Artist and Professional Artist contributor Brenda Hope Zappitell is having an exciting year, with a solo museum exhibition that included a temporary site-specific installation and now, she’s co-curating another museum exhibition. Professional Artist Assistant Editor Jenny Andreasson caught up with her recently to get an update on these projects and insight into how she’s found success in the art world. Here’s what she had to say:
PA: How has your career grown in the last year?
Zappitell: I had the awesome opportunity to have my first solo museum exhibition at The Boca Raton Museum of Art this summer. There is a long history with this museum and me. I started painting in 1990 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art School. I was also a member of the Boca Raton Museum Artist Guild many years ago, have participated in their outdoor fairs and was in a juried exhibition in the museum in 2000. Recently, I have done artist’s talks with two different groups for the museum, the Collectors Forum and Friends.
I am also co-curating an exhibition at The Cornell Museum of Art. I have been on the board of directors for The Delray Beach Center for the Arts about 2 1/2 years, and the Cornell Museum is part of their campus. I have shared many ideas with the curator, Melanie Johanson, and she asked me to work on an exhibition with her. This experience has been fascinating so far, seeing it from a curator’s perspective and an artist’s perspective. The all-women exhibition, eXXpectations, will open Oct. 29 and run through Jan. 3.
PA: What do you owe it to? Chance, calculation, a little of both?
Zappitell: I have worked very hard over that last eight or more years at advancing my work as a painter and also at marketing it. I think without the hard work this would not have been possible. However, there was a bit of chance or what some may call luck that has happened to me along the way.
The one big chance event that has occurred was that a collector took interest in my work in 2009 when she saw it at a gallery that represented me in Florida. She has a large collection of blue chip works, including Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Hans Hofman, and so many others. She waited until 2012 to purchase two works at that gallery when I had a solo exhibition.
She then introduced my work to the director of The Boca Raton Museum of Art when he visited her home to see her collection in 2014. She had also shown my work to the curator, Marisa Pascucci, a couple years before and we had a studio visit at one point in 2012. So, Marisa and I had known each other for about three years before this exhibition.
In terms of calculation, there are definitely things that I do that I hope will result in a particular outcome, but I am never sure that it will. I really just do things I think will be interesting and enjoyable. When I joined the board of the Delray Beach Center for the Arts, I did not anticipate curating an exhibition, I just thought it would be another interesting thing to do and be a part of in my community. I suppose I may have thought there would be some networking as well. I think the most important part of all of this is to always be open to possibilities when they come your way.
PA: Talk about establishing relationships with galleries and museums.
Zappitell: If I had not been in that gallery in Florida, the museum exhibition would not have happened. I have spent a lot of time establishing relationships with the galleries that represent my work. Most of my introductions to those galleries have happened through the Internet. This is why I think is so incredibly important to have a professional and clear website.
I also send out a e-newsletter about once a month, depending on the events that are going on at the time. My mailing list consists of everyone I come in contact with that I think will have an interest in my work — artists, art consultants, galleries, curators, collectors, etc. I think it is important to keep people informed about what is going on with your work. You never know who will offer you an opportunity. I really understand this now, because I am curating a museum show.
I have always been very grateful for the opportunities that have come my way, and I make a point to tell those that have offered those opportunities to me. There are many talented people out there who do amazing work and this is a tough business to shine in. I think a big part of getting opportunities is that those that you work with know that you are easy to work with, that you are reliable about getting the work done on time and that you always do the best work you can. The art world is a small world and many people know one another.
PA: What do you want to do more of? Less of?
Zappitell: That’s a tough question. I really enjoy all that I do, oddly including wiring paintings. The different activities that I do besides painting are fun and interesting. I guess in a lot of ways I am truly an introvert, so I feel most comfortable in my studio alone painting. That being said, I do enjoy getting out of the studio to interact with others.
PA: What advice do you have for other artists looking to do what you’ve done?
Zappitell: The work comes first; push yourself to do the best work you can. Once you are doing your best work that is a true reflection of who you are, you need to get it out into the world. People don’t knock at your door to invite you to be in a gallery or a museum.
If you are just starting out, make a great website, get the work out there through social media, enter competitions, approach galleries and get involved with your community art facility. I think it is hard to quantify what works. I have always used the shotgun approach — try it all. Also, be open to all different possibilities to show your work, including coffee shops, clothing stores, etc.
Lastly, be willing to take some risks. When Marisa and I were talking about this Boca Museum exhibit early on, we decided I would do a temporary site-specific installation. This was a risky idea for me. I had never done this before, and this was going to be the largest work I had ever done. Also, the public was invited to watch and there was a time-lapse video of the whole thing. I was very excited about this, but there were times that I was a little unsure I could pull it off. Ultimately, this was an incredible experience where I had to overcome some obstacles that I was not used to in my work (the huge ladder, the paint was not sticking to the wall at one point, the surface quality of the wall that was making it hard for me to do my usual gestures and the public interaction while working). I know though that this has made me a better painter and I would love to do this again even bigger!
PA: What’s one thing that people don’t usually know about you?
Zappitell: I love to dance around the studio when I am working; in fact, in some ways painting a painting is like a dance to me. I was a dancer as a kid and my work is very physical. It is probably really funny to see this through my windows in my studio, which is off a main street.
Brenda Hope Zappitell creates abstract expressionist works not only born out of intuition but also serendipitously influenced by nature and life experiences. She earned her B.S.W. from Florida State University in 1986 and her J.D. from University of Miami Law School in 1990. Zappitell is mostly self-taught but has attended classes and workshops in New Mexico, Mexico and Florida. She is represented at galleries around the country and has participated in solo and group exhibitions. Her work is in both private and public collections. Visit zappitellstudio.com.
Jenny Andreasson is the assistant editor of Professional Artist. She holds a master’s in business administration and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Central Florida. Reach her at JAndreasson@ProfessionalArtistMag.com.