Interview | Painter and Muralist Tessa Moeller
Tessa Moeller is spending the month in a lift, paint brushing and rolling a mural on the fascade of the St. Petersburg College Dowtown Center and American Stage’s Raymond James Theatre. Moeller took a welcomed break from painting in the afternoon sun-glare to chat with me in the building’s cafe.
Eva Avenue: Have you ever done this sort of thing before?
Tessa Moeller: I’ve done some smaller indoor murals, but nothing remotely this scale.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced doing a mural to this scale?
I’ve never really been on a ladder, let alone a lift. So just learning how to drive and maneuver it. Also to be able to understand the scale – that’s what’s been the trickiest part. We got a lift that should technically be able to get to the top but with how you have to get over the trees, it doesn’t get all the way to the top so all the work I’ve been doing is with rollers. I started at the very top where it was wobbling and I started out with the hardest thing–the face–with the rollers because cause I couldn’t reach it with the brush.
Now I’m zipping along. I just approached it like I would any sort of canvas painting. I haven’t actually changed anything about the way that I paint other than using rollers. I think that’s what I find the most fascinating about murals. I’ve always wanted to do murals. That’s sort of my dream because I love working large. Even my canvases – my whole life, they’ve been huge. I think it’s much more of a humanistic approach to painting, like an emotional sort of pull.
Cause you engage your whole body when you paint large and so it feels more fulfilling?
Yeah that’s why I like working big. That’s what to me art is – it should be something that’s emotional and sort of connecting with that piece that’s been in humanity since the beginning. So the larger the scale, the better. I know a lot of people use spray paint or a projector so that they have it very delineated and precise. So when they’re doing it, before they go into it….if I did it that way, I wouldn’t feel as involved in the process…. I’m glad that on my first real mural to be able to be really immersed in it in the way I ideally wanted.
Do you have a favorite mural downtown or a favorite mural artist?
The Evoca piece!
The Evoca piece?
But I think he signs his work Evoca1.
The girl lying down with the dog, with the muzzle (see here)?
Oh, that’s my favorite! I love how you can see some of his red sketch lines in the paint!
Yes! Whenever I would come down there, even before I moved, it was so stunning. That’s the first time I had seen a painted mural. I had always wanted to do it but all the other murals you see are spray painted. I appreciate the spray painting because it’s so tied into street art originally. I appreciate the authenticity of it but I love fine art. There’s something so beautiful. I like the transcendence, at least with what I do and the works that I like the most. I don’t like to set my pieces or images in a time, like I don’t like to date my paintings into one certain time. Like with a cell phone or a specific article of clothing because I feel like it loses that overarching humanistic quality.
Can you tell me about this mural you’re doing?
We cycled through a bunch of different options but this exactly ties into what we were talking about. Originally it was just one figure based on the Vitruvian Man, like the idealized image of humanity in a way. That’s also tied into all of his anatomical studies and then with the golden ratio behind it. I actually met with a bunch of the student government students and we had a long discussion about it: if we wanted it to be a man, a woman, something androgynous. It felt better to have two figures. It was more balanced.
I was actually happy to have the two figures because I like painting the human form. So we already have art, obviously, and anatomy and the sciences and then the golden ratio brings in art and humanities and science, and a lot of history and mathematics. I wanted to do something that actually had connection to the fact that this is a university and that it’s an academic staple in the community.
I’m going to be honest: I thought the two people in the mural were for American Stage, I was like, “How perfect for the theatre!”
I’m glad it ties in with the American Stage and that I didn’t paint some guy graduating.