Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion
July 11th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Photo Diary: Why the Bird Sings

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“A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.” – Maya Angelou
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July 9th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Photo Diary: Errands

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Sometimes I am reminded what is really important while running errands. Dodging people, racing the clock, I realized the greatest sorrow is not having the courage to say how you feel.

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July 6th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Photo Diary: Freedom

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“At the center of your being you have the answer.  You know who you are and you know what you want.” – Lao Tsu

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July 5th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Photo Diary: Rain

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“I yearn for flowers that bend with the wind and rain.” – Tso Ssu
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July 4th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Photo Diary: Magic

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“The person that rows a boat is using effort.  But the person that puts up a sail is using magic.  He lets nature do it for him.” – Alan Watts
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July 3rd, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Photo Diary: Dreams

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This man played music so beautifully it made me cry. Cheers to the people following their dreams, however bleak the road ahead may seem. You do not go unnoticed.
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June 30th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Honschar

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I passed a really beautiful and poignant piece of sidewalk art this morning.  Neatly written in chalk, this message greeted me before entering Central Park:
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Hans Honschar write love notes and poetry all around Manhattan.  Keep an eye out.  It’s sure to brighten your day.  I know it brightened mine.
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May 23rd, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Ineffable: Time & Space

The interval between events is not insignificant.  I’ve come to understand this over the years.  Desire is often not enough to create something beautiful or meaningful.  Looking back, I see how willful I used to be.  I’d toil away at making drawings of people or landscapes.  I’d fill sketchbooks to the brim, trying persistently to create a photographic drawing.  Persistence can be good when it creates discipline.  But too much persistence restrict creativity and freedom.

 

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The illusion of being in complete control of my life and work was, at first, very attractive.  “If I just try harder” was something I repeated to myself incessantly.  This was initially very good, because I lacked discipline.  My life was chaotic.  I did everything haphazardly.  I tried to do so many things at once that I did none of them well.  My workspace was in a disarray and would distract me.  And then I would think of 10,000 expectations and judge my work harshly.  The desire to “try harder and be better” helped me to be disciplined.  Most people don’t like that word.   Yet I’ve come to enjoy it very much.  I’ve designated times for being productive.  Keeping a clean and sparse environment allows me to focus and be creative.  I’ve learned that more can be distracting.  Discipline freed me up from chaos and allowed me to be more present to express myself in whatever media I choose.
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But then there came a point during which my desired to try harder and be better consumed me.  I’d try so hard that I lost sight of what I really wanted.  If things didn’t happen within the time frame I’d created, well, it was all over.  I’d push people away.  I’d throw my work out.  I’d burn my writing.  I became so attached to the idea of achieving success – whatever that was – that all the creativity seemed to stop.  I came to resent the interval between events.  Why couldn’t I be creative, successful, in love, or simply “on” all the time?
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Slowly, I began to notice that there was some sort of mystical ebb and flow to creativity, and all beautiful experiences.  They cannot be forced.  It’s something that happens on its own.   After realizing this, I just stopped trying.
Now, what is important to note is that I did not give up the discipline that I had developed or the space in which I made to paint.  What I gave up on was the belief of arriving at some mythical point of success that would never appear.  I gave up judgement.  I gave up attachment to a finish product.  To be good or terrible no longer had relevance.  Then, the ideas and experiences seemed to flow through me.  There are durations in which I experience intense creativity.  I will make 5 or 6 paintings all at once, ineffably.  The paintings seem to paint themselves, and my only role is to introduce different colors and textures to each other.
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Other times, I will be in a creative drought.  Either I won’t want to make anything, or it requires such a tremendous amount of effort that it’s joyless to do.  Instead of forcing it to come, I acknowledge the interval of time that passes.
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The space and time in between being creative, being with people I love, and experiencing satisfaction isn’t insignificant.  In letting go, I’ve noticed that experience always returns.

