This week’s Selective Focus subject has a solo show opening next Monday, June 6, at Zeitgeist Arts in the Atrium. Moira Villiard talks about her paintings and the physical toll her work has taken on her.
MV: People are often surprised when I tell them I haven’t been a painter for very long. I’ve always been involved in the arts, but my skills didn’t mature all that much until I got out of high school and spent my first few post-secondary years sketching portraits I found in old National Geographic magazines. Prior to that, I used to draw doodles in my class notes and took pride in calling myself a “surrealist,” though everything I’d done had been on notebook paper.
I’d worked on a few murals during my time in high school, which certainly motivated my interest in pursuing “live art” as a favorite pastime. Even when I was a kid, though, I don’t think there was much about my style that stood out; I was always just drawn to the idea of being able to make things and then being able to assign meaning to them, but the things I created were pretty formless and underwhelming. Furthermore, I didn’t go to school to study art because I’m not really interested in creating things that look better, per se, but rather, I’m interested in the effects of a creative lifestyle.
Officially, I’ve been calling myself a painter since my first show at Gimaajii about three years ago. For the sake of keeping this brief, I won’t delve too deep into why I got into that show (shoutout to Rocky!) or how my career skyrocketed from there (because I, myself, am not really sure how I got so fortunate). It was after that show, which featured my post-high school doodles and sketches, that I started to make larger paintings and created the Lauryn Hill portrait that’s gained a reputation far and wide.
People often ask why I use such vibrant colors in my work, and, in all honesty, I don’t have a great answer for that question. I reflect a lot on sounds and conversations in my process …. so I think these thoughts are often reflected in the tones I use. I also had an occipital seizure a few years ago, in which I was witness to a beautiful array of color combinations and sound. I guess ultimately, because what I do color-wise is organic, I don’t often have a picture in mind of what the end result will look like. Yet, in all of this, the funny thing is that all of my work prior to 2013 was black and white — if you’d have told me then that I would be well-known for my color palettes, I don’t think I would’ve believed it.
Regarding my surrealism, it’s my favorite style to work in, but it is the most time-consuming because I work entirely without references. I also don’t part with these pieces because they typically require a lot of emotional input; I usually only work on them when I’m facing a major change or life event. They are basically giant puzzles that I make up as I go along, and the magic of surrealism is finding a way to make an image both bizarre and believable.
Currently, one of my biggest challenges is figuring out how to effectively balance my mind and body when I get into a creative streak. In December 2015, I ended up needing to get surgery on my elbow after enduring a whole year or so unable to use my dominant hand to write or paint. The whole reason I started having issues was because I spent a couple of weeks painting too much and too often for an event I was to be a part of; instead of taking a break when my hand went numb, I switched to using my left hand and kept making things even weeks after that. I was so tied up mentally that I completely ignored all the signs my body was using to get me to stop.
Eventually I’d tried everything to manage the chronic pain that followed — a whole host of different treatments — and ended up finally going under the knife a year later. Since then, I’ve slowly been getting back into making art and being more selective about the projects I take on. I also had to modify my process a lot in order to accommodate my body and what it can handle — I’m learning that my genetics (everything from my eyesight to my body structure) are more suitable for another line of work. However, even as I physically restructure my creative process, I don’t foresee myself ever separating entirely from making art.
Obviously, I wouldn’t go through so much physical trouble if there weren’t benefits to what I do. The process of creating artwork is so much more important to me than the actual artwork itself; I always want my process to reflect my beliefs and life practices during the time in which I work. For instance, although it’s often lifelike, I wouldn’t label my work as being technical because I generally allow myself to make a lot of mistakes in what I do. I do this because I feel like we take for granted the opportunities we have to explore, without harm, the experience of mistake-making (as well as the experience of loss and grief, for that matter).
Thus, I think that, when you practice making mistakes often and on such a small, innocuous scale, it better prepares you for coping with the inevitable mistakes made in your daily life. It helps people develop problem-solving skills, which is why art is such a healing activity — the majority of the healing takes place on the journey, not at the destination! The process of creating art brings about a lot of similar epiphanies for different artists, and that’s one thing that makes me love what I do.
There’s also the joy of being able to share artwork with audiences who’ve never seen my work before, and to witness the magic that takes place as they look at it for the first time. Given that I see my own work often, sometimes I wonder if it ever gets interpreted as “stale” — I actually don’t think it does, and that feeling in and of itself is refreshing. I also love that, since I started booking shows every month, there’s always at least one day I can look forward to! I get to meet different people in the community while, at the same time, reconnecting with even more people that I know and love. Creating artwork sometimes requires a lot of isolation, which many more introverted artists enjoy; I don’t mind the solitude, but the atmosphere of art shows and their crowds is definitely a space I prefer.
Links and places to see work:
Facebook Fan Page: facebook.com/moirart
Zeitgeist Opening event page
I post photos of my process/projects on my Instagram, which is probably the most active of my social media platforms.
The Lake Superior Bake House currently has my portrait of Bob Dylan and the lift bridge on display — this piece was actually somewhat inspired by a seizure I had a few years ago.
My first official solo exhibition will be happening at Zeitgeist Arts on Monday, June 6 from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. I can already guarantee there’s going to be some amazing people who show up, so if you don’t come for my work, come and connect with other talented folks in our community! The artwork on display will feature a mix of my best pieces from the past few years, some made with my dominant hand, some with my left, and some post-surgery (which would be brand new if I finish them this week!).
I also will be live painting in one of the recurring shows I co-coordinate, A Goody Night. It’s an artistic, multimedia show based in the Twin Ports, but our next episode will actually be taking place at the Capri Theater in Minneapolis on June 25. You can follow our Facebook page for more details. We host various shows throughout the year and will be starting an interview series at the Zeitgeist this summer! We basically feature amazing musicians and artists, as well as positive role models within the community, in an effort to help them connect with us, with each other, with the community, and with their understanding of the world. I highly recommend attending one of our events in order to get a sense of how impactful they can be!
Finally, I may participate again at this year’s Chalk.A.Lot Festival in Two Harbors, stay tuned!
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