“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?”
~ Edgar Allan Poe
“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.”
~ Anais Nin
“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.”
~ Leonardo da Vinci
Specimens crammed into jars and captured in oil and watercolor, sea lifeforms permanently suspended in time and on display for our scrutiny… Through the careful representation of his unconventional subject matter, it is as if Spanish figurative artist Miguel Angel Moya has created his own personal language. But just what is he trying to communicate? What does he want us to see? Feel?
INTERVIEW WITH FIGURATIVE PAINTER MIGUEL ANGEL MOYA
Valencia, Spain ~
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Miguel, these pickled creatures locked inside glass and rendered so achingly realistic…
The animal is dead but will never decay, never become a victim of the ravages of time. And yet there is also an unmistakable sadness to this prematurely shortened life.
The creature is prevented from continuing on in the cycle of life ~ it will never age, never be older than this precise moment. There is an innocence about this, a vulnerability, even an eerie sweetness.
Miguel Angel Moya: I don’t know exactly how these works arose inside me. I was fascinated by both the plasticity and the mystery of these compositions, and, as always happens with my paintings, the desire to paint them came together with the need to develop the perfect technique. It’s an organic process: you start to look for fresh ways to paint, and in so doing, intriguing new images are born in your mind. Yet my intention is not to make the viewer think a certain way. I prefer the image to convey something much more direct, in the same way as my own responses came to me when I first conceived of them.
We can certainly ask ourselves what is behind those images or why they attract us, but if there’s nothing mysterious left, and if we can’t contemplate or imagine beyond our own understanding, then the work lacks magic.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: When an artist captures a moment in life, he or she wields the power to not only preserve a precious moment but to actually stop time. Is this not so different from what a biologist does when capturing and preserving a specimen?
How does the scientific process of discovery and study parallel your own artistic process and the personal experience you are creating for your viewers?
Miguel Angel Moya: The truth is that I had never thought so, but it seems very interesting. It is true that realistic painters try to create an image that remains throughout time, but I also believe that we try to endow it with life, with its own energy. I think these pictures suggest that by observing the inert matter of these specimens, we can’t help wondering about what was there and now is no longer: life.
The scientist studies all material aspects of the creature, trying to reveal that secret; but always, it seems, there is something that escapes the scientist’s rational thinking. My process is perhaps the opposite: I start with something immaterial, something mysterious that wants expression and I try to turn that into something material: a painting.
My paintings have been rejected by some people, while there are others who are fascinated by them and think that behind those textures and those shadows underlies a mystery beyond the visible.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: You began your Fine Arts degree at the Facultad Politécnica de Valencia in the late ’80s, but were disappointed with both the method of teaching then and the faculty, and so left the school to instead study privately with Francisco Ugeda. What important ingredient did you find to be missing from your art school education at the university? What guidance or inspiration did you find with Ugeda?
Miguel Angel Moya: Well, it was a difficult time at the university; everything was turned upside down. A new generation had entered, and it seemed that everything that reminded one of academic and traditional teaching was made to disappear. There was a need to foster the creativity and freedom of the student.
The problem is that you can hardly enhance someone’s creativity if you don’t give them the tools to be able to express it. Give a child a violin and tell him to express himself through it; you will not be able to do it if you do not teach him the necessary technique to be able to play it, and that is expensive and requires effort.
That’s what Ugeda gave me: some tools to express myself and his trust in me. And also, through long conversations and the observation of the works of other painters, criteria to appreciate the value of a painting, which I have incorporated into my personal evolution.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What direction or words of advice would you give for an art student coming up today?
Miguel Angel Moya: Giving advice to an art student is somewhat complicated because it depends a lot on that student, but what I would say is that students need to technically prepare in every aspect, and continuously. I would tell them to go see a lot of live paintings, especially those of great masters, both old and contemporary. To look at how they worked, what they did to make each other different and great, and then look inside your own soul and find what you want to say and then develop your own personal technique to express it.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What role should art play if a society is to flourish? What gifts can art offer us? Is this what is happening now? And if not, what needs to be changed?
Miguel Angel Moya: In the past, in ancient Egypt, in Greece or Rome, art was a consequence, a reflection of society, and not vice versa.
Nowadays, we are in a globalized world and art is something much more personal, belonging more to the individual, to both the one who creates it as well as to the one who admires it. Art now serves more like a personal flash for each individual, supporting the development of one’s consciousness. On a larger scale, societies benefit by their citizens reaching a higher level of consciousness and evolution. I don’t identify with art that wants to raise awareness about certain explicit issues, I think the power of art is something deeper. And if not, we don’t need a flower to be useful to enjoy its scent; the flower can simply make us happy with its beauty.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: When did you pick up the violin? How did music serve you at that point in your life? Did it allow you to express feelings and ideas that you were struggling to find a way to express visually? As you developed your technique as a painter, how did your music dance with your visual art-making then? Do these two forms of storytelling enrich and inform each other? Or do you see painting and music as two distinct languages: ways of accessing and expressing ideas, albeit indirectly, that one cannot more directly? Does music play the same role for you now?
Miguel Angel Moya: I started playing the violin at about twelve years of age. I liked it but was not really serious about it until I was 18. When I decided to leave the Fine Arts, I told my parents that I would get a music career, because they wanted me to have a degree. I dedicated a lot of effort to it for many years, but I never left painting, and I combined both arts until I finished my music career. After devoting much of my life to the violin with many hours of study, classes, chamber concerts, playing with orchestras, etc., in 2004, I decided to leave music to devote myself only to painting. I never conceived of music as something I needed to express that I could not in painting; music was something much simpler. The opportunity to study violin came to me and since I loved music, I got into it. For many years, my pictorial works were directly related to music, for me they were a symbiosis. At one point I decided to get away from the violin because it was impossible to keep up with being a professional painter, and also, because it had a component of suffering and frustration that I did not enjoy. With painting, on the other hand, I had no problem expressing myself: I did what I wanted, and I felt free. Whereas with the violin, I suffered much more, and there was always a feeling that it wasn’t really my thing. Now I enjoy music only as a music lover, although I still have contact with some musician friends. I was not a violin virtuoso, but one of the best memories I have of my experience as a violinist was when I played Bach Chaconna for a class in front of the great Baroque lute master, Hopkinson Smith.
Miguel Angel Moya: When I finished, Hopkinson Smith applauded, and he said to me: “Normally when I listen to this work, I hear a lot of violin and little Bach, now I’ve heard a lot of Bach and less violin.”
For me this is the key: if there is something that was really useful for me on my musical journey, it was the realization that above the painting or the violin, is art. I think this is something that many painters have not understood and so have become obsessed with aspects of the painting as if they were a religion, and do not see beyond. The painting is the medium, not the end.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Please tell me about “Irene and the Unicorn.” And “The Cottingly Fairies.” Who does the girl represent? What is her