Back Roads: The thoughts of a small-town artist
PLAINVIEW — Let's begin with the basics, the easy stuff, about Melissa Ozment.
The Plainview painter/writer/sculptor describes herself as "39, mother of two, just graduated this spring with a B.A. in Studio Art from Winona State."
She grew up in Elgin, went to school at the former Rochester Community College, but never went to Bemidji State University to finish a four-year degree, as she had planned. Instead, she worked for about 20 years as a bartender, caterer and day care provider in the Elgin-Rochester area. Then she went back to Winona State University, thinking she would get an English degree. But her interests drew her to another love — art. At WSU, she met Nick Lammers, who is a writer and now her husband.
Ozment recently had an exhibit of her paintings and sculptures at the Rural American Arts Center in Plainview. The exhibit, called "Beyond the Elements," closed last weekend.
Now, let's get to the harder part — how and why she paints, and what it's like being an artist in a small town. That part is more complex and perplexing, but artists, by their nature, are more complex and perplexing.
She began painting in a realistic style but has evolved into a blend of impressionism and abstract — maybe we can call in Ozmentesque — that is eye-catching and carries a fun power.
"I'm one of those oddities in the art world," Ozment said. "I don't have to have a reason being my paintings. I paint more with my feelings than my eye."
Her work changed as she grew older.
"You cannot not change in 20 years of living," she said. "I stopped caring what people thought that my art should be and decided to care more about what my art should be."
But what's it like to do that art in a small town?
"That is a tricky question," she said.
On the one side, she doesn't have a large arts community to find fellow artists she can talk to, or work with. There are many artists in metro areas, but maybe too many. You can get lost in the artistic pack. Big cities are a nice place to visit but not to live, especially with her children, Irelyn, 4, and Landon, 2.
"It probably evens out a little bit," she said.
In small towns, people tend to like realism. But that's OK because she knows the people here and knows they are good people.
"I wouldn't change small-town America," she said. "I would like to bring a little light and pleasure into it with with my work." She's accepted as "the nut case, the weird friend" and doesn't resent it.
That brings her to another problem: how a stay-at-home mom and artist can find time to create.
"My children are - what's the right word? - energetic," she said. They don't nap, and they take up much of her time.
That's not good for a creative person.
"I have to make time for it because it's driving me crazy," Ozment said.
Friends from WSU send her photos of what they are doing, and she itches to put paint to canvas or feel fresh clay in her hands.
Even that has its duality. She gets satisfaction from her art.
"A lot of it, I guess, is when I get done with a piece and I stand back and I say 'That looks real good'" she said. But there's always the quest to be better because she's her own worst critic. "It's a curse being an artist, there's always something better."
So there you have Melissa Ozment and her feelings, talents and complexities, a woman who tries to be many things.
Maybe what she said late in an interview is the easiest way to sum her up:
"I like the person I am when I paint."
Back Roads is a weekly column on people and places in Southeast Minnesota. If you have a tip, call John Weiss at 507-285-7749.