I discovered Mélissa Houpert‘s work through her portfolio, and in particular with the cover of the Alt 236 album she had made. It is then that I looked at her universe and her creations so particular, between surrealism, strangeness, and horror. Here, nothing is made to scare, we are facing creations and a style as modern as classic at times. It is fascinated by all her creations that I had the chance to ask her a few questions and come back with her on her style, her inspirations, and her projects.
1/ Hello Melissa. Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and what made you choose art as a career?
Hello! My name is Melissa, I am 31 years old and I live near Strasbourg. As far as my background is concerned, I never went to art school when I was younger. I had a Master’s degree in modern literature but when I was 26, I didn’t really see myself becoming a teacher.
That’s when I decided to start drawing. Already as a teenager, I loved to draw manga characters, which I used to exchange at recess. But despite my passion, I was never really encouraged in this artistic way. I often heard the same refrain: “it’s complicated to make a career in art”.
So when I was 26, I questioned myself and told myself that if I had to live in a fucked up world, I might as well try something before I was 30. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I set 30 as a limit, just for the sake of it, and I immediately enrolled in the Digital Painting School to really learn how to draw.
2/ We can feel a lot of various inspirations in your work: surrealism, fantasy literature, tarot…Can you tell us more about your influences and inspirations?
I think I took my biggest artist slaps with Francis Bacon and Zdzisław Beksiński. Going through their works, I understood how you could express emotions through artworks. It really made an impression on me and touched me as an artist. This feeling I now seek to replicate and is what motivates me to continue drawing: the impact that certain visuals can have on us.
And in a more general way, I find inspiration from the artists who mark our imaginations. I like a lot of Eastern European artists, who really have a unique way of creating and a technique that speaks to me a lot. I think for example of the creations of Wieslaw Walkuski or Piotr Jabłoński, whom I particularly adore.
In terms of more classical inspiration, I was marked by Gustav Klimt and also by the Romantic movement in general, especially by Caspar David Friedrich, with this very particular way of representing landscapes.
I also find a lot of inspiration in sculptures such as Nicolas Sarmoni‘s (his paintings are just as sublime), but also in dance which I am passionate about.
3/ How would you describe yourself as an artist? What is your philosophy about art?
That’s a bit of a complicated question to answer. I would say that I am in some way a conduit for the imagination. I see Art as a way to express ourselves. Of course, the technique is important but it remains a means among others to achieve it.
Art is another form of language, which allows us as humans to express certain emotions, another way of connecting as living beings. I would say that it is a form of fragility and common sensitivity, which does not require any words to be felt.
4/ You are currently working on illustrations inspired by the tarot. Can you tell us a little more about it?
Of course, I can. The overall project is to create the 22 major arcana of the Tarot. Right now I’m managing to create about one card a month, so I think the project will be finished somewhere between late 2022 and early 2023.
This is a project that is close to my heart for what the Tarot represents as a whole. I have always been fascinated by its imagery and all the symbols that the arcana contain. I’ve been drawing the cards myself for a few years now and I find it a very good tool to go into introspection. It’s a really rewarding exercise, full of symbols and interpretations, which I think is the essence of these cards.
From an artistic point of view, what interests me is to represent certain concepts that are abstract, to understand how to transmit symbols while remaining understandable.
5/ Your works are as dark as they are dreamlike, and all seem to be part of the same dimension, the same universe. Is this intentional on your part?
That’s a good question. I think it’s not necessarily the case, it’s the way I want to communicate things. For example, I don’t do figurative faces because I don’t like to draw them but because I find that a face immediately adds an identity, a weight to the character. I sometimes want to simply represent a body that speaks without imposing the judgment that a face can bring. I am aware that this is a totally voluntary approach on my part.
More than being in the same universe, this is how I express myself. I like to represent desolate landscapes, large spaces, portals, mirrors, the sea… All these elements inspire me and that’s why I often represent them.
6/ What would be your dream project?
I already feel like I’ve been lucky enough to have some of my dreams come true. But if I had to choose, I would love to work for Magic the Gathering, to be able to create cards.
The second one would be to work for Arkhane Studios, who are behind the games Bioshock and Dishonored. Both worlds have impressed me with their graphic style. But I already feel very fulfilled in what I do!
7/ Can you tell us a bit more about your technique?
I use both traditional and digital techniques. I often start a new illustration with a sketch on my notepad with a pencil. Most of my process is then done digitally. I start with gray values to give the general mood of the illustration. I then add the colors and this is probably the longest part of my process. I particularly like to add rich colors for example and I try to think as much as possible about how to lay down brush strokes.
8/ What is your favorite piece in your portfolio and why does it resonate so much with you?
It’s one of my recent creations, The Devil of my Tarot. It brings together everything I love and gives off a certain melancholy that fits me well. The palette speaks to me as well as the pose of the character. Yes, it really brings together all the elements that I like.
9/ What are your current projects… And future projects?
I can’t really talk about it but yes, several projects will be announced soon!
10/ What advice would you give to talents who want to start an artistic career?
That’s an interesting question. I would tell someone who is starting an artistic career several things. Having a goal is important, do you want to work for a video game? Do you want to do illustration? It can sometimes take a while to find that goal. But I don’t know if that’s the most important thing.
I think taking the time to appreciate the path gives more value to what we are experiencing. It’s like going on a hike and only thinking about when you’ve reached the end. Is that really what will make it worthwhile? Whereas the people we will meet, the victories we will live during the hike are in the end much more important than its end in my opinion. And then there will be many hikes, with different goals. My point is that the artistic career is mostly solitary, but being well surrounded makes the journey much more interesting, in my opinion. The end goal can vary as we learn, and that learning continues throughout our artistic career, we are all just at different points and that’s what’s exhilarating.
Finally, I would say to people to throw themselves into their passion and their desire for an artistic career, to stay curious about everything around them and to take care of themselves as much as possible, because the road is long and it looks more like a marathon than a sprint.
Your favorite movie?
Jacob’s Ladder for its crazy aesthetics which was a favorite from the first viewing.
Your favorite book?
“The Singing Flame” by Clark Ashton Smith. He was a friend of HP Lovecraft and this book really marked me for its contemplative side. The descriptions are really incredible, poetic, and contemplative, giving the impression to dive into a painting.
Your favorite comic/bd/manga?
“Blame!” by Tsutomo Nihei. It’s crazy to build a not-so-complicated story with so little dialogue and be carried by such crazy architectures. It was a real artistic slap in the face.
Your favorite video game?
Silent Hill 2 for its atmosphere is always on the limit between dream and reality and its nightmarish creatures.
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