Long before she joined the cast of “Tampa Baes,” an unscripted reality series about a lesbian friend group in the Tampa Bay area released by Prime Video earlier this month, Mel Posner was already making a name for herself as part of the region’s vibrant arts scene.
Not only has she built a brand for her photorealistic paintings celebrating feminine beauty, but her colorful public murals have also captured the imagination of visitors and residents in the area. Her public works include a mural she created for the Hollander Hotel that was inspired by New Belgium Brewing and her involvement in the Black Lives Matter street mural painted by various regional artists in front of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.
“My favorite thing to do is murals. There’s something like this rush that it gives me to make something really large,” she said. “It’s kind of like this powerful feeling. And also, I primarily paint women. So I always, I always want to paint women; they’re so beautiful. I enjoy creating them. Like when I get other requests, I’m always going to take doing portraiture of women first.”
On Her Mental Health
When Posner’s friends and fellow cast members Brittany Murphy and Haley Grable – one of the power couples at the center of the series’ drama – pitched the concept for “Tampa Baes” to producers, the St. Petersburg artist was quick to sign on, knowing it could be a significant platform for two issues dear to her: her art and mental health advocacy.
“It was really important for me to touch on these aspects of my life. For one, I mean, my art is my life. So, you know, I’m like, this is an amazing opportunity for me to show the world my art and my passion,” she said. “And then I am really, really big on mental health and stopping the stigma around it. Not only do I suffer with anxiety and depression, there’s other aspects of my mental health that I thought would be really important to touch on that other people could relate to and also realize, like, ‘Hey, I’m not alone.’”
As the show filmed this past spring, Posner remained true to herself and her plan to highlight these areas of her life. She wasn’t shy about opening up about her personal mental health struggles on camera.
“It really is all about removing that stigma,” she said. “I thought, if I’m going to do this show, I’m going to be my authentic self and show the world who I am so others feel less alone.”
On Her Art
Her art was also front and center in most episodes. In the series, she’s shown working on an indoor mural for Femperial, a new women’s co-working space in St. Petersburg.
And another large part of her storyline on the show features her artistic process as she creates a photorealistic portrait of the show’s other power couple, Marissa Gialousis and Summer Mitchell. Posner completed the painting in time to unveil it during Tampa Pride.
“It’s honestly such an honor of mine how much they showed my art and how much they cared to show it,” she said. “That means so much to me.”
And Gialousis’ and Mitchell’s portrait wasn’t just a plot for the show, she added. While filming “Tampa Baes,” she was preparing for several Pride-themed art exhibitions by creating new pieces for them. The couple was an obvious choice to her as the subject of one of her works.
“I was like, ‘You guys are such a beautiful couple.’ Not only looks wise, because I mean, they’re stunning. It’s undeniable, but also inside as well,” Posner said. “So, I was really happy that I could ask them to do it, that they could be my muse and that (the show filmed) the whole behind the scenes for it. I think it’s cool that people can see that that there’s a lot more that actually goes into painting someone.”
The show has also led to new opportunities to create art and show her work. Amazon hired her to create a mural inspired by “Tampa Baes” on a bus traveling throughout the region in November to promote the series.
“Amazon asked me to create a mural, basically, for the city to enjoy. It’s on a bus that will be driving around all of Tampa Bay,” she said. “So, people can learn about the show. They can get excited about the show. And it was really cool that we could make this partnership of, you know, me being an artist on the show and then, also, doing art for the promotion of ‘Tampa Baes.’”
On Other LGBTQ Artists
Since filming ended, Posner has also branched out to explore and embrace the region’s roster of gay artists. During one episode, she said that she is “one of the only LGBTQ artists in the Tampa Bay region,” which she realizes now isn’t an accurate portrayal of the local arts scene.
She made this comment based on her previous experience booking and organizing Pride-themed art shows for venues, as she’s always had difficulty finding artists for these shows, she said. “I’ve done a lot of managing and curating shows, and it’s always hard for me to find a lot of (LGBTQ artists.)”
She’s excited to have already expanded her network of local gay artists by participating in art shows at The Factory and the MIZE Gallery in June.
“When it comes down to it, there’s a lot (of LGBTQ artists) that I really just don’t know…And at (the MIZE) show this year for Pride, there were like 50 different artists,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ and I took a bunch of their names down so I can remember them and work with them…There’s still a lot out there that I don’t know. So, if you’re reading this, give me a shout out if you are (an LGBTQ artist) and please connect with me.”
Posner added, “I had no idea there were even so many of us and you know, it’s important to me. I want to connect with other artists that are in my community.”
On Living in Tampa Bay
The University of Tampa graduate has lived in the Tampa Bay region for about eight years, the last five of them spent in St. Petersburg. She’s seen firsthand the growth of the arts in the area and the role it plays in creating a vibrant destination. So, she’s excited for her work to represent the thriving regional arts scene on “Tampa Baes.”
“Art is made to make you feel. You come to St. Pete and you see all this different artwork all over by local artists, national artists, international artists with all different styles, different techniques, different visions,” she said. “And I think not only does it make the city come alive, but it also brings a sense of happiness and hope and inspiration to all the people that get to enjoy it all the time.”
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