The enchanted symbolism of Mia Araujo

February 10, 2011

Replete with symbols and allegory: Mia Araujo's The Four Seasons

Mythology...its symbols touch and release the deepest centers of motivation, moving literate and illiterate alike, moving mobs, moving civilizations.
Joseph Campbell 


It is a rare treat to be able to interview an artist whose work you adore! 3PP is delighted to introduce Los Angeles based artist Mia Araujo. 

As someone most familiar with Renaissance and Baroque artists, exploring Contemporary art can be a daunting experience. This is particularly the case when forms represented are highly abstracted or minimalistic. The allure of the old masters is often the fact that their visual language is a more direct representation of a subject or theme, presented within a set of signature motifs particular to that artist. These motifs often draw on a tradition of myth and symbolism, encompassing historical and sacred sources.

Hence, regardless of era, it is always enthralling to encounter an artist who passionately executes works that are not only of astounding technical quality, but speak volumes about their historical influences and what shapes their creative passion.

Mia has often been interviewed by journalists and critics with an interest in Contemporary art and the gallery scene. I thought it would be interesting to talk to Mia about her work in an art historical sense, as well as explore some of the symbolism in her work. Mia is also one of the growing number of artists using a blog to share their creative process and promote their work. It was actually through Mia's Blog that I first encountered her amazing talent.

Mia working on The Priestess. Pic from her intriguing feature on Coates & Scarry



3PP: The study of art history goes beyond cataloguing artists and their work at given points in time. It is also intrinsically related to understanding the cumulative impacts of individuals on subsequent artists. When I first saw your work, the element of surrealism was evident, but overriding this was the deep appreciation for women as central figures and the use of iconographical constructs to illustrate their qualities. I thought of Giorgione's Sleeping Venus, Botticelli's icon heavy works and the mysticism of the Pre-Raphaelites (such as Rossetti and Waterhouse) - did these individuals figure in your personal development as an artist?

Mia: I have always been drawn to portraiture and figurative work, and enjoyed Waterhouse and other artists while in art school. I suppose that female figures dominate my work because I am unsatisfied with the media’s definition of what strong women should be like. I find myself trying to portray women in different ways, telling their stories, and hopefully creating a compelling image from my perspective.

The Priestess. Acrylic on wood. 2010.

My first immersion into art history happened during art school. As I began developing my personal work more after college, I was mainly influenced by children’s book illustrations, particularly ones filled with lush details and endless stories within pictures. I continued to hearken back to the animated films that I grew up watching, which pulled me into their worlds and captivated me for hours. These are things I wish to accomplish with my work.

Other early influences in the development of my personal work were the black and white fantasy-scapes of Harry Clarke, Mucha’s magical paintings, Kinuko Craft’s children’s book illustrations, and Takehiko Inoue’s graphic novels.

3PP: Since antiquity, artists have been using set iconographical markers to depict chosen themes. This was confirmed in the 16th Century with the publication of emblem books describing commonly used symbols since antiquity. What sources do you draw on for the iconography in your painting? Are they self referenced, or do you also draw on established symbols from artists emblem books, tarot etc?

Mia: Both—I’m ultimately trying to create my own iconography, but that all stems from tarot, mythology, literature, folk tales, the natural world, and hermeticism.

Joseph Campbell’s work sparked my interest in creating a modern mythology that can hopefully connect people back to nature and the cosmos. I want the figures in my work to become enmeshed in their surroundings, so that it is impossible to extricate them from their inner and outer worlds.

Ultimately, I want the viewer to actively participate in decoding the meanings and deciphering the symbolism in my work, so that the experience becomes more than just a passive act of appreciating aesthetics.

Mia presents Persephone in her signature style - a figure from mythology that also fascinated the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the 19th Century, particularly Dante Gabriel Rossetti

3PP: Dali famously said that he got the idea for his melting clocks from watching some Camembert cheese being affected by the sun. Can you name an instance where a real life observation filtered into your work and metamorphosed into a symbol you have since used repeatedly?

Mia: Yes. The first time I went to New York and saw the architecture and the sculptural facades of the buildings there, I had this overwhelming feeling that I was being watched by people of past centuries; as if the mythological characters carved into the buildings were watching me. I strangely felt the presence of the past embodied in their faces. It reminded me of the ancient idea that trees were actually deities in disguise, except that I was in a forest of buildings. I now use a lot of sculptural imagery and faces floating around the subject, to invoke that feel of being watched by unseen spirits.

3PP: Beyond the stylistic antecedents of the Renaissance, Mannerist and Victorian art in your work - there is also a wonderful polished look that is reminiscent of later artists such as Gustav Klimt and Alphonse Mucha. Is this display of your technical virtuosity intrinsic to emphasising the themes of your work?
Ocean of Memories. Acrylic on wood. 2009.

Mia: Technically polished works are what I’ve always striven to make and what I enjoy to look at most. I’m not particularly interested in taking my work to the extent of hyper-realism, I want some kind of stylization to it so that it can be recognizable as my work – like handwriting. I like to invite the viewer into my pictures with an aesthetic ‘surface’ – like a siren’s song, luring them in deeper to decipher the meaning of the painting, which is my ultimate goal.

3PP: You have mentioned plans to work in different media, including digital techniques. The works of digital and concept artists are becoming increasingly admired for both their technical achievements and beauty. This seems to parallel with the look of your work nicely - have you moved into digital media yet?

Mia: I haven’t explored digital media since my art school years, although I plan color palettes digitally in the preliminary stages. But I think it’s a tremendous medium, like oil painting, gouache, or watercolor—all of which I would love to venture into more seriously someday.

