Untroubled

Moss explains that she started the series early last year out of sadness and frustration about the state of the nation. “I was fantasizing about fleeing — not just to another country, but to another world,” she says. “I started doing these really loose drawings as an escape, and I dove into them over the summer.”

On summertime walks around her neighborhood, Moss found inspiration in the humble tenacity of the natural world. “Even under the worst of conditions, you’ll see a flower growing in a rock or a crack in the sidewalk,” she observes. Her paintings began to reflect the hope she gained from nature’s ability to sprout regardless of difficulties.

Moss’s summary of those works could apply just as readily to her emergence from the publishing world. “They are survivors. They have hope,” she says. “And they are tenacious.”

Melissa Moss, West Asheville. Look for her work downtown at Woolworth Walk (25 Haywood St.) and Kress Emporium (19 Patton Ave.) and online at melissamossart.com.

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