 

April 22nd, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Ineffable: The Beauty of Nature

There is nothing I enjoy more than spending time outdoors.  I savor the quiet time, at first getting lost in thought and then letting them all fade away.  Being in nature always makes me calm and serene.   When I come back from long hikes or runs, people often remark that I look happier.  There is something transformative about this time alone in the wild.
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 A Field in Denver, Colorado.  January 2014.
It’s difficult to put into words what I see and how it makes me feel.  For many years, I tried to capture my experience with photography.  Today, however futile my attempt may be, I feel the need to speak about what the experience is like for me.

 

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 An Alleyway in Pennsylvania.  March 2013.

Walking alone gives me time to observe the external world.  Most of the time, I want to be outdoors to escape the thoughts in my mind.  It’s so easy for me to get swept away by worry and doubt.  Lately, my concerns have been focused on money.  It feels like I’m always scraping to get by.  I scrutinize every dollar I spend.  My social life is far from the glitzy fantasies that a Manhattan address may evoke.
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The Last Leaves.  February 2014.

Like so many other people, I wonder how I’ll every pay off my student loans.  I criticize myself for not having understood what I was doing to my financial future at 22, when graduate school was so appealing and the economy was more stable.   Thankfully, I have a wonderful job and a plan to fix the mistakes that I’ve made.  But staying positive can be challenging.  The smallest event can carry me far, far away on a trail of self-loathing and doubt.

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Evening.  March 2013.
Worrying doesn’t change the situation.  It doesn’t make my payoff date come closer.  Instead, it takes me away from the peace I can experience now.  We’ve all done this.  We’ve somehow told ourselves that happiness, peace, and success are only allowed after completing some far off task.  But experiencing peace is really a daily choice.  It shouldn’t be delayed.
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A Walk in Central Park.  April 2014.
Being outdoors reminds me of what is really important.  It reminds me how precious time is.  I notice how everything changes based on the time of day.  The amount and intensity of light changes through the day.  This makes the environment change colors.  The way I feel in the environment in the morning versus dusk is so different.
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Seeds of Spring.  December 2013.
My walks start out very simply.  I just try to listen to as many noises as possible.  The sound of my feet hitting the ground.  The whisper of my own breath. Birds chirping.  The wind rustling through the trees.  The focus on sound inevitably brings my attention to the beauty of my surroundings.
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Blossoms.  April 2014.
I take the time to look at all the details around me.  The way the light hits a flower.  How an overcast sky turns pastel as I gaze up at a tree in full bloom.  Seeing delicate petals flutter in the cool breeze of a spring day.
 
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Delicate Petals.  April 2014.
Seeing this way starts to spill over into my ordinary day.  For my 30th birthday, I went to Colorado to visit friends and family.  It was such a wonderful trip.  The weather was perfect.  I was happy to spend time with people who are important to me.  We spent half a day skiing in Vail.  Every view was exhilarating.  But the really special moments had something in common: something very subtle would catch my eye, like:
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Skiing in Vail, Colorado.  January 2014.
a flickering light . . .
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Snowfall in Central Park.  February 2014.
a gust of wind that blew powdery snow on my shoulder . . .
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Snowfall in the Forest.  March 2014.
the warm feel of the sun hitting my cheeks on a winter day.  These small queues snap me out of routine and thought.  I shift my attention.  Then I grab my camera as fast as I can to capture the moment.  How I feel in the moment has no words.  But the picture can capture it more completely.
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The Reservoir in Central Park.  February 2013.
Now that spring has finally warmed up to us, I’m feeling optimistic.  The beauty of nature reminds me that problems are temporary, just like the seasons.  It seems like a great time to stop doubting, to believe in something new.  Forget about time, go outside, and take flight.
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 Flight.  October 2012.
Happy Earth Day!