3PP: You have been blogging about your work since June 2007. Whilst it is not uncommon for artists to blog about their work these days, it seems there is something a bit more to yours than merely self promotion. You radiate a strong sense of yourself and your artistic process in your blog. Has blogging become an important part of your process?
 

Mia: Blogging is a way for me to share my process with viewers and to demystify how I go about creating my work. I also like to look back at the archives, like reading back through my own written journals, to get a glimpse of the past or to see if I’ve progressed and evolved. But I love sharing with fans, since my work takes so long to complete. I just wish I could find the time to post more often!

3PP: In 1548 Flemish painter Caterina van Hemessen created the earliest surviving painting of an artist at an easel. Female artists of the past are gaining an increasing prominence in art history, and the public eye. Artists such as Lavinia Fontana and Artemisia Gentileschi feature prominently in scholarship and exhibitions. Have any female artists from past eras been particularly inspirational to you?

Mia: It just so happens that my favorite artists from the past are male—but I don’t choose the art that inspires me based on the artist’s gender. Female artists from other disciplines inspire me most— Julie Taymor’s mythological and symbolist approach to theatre and film, Emily and Charlotte Bronte’s literature, Joanna Newsom and Kate Bush’s music and lyrics (both hugely influential), and Sally Mann’s raw and powerful photography.

 
Sally Mann's figurative pieces are charged with a strong sense of mystery

3PP: Edgar Wind's Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance is my favourite art reference book of all time. It helped spark my fascination with the symbols and mysteries artists placed in their work - a tradition that started long before the Renaissance of course. Is there a particular reference, be it book or film etc. that you always find inspiration in?

Mia: I always find inspiration in late 19th century history, photography, and literature, so I watch a lot of documentaries and reference that time period quite a lot. I recently got an encyclopedia of mythological cultural and natural symbols, and can flip to any page to find inspiration and information.

James Wanless’ tarot deck is probably the most inspiring of all- he’s reinterpreted the tarot into a modern deck that anyone can relate to-- each card is loaded with symbolism and imagery from around the world and nature, and the meanings he’s derived from them are tremendous. It never fails to inspire me in a powerful way.
3PP: A lot of the figures in your work seem to be a facsimile of you. Is this deliberate or do you find your figures seem to morph themselves into aspects of you as they develop?

Mia: I would say the latter. Most of my photo-reference is vintage photography, and some fashion photography. I’ve not worked with models much before, but actually my twin sister poses for me when I need extra help with the lighting and anatomy. But it is never my intention to create self-portraits. I don’t think the women in my paintings look like me, but if they do, it’s an unconscious act.

3PP: Where do your ideas come from? Do they arrive as images, or themes, words?
 

Mia: Most of the time, words come first because I listen to music, documentaries, audio books, and podcasts-- I’m listening to words while I paint. So words or themes come first, and images usually come last. However, if I’m in the passenger seat and looking out the window, or out experiencing things, watching a film, observing…anything visual, then images come first and I make sense of them later with words.

3PP:  I was stunned when I first saw your painting The Four Seasons. I saw a rich iconographical tapestry that I must admit I thought was dying out in contemporary art. Can you explain a few of its symbols and themes and what they mean to you?

Mia: I’m glad you enjoyed that piece. While listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, I wondered what image I could dream up to accompany it. Each figure in the piece represents a different season. The story taking place is that Summer is over, and lies dying in the foreground. Since Autumn comes next, she hovers over Summer, covering her with a death shroud and holding coins in her hand for Charon the ferryman. A funeral scene takes place by Summer’s head. Winter stands behind Autumn, holding death in her hands, and Spring spins the thread of life in the background. Spring, Winter and Autumn together embody the three Fates presiding over the dying figure of Summer.
 


For Mia's upcoming exhibitions see below, for more information plus online gallery of her works, visit Art by Mia.

7 comments:

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Wow! Phenomenal! Really enjoyed the conversation and the beautiful work. I will probably share this post because I have a fair number of children's book illustrator friends and I was surprised/pleased to hear that children's books were one of her inspirations. Her work is simply gorgeous.

heidenkind said...

Very cool. Thanks for the heads up on this fabulous artist, H!

H Niyazi said...

Cheers for the comments!

@Vicky - I had a feeling you would enjoy Mia's work! Thanks for passing it on :)

@Heidenkind - I only wish I could get to see Mia's work in person! Hopefully some of her pieces will make it to Australia one day.

H

M said...

Great post! Mia definitely has her own "handwriting" in her painting - her stylized figures make her work very original. I'll look forward to seeing her upcoming show in Seattle.

I thought it was really interesting that Mia doesn't choose her favorite artists based on their gender. I can see what she is saying (and I always try to look at a work of art before even paying attention to WHO painted the work), but her comment made me realize how I am an art historian and not an artist. Gender issues interest me so much - I tend to like a painting more if I know that it was created by a woman!

Anonymous said...

Yet another incredibly talented female painter. It makes me happy beyond words to know that in the fightback against postmodern tat women aren't being left behind. Actually say mia's work on hi fructose or some other website awhile ago, specifically her portrait with a snow tiger and was completely taken aback. Keep up the amazing work mia!

Auron Renius said...

Great work, I'm an instant fan.

AnEyeSpy said...

Lovely, intriguing, and creeeepy. No chance I will ever see her work in person, so thanks for the opportunity here, and behind-the-scene meanings of Four Seasons. Co-operational inspiration is more often books to films than music to art - thanks also for insight into creative processes.

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