Friday, 27 January 2012

Feature Friday: BlueMangrove

"Man's greatness lies in his decision to be stronger than his condition.
And if his condition is unjust, he has only one way of overcoming it,
which is to be just himself." - Albert Camus

Maria-Victoria Malela - Green Lady (Self-Portrait in St. Lucia), 31 x 40 cm, oil & acrylic, 2012

BlueMangrove (Maria-Victoria Malela)  is a self-taught artist, traveller, writer, sound engineer, producer and composer based in France. Now more focused on fine art, she is making her way through an interesting journey of longing, questioning, and a search for identity. She has a rich cultural heritage and a limitless passion, making her artfully told stories, whether on canvas, in music or in writing, infused with beauty and soul. We discuss her story, a new painting, Green Lady (Self-Portrait in St. Lucia), completed this week (hooray!), her thoughts on creativity and a bit of her music. I am excited to connect with this amazing young woman.

On Skin & Travel 
She was born in the Kharkiv, Ukraine, grew up in Brazzaville, Congo, and lived in Germany and France. At 21 she embarked on her first solo trip to the Caribbean: Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Barbados then Trinidad - in two weeks. She says, "It was exciting and I did it all over again a couple months later that same year. Since then, I have been to other places like the UK, Belgium, Morocco and recently the Bahamas. The good thing when you are conscious that you come from two totally different cultures is that you are extremely open and curious about all the other cultures, at least in my case."
Her mixed raced heritage offers interesting insight to her art and life. She notes, "My fascination with the Caribbean started as a question on identity. I chose Trinidad as a starting point - I wanted to figure out what it feels like to be in a place where so many people from so many different cultural backgrounds live together. When you are mixed race, harmony and balance is an ideal - I thought that it would help me to understand how other people deal with their cultural heritage. I thought it would help me understand the colour of my skin. So far I have learned a lot, but this is a process."

TC: Tell me about your art life story.
BM: I started out as a self-taught Artist in 2009. Ever since I can remember, I always liked to draw and I've always had this love for colours, yet it was not until I came across what back then felt like a serious retrospection, that it all finally began to make sense. At the time I was struggling with writing my first novel, when I came across a book by Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. This book changed my approach to life and Arts. I began to feel a different kind of expression flowing through me and I began to play with the idea that I might as well write stories on canvases. BlueMangrove is the name that naturally came to mind as it both refers to my first novel and the blog on creativity that I had just started. 
In 2010 I attempted to join a Fine Arts School, but luckily I was not retained and went on to study music production and sound engineering instead. While at the music school I continued to paint and experiment with textures, themes and the unconscious mind. I have found that all my paintings on canvas start as abstract and spontaneous attempts, with random shapes suggested by the use of materials as such as plastic bags, papers, glass beads, and dried moss, which evolve into something else like a face, a flower, or a forest.
Meanwhile I developed a passion for composing too, as a means to tell a story differently. I left the music school, because I felt it was up to me to put into practice what I had learned, but also because I was beginning to feel a certain distance and a tension rising between my paintings and school requirements. I did not want to have to choose and moreover I felt like I still had too much to learn from the world to stay in just one place. I wanted to travel and find out for myself how I could possibly live from these two passions. I had to get out of my room, which was also my studio, my experimental cocoon and my comfort zone. I have learned to give up on my need for guarantees and it felt both scary and thrilling!

TC: For "Green Lady", you represent yourself as a wide eyed girl, which seems to reflect your passion and your outlook. Was it a conscious thing?
BM: The theme of this self-portrait includes great expectations, hopes, a sense of yearning, but also a state of grace. When I first started it, I had no idea what it would look like, as I did not do any preparatory sketches for this particular work (this is a result of two 'failed' paintings: orchids and a bride). Rather than that, I let my mind travel, flutter. The initial idea was a bride and then little by little the bridal headpiece turned into a crown of flowers, that are meant to symbolize a state of fulfillment, inner blossom, feminity and love. I left only one eye because her world has already taken over her (thus the symbiosis with the shell). The eye is really just the 'I' looking back and moving forward, candid, excited, open to surprises. I don't think it was a conscious thing though, rather a result of a deep trance.

TC: Your palette is bright and colourful. How does travel and the colours of places affect you, especially when you paint? How do you feel about the colours of places?
BM: I love colours, I think they are the spice of life. Each colour carries its own vibration and bright colours are a treat to the eye, especially the one who is mostly used to seeing colours like grey, black, white. When we see bright colours we think about remote exotic places, summer, sunshine. Our mind travels. It becomes wild. I grew up in the Congo where we are used to seeing bright colours everywhere from advertisements to clothes. When I came to live in France I had to re-educate my eyes to more sober tones. The environment was no longer the same; the seasons had changed too.
When I got serious about painting, it was after a deep period of questioning, I realized that I needed to make colours part of my life again. The truth is that I yearned to be elsewhere so I found through my palette a way to express my nostalgia but also my hopes and joy of life. Whenever I get the chance to travel, it is always an occasion for me to impregnate my vision with new colours, new combinations. When you travel to a place like Essaouira, in Morocco for example, you clearly see that there is not just one colour blue - there is a whole spectrum of it. The same goes for red in Marrakech or green and yellow in the Bahamas. 
Consequently I will often find that even though I might use the same colours, the tone and the way I rearrange them on canvas changes after each trip. After my trip to Nassau for example, I have noticed that I now use colours like pieces of a puzzle, in the sense that I will no longer go for one particular dominant colour, but rather 'build' my paintings in the form of a mosaic. Each place is characterized by a particular history, culture, mentality that indeed shows in the colours. You can learn a lot from simply paying attention to that.