 

April 9th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Ineffable: Patience

I’ve been trying to cultivate patience.  It’s not something I was born with.  Things never seemed to happen fast enough for me.  My childhood impatience carried over well into my twenties.  I always felt restless, always wanted to impose my will on situations and people.  When I didn’t get the desired outcome, I’d become very irritated and upset.  I had no emotional self-control.  Constantly being ruled by emotion is exhausting.  I decided to try consciously be more patient at 25, right when I started teaching.  Having to lead a classroom made me aware that growing irritable was a quick way to lose control and the interest of my students.
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Patience is a discipline that can grow over time.  For me, it was very hard-won.  I still find it difficult to be patient with myself.  But I was lucky enough to find resources in developing a more peaceful way to deal with delays and setbacks.  I think painting has helped me tremendously.  Sometimes it comes out all wrong.  Preparing and mixing paints takes time and effort.  Then, the process of trying to make something beautiful can go terribly wrong.  My first few failed attempts would leave me outraged and angry.  Negative thoughts would stream through my mind, like: “What a waste of time. ” or  “I’m terrible.”  But for some reason, I kept showing up.  (New to my site?  You should check out my previous post, Showing Up.)
One day I realized why I kept coming back – the process of painting helped me to quiet my mind.
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I’m not sure what your mind is like, but my is complicated.  I think lots of thoughts and am easily distracted.  I make plans for the future.  I read books.  I worry about things that are out of my control.  I judge myself harshly.  With all of these plans, hopes, fears, and ideas jumping around in my head, it can be difficult to be present.  Lost in thought, I’d bump into people in the subway.  I’d get irritated that they didn’t see me.  Or I would be so distracted I’d be late to appointments or meetings.  This would lead me to blame anything or anyone external to myself.  My inability to focus and tame my mind was the problem, not the train being late or the people in the streets.
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These thoughts and feelings that were always whirling around inside of me would slow down and stop completely when I started to focus on creating.  A new-found patience started to grow within.  I could quiet my mind more.  Life became less about imposing my will on people and situations.  I experienced freedom from anger and irritation because I started to realize that there is nowhere else to be but here, now.  It’s been 5 years since I’ve made the decision to become more patient.  My relationships with other people are better, my ability to focus has improved, and I’ve learned to let go of expectations.
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Still, waiting always seems to test me.  The new paintings I’ve been making require a lot of drying time.  The linseed oil needs time to harden.  At first, it looks slick, smooth, and saturated with color.  I let my paintings dry on an old Ikea clothing rack, since I don’t have a lot of space.  As the oil dries over time, the painting starts to look very different from how it started.
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The surface hardens into textures and patterns.  It’s less shiny.
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The colors’ vibrancy also change.
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New shapes and color combinations emerge that I never intended to create.  It makes me realize the importance of being patient.  Not forcing the painting to occur in a set time period allows something more beautiful than what I set out to create to happen on its own.
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It’s almost dry enough to hang, but not quite yet.  Until then, I wait.  Sometimes patiently, sometimes not.  When I catch myself aggressively wondering how long it will take to just be done, I stop.  I think to myself, “Maybe it’s time to make a new painting”, and I move on.
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April 4th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Ineffable: Knowing When to Stop

