Interview: Sarah Messina
Can you start by telling the readers a little about yourself?
Okay, well my name is Sarah Messina. I am 30 years old. I grew up in a small town in Southern New Jersey called Absecon. It is located 10 minutes outside of Atlantic City. I since have lived in Mays Landing and Hammonton, surrounding areas of my hometown. Two years ago I needed a change of scenery, so I packed whatever could fit in my car and drove down with my dog Stella to little island beach town called Ft. Myers Beach, FL. I plan on moving again one day soon to experience a new place to live. I currently am a freelance artist. I have spent the last two years experimenting with my personal work as well and opening my online shop. Prior to that I worked for almost 10 years as an in-house designer at Stockton University. Over the last decade I graduated from Stockton University, traveled to over 30 different places overseas and around the U.S.A., worked in a lovely little art gallery, volunteered with kids at an art museum and designed over 50 published books.
I have an amazing older brother, Jason Messina, who is also an artist, as well as a comedian, videographer, and writer, who lives in NYC. My mother is a beautiful, strong, passionate woman. She teaches at Stockton University and is the Assistant Dean in the School of Arts and Humanities. My father, who we called Poppy, was a serious man, with a lovely underlying tone for comedy and sarcasm. He passed in 2005 after a courageous two-year battle with brain cancer. I was only 19 years old.
You've made a career for yourself as an artist and a designer, was this always what you wanted to do when you were growing up?
From what I remember when I was a young child, I loved creating. It did not matter what it was, paint, something crafty, dancing, dress up—I got lost in it all. I never really said when I was little, “oh I want to be this or that”—I don’t ever remember doing that or being asked about it. But I do know in 1998 when Stepmom came out I wanted to be Julia Roberts's character, a commercial photographer for a magazine in New York. From that time on I started collecting W Magazine, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, obscure zines and art magazines. They were my inspiration - the layouts, the colors, and the feel of them. I took modern dance and ballet classes all my life but when I got to high school I discovered writing and more focused art classes. I started to experiment with the ideas that floated around in my head. It was the true start of my love for visual arts.
Your art, at least the little that I've seen on your website and Instagram, is really female centered and very body positive. What inspires you?
Humans inspire me. They always have. The way we connect, the ways in which we are unique and come from different places in life, our distinct narratives. I have always wanted to know as much as I can about people. I have been fortunate throughout my life to be surround by people from varied cultural backgrounds. In addition, I feel that the human body and mind, of any gender identification, race or sexuality, are often judged negatively by society, and through art I intend to keep an honest conversation going about humans and their ability to be incredible in any way they want to be. I also think one’s self can be an inspiration, and I have often drawn from personal experience when creating new work. I have struggled with my own demons, but giving life to those demons in a positive way helps me try to accept them and grow from them. By facing them through my art, I am able to give them light instead of darkness.
What is something you have learned from being an artist?
It is hard and freeing at the same time. I knew when I choose visual arts to study in college, it would be at times a challenging road. And I am reminded of that when I feel I am not creating to my potential, when my mental state is not at its best or when I apply for a job and do not get it. But, I honestly would never wish to change what I do; I just wish to improve upon it. I am constantly learning, constantly challenging myself and I am constantly discovering new parts of me I never knew existed. I feel like I am part of this brilliant community that helps the world see ideas in unique and special ways and that feeling is pretty awesome.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
First and foremost, my sweet dachshund, Stella.
The motivation that I have something to accomplish and create. Not just for others, but also for myself. It means so much to me to express my thoughts and beliefs and have them connect with people. To bring my ideas to life through art and design. Whether it is a project for a client or a personal project for myself, one of the most rewarding feelings is being productive at connecting with people.
Do you have advice for girls growing up today?
I know that it's said so much and it is so cliché, but don’t be afraid to be yourself. Really don’t be afraid of anything. I was diagnosed with a rare form of scleroderma, Morphea (skin disease) when I was in second grade. As I got older it progressed and I spent so much of my time and energy trying to hid it from everyone. When I was a senior in high school it went into remission, but I knew I would forever have this discolored marking on my leg. Slowly, as I got older, I learned to embrace this ‘scar’ on my body as just another battle I won, another story in my journey. I don’t spend any energy hiding it anymore. I encourage young women to travel as much as you can, learn as much as you can, talk to people that look different from you. Learn their stories and invite them to be apart of your story. Read, explore, be honest and true to yourself.
Do you have any female figures that you look up to?
My mom, Alanis Morissette, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keeffe, Patti Smith, Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis and Audre Lorde.
Why do you think it is important to tell our stories?
I think hearing someone else's story is a true privilege. It’s a privilege because it is their [story]. It's from their perspective and when they share it with you, it becomes a part of your perspective, your story. It opens our minds to think outside of ourselves, to see the world through another person’s eyes. The more we hear people's stories, the more we all continue to connect with one another through each other's experiences, which ultimately and, hopefully, brings us closer together as humans.
What is something in life that you are most proud of?
One of the on-going projects I had, when I was at Stockton University, was designing and laying out memoirs for Holocaust Survivors and allies of WWII. I worked closely every day with my editor who brought the stories to life with words and me with creativity. I grew up learning about the Holocaust. My parents made it a point to educate us and I took many Holocaust and Genocide courses in college. So when I got older and started meeting survivors, knowing their stories more personally, designing their book covers, scanning and editing their photos and speaking with them at luncheons, it became a full circle moment. This is some of the most meaningful work of my career thus far.
A Few Favorites:
Super hard to pick just one, as books are my dear friends, but two that come to mind are Just Kids, by Patti Smith - I never wanted it to end; and The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd - I could not put it down.
Again super hard. Music was always playing in my house growing up and I have literally attended over 100 concerts and shows from the time I was 14 until now (I am 30 now). I also collect vinyl records as I feel there is nothing like the experience of taking a vinyl from its unique packaging, putting a record under the needle and letting it play. To put it simply, I love everything from James Taylor to Kendrick Lamar.
“I use to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, It’s true I am here, and I am just as strange as you.” -FRIDA KAHLO
What is your life motto?
Have an open mind; Treat others the way you want to be treated; Be honest; You live, You learn; Keep going.
To see more of Sarah's art visit her on Instagram @bysarahmessina or check out her webpage sarahmessina.com.