TC: How do your flowers make you feel?
BM: Flowers represent the ephemeral beauty. Once captured on canvas, they appear in a timeless dimension where they become eternal. We live in a changing world. Everything is in motion. To me, flowers represent fragility, but also a certain fierceness. Flowers just are, you can use them to express certain feelings, symbolize a trait of character or just for their colours, their shapes. But at the end of the day they will still remain flowers - unconscious of their beauty. To me, flowers are complex. Each time I draw or paint a flower, it is as if its shape and colour allowed me to enter a new level in my work trance. It is like a formed of meditation in fact.

On Work & Creative Careers
TC: How do you feel about life balance, working and or having your own creative business?
BM: There is what people call the good enough job, which is an ideal job that would not be too draining so as to allow you to pursue your creative passions while sustaining you financially. That is when you are still in the process of getting up so as to be able to stand on your feet. I like this idea, even though sometimes we might have to work at jobs that we absolutely do not like, just to make ends meet. My day job is an event hostess. It allows me to be part of exhibitions, conferences and various events where you meet doctors, politicians, informaticians, chefs and you learn a lot. I am not yet in a position where I can say that I live from my Art, so I fall into the category of people who have to work in order to finance their dreams. I don't mind. I think it teaches me responsibility and it is like a test to see how committed I truly am.
Of course when it comes to choosing jobs, I would rather go for the type of job that would still allow me to have sufficient energy to create, but sometimes I have to learn to steal time too (it can be anything from waking up an hour earlier for couple brushstrokes to sketching while on the bus). It is my hope that in the future I will manage to turn my passions into a source of income, as I believe that everyone deserves to be fulfilled in every way. My dream career would be in the Arts and be able to combine music and visual arts - maybe to work at an animation or movie studio or at a theatre.
Everything is an experience we can draw something from. When your work is your passion, I think it is important that no matter how much you love what you do, you don't get engulfed by it. It is important to remember that we are all multi-faceted people and that no thing should take over the other's priorities.
We live in a society where we are prompted to define ourselves according to our achievements, which can have its downside in the fact that so many people end up identifying themselves with their businesses, when in fact they are the reason why the businesses exist. Whatever you do, it is important to make sure that you won't leave with regrets.

On Creativity
TC: Are you living an inspired, creative life? What do you think that requires?
BM: Artists are like athletes, you need to constantly exercise those creative muscles and work on improving your senses, for it is through the senses that we can get in touch with this essence that we then translate into a melody, a poem, a sculpture , etc. To me, living an inspired life means being inhabited by the desire to create and that means that I do not necessarily wait until I actually feel like painting. If the desire is not there, you create it. I have found that sometimes you can get pretty good ideas while you are bored. In fact every state can be used as fuel. This is a recent discovery. For a long time I thought I had to feel comfortable and safe in order to create something, but I now have learned (especially with painting) that experiencing a sense of danger from time to time or a sense of risk (like painting on a train for example) is all the more satisfying.

TC: How do you keep yourself creatively balanced?
BM: I read a lot. There is an incredible amount of powerful and inspiring books on creativity and I think that this is such a pity that in certain institutions where Art is being taught, we are not taught how to nurture creativity, which is the core. Yes, we are taught techniques and we are taught to believe that just by merely applying those techniques will make us good. Then there is the allusion to talent, potential, but what is talent if creativity is not nurtured? When I started on my creative journey, I figured out that since I wouldn't have a support system right away, I would have to create one for myself, therefore I started to explore those books by people who have been where I am before me and who explain that no block is in fact insurmountable. Then there is also the social life, the travel, time with the loved one, time for spirituality, eating healthy - every little thing contributes to creating balance. Also journaling is an excellent tool.

TC: How do you deal with creative burnout?
BM: I write until I can put a word on what it is that I can't seem to figure out. Writing is a way I have found to admit things to yourself, writing makes us have more compassion towards ourselves, writing slows down the pace and allows us to breathe. When I experience creative burnout it is usually because I was becoming too self-absorbed or too fancy in my approach. In this case, it helps to get back to simple things like watching yourself while drinking a glass of water, feeling the water going down your throat, sit in front of a tree, watch a bug swirl around, walk barefoot in the grass (whenever I get the chance to), just connect with simple things and get out of your own mind!

TC: What are your favourite things to do while on a break?
BM: Just sit in the sun and be one with nature. Swim in the ocean or have a hot bath. Hang out with my friends, but also meet new people. Develop an interest for something that is completely different from my usual fields of interests like fractals, aliens, ancient science. For a moment it feels great to forget about the Arts and listen to a lecture on what someone else has to say on a topic they feel passionate about.

TC: What are your favourite inspirational things/books/films that affect how you live?
BM: I like Julia Cameron's series of books on creativity, from the The Artist's Way to Letters to a Young Artist, The Troubleshooting Guide For Creative Difficulties, Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel, Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher and Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. I also like to listen to inspirational talks by speakers as such as mystic SadhguruDr. Wayne DyerAnthony Robbins and Louise Hay. It all helps me to surround myself with positivity, it keeps me going and it encourages me to be more generous and convey a message that would influence people to bring the best out of themselves.

TC: How would you live without creativity in your life?
BM: I think creativity is our birthright as human beings. No matter what it is we do, we create. In fact we never stop creating. We create thoughts, we create emotions, we create physical reactions. No creativity means death. But I guess if I was unconscious of being in a position where I am aware that I constantly create, I would feel very sad, like I am deprived of something that feels vital.

You can find out more about BlueMangrove at her WebsiteBlog and on Facebook.

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