“If you don’t know what you are making, how do you know when to stop?” That’s a reasonable question.  Yet it’s difficult to answer.  Maybe I can answer it with a personal story.  I started a new job at the end of August 2013.  It’s in a completely unrelated industry – a real suit and tie type of place.  When I went on my initial interview, we arrived at the question and answer portion.  I brazenly asked if I could remove the existing art work and replace it with my own.  (How’s that for bold?)
I got the job, and it was quite a transition.  I’m the only woman in the office (keep in mind that my previous work environments were the reverse – mostly or entirely female).  I’m also the only aesthete.  Making something for this shared space really preoccupied my thoughts.  It had to be appealing to an audience I knew very little about, and one that would have only one real strong opinion about the work – if they didn’t like it.
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This made me try doing a series of small studies on paper.  I used all kinds things, just doodling all over the page.  I used crayons, and colored pencils and markers, and pens, and ink.  When I started with ink, I used a brush to draw circles all over the paper.  Then I made circles with different colored markers.  Finally, I traced the circles with water and a brush.  The effect?  The colors started to bleed out.  All of the sudden, I saw rain drops hitting a puddle.  That’s when I knew to stop.  When I start to see something – like seaweed or rain drops – the picture is complete.  A feeling of finality washes over me.  (New to my site?  You should read my previous post – the first in the series of explaining the unexplainable.)
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So I had an idea with I approached this canvas.  This allowed me to complete the painting very quickly.  I applied the blue base coat.  Then, I swirled silver paint onto a brush, and whipped the handle in little circles.  I’d have to dip the brush into the can of paint and pull it out quickly – this lets more paint settle on the brush than taking it out slowly.  I mixed black oil paint to a thin consistency and did the same thing.
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I let it dry for a week and half.  It still needed something, so I decided to spatter yellow paint on the surface.  One of the guys commented: “Hey!  It looks great with yellow.”  That was another sign I knew this version was complete – someone so far removed from art could judge it favorably.  A man that I did not know well that had no previous interest in art liked the painting.  I’d say that’s a good point to stop.
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It took another few weeks to decide where to hang it, and which type of frame would look best.  Here’s the finished product:
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March 29th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

New Series: Ineffable

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  I’ve been allowing myself to really run away with my thoughts; explore my ideas more fully, read, and experiment with new media.  Somewhere, I came across this idea:
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This was such a perfect word.  To say what can’t be said.  So much of my personal work is an attempt to express what seems impossible to say.  People often ask me how long it takes me to make a painting, and I struggle to tell them.  Sometimes it can be in one sitting, other times it can take weeks.
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It’s even difficult to say how I start.  Every painting is one big experiment.  Recently, I made one for a friend.  It was my first commission.  He was really interested in hearing around my process.  We even had a lengthy discussion about how to hang it.  It’s very difficult for me to explain my process, mostly because it’s spontaneous.
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I generally start with certain colors in mind, and not much else.  My preferred media is oil on board, and I like to use lots and lots of boiled linseed oil mixed with the paint.  (Oil paints are ground mineral pigments mixed with a carrier oil, which is usually linseed oil.  The oil makes the dusty pigments gel up into paint that can later be put into a tube.  Mixing oil with the tubed pigment makes the paint more fluid.  There are different ways to process linseed oil, each rendering a different effect when mixed with the paint.  I’ve discovered that boiled linseed oil creates this interesting, textured surface. See above.)
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I’ll apply a base color to the canvas with a thick consistency.  Then I’ll mix other colors and make them more fluid than the base coat.  Sometimes, I use a brush and thrash the paint.  Other times, I pour the mixture directly onto the surface.  (The orange, above, I poured right onto the surface.  The dark green color I applied with a brush.)
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Then, I step back and look at it.  I look at how the paint is moving.  I try to see how the colors blend, and how it makes me feel.  I noticed that the dark green paint was bleeding out.  It wasn’t really staying in the area I wanted it to.  Instead, it made these dripping, tentacle-like shapes.
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After some time had passed, I decided to edit it.  I thought it could be improved.  I picked it up on one end, and let the paint drip down to the other side.  Then, I repeated on the reverse end.  The effect much better; the colors blended so fluidly, it reminded me of seaweed.
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But I don’t work on it from strictly one direction.  I attack it from all sides.  Then, I let it dry.  As the oil dries, the values of the colors change.  The surface hardens and becomes more textured.  It takes shape.
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I wasn’t sure which side was up.  It’s difficult for me to visualize working that way.  Shouldn’t the entire process be more important than the initial concept?  I think it’s ok for the composition to change based on the process, as long as the product makes you happy.
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It made me so happy to see it framed and hanging, too.  I have several paintings that I’ve made in the past 5 months that I’d like to attempt to express in words.  It takes a lot of effort to do this, because it’s trying to explain the ineffable,“ the thing that can’t be said.  And yet, I’d like to try.  That’s what I’d like this new series to be about -  explaining how to see beauty in that which you don’t fully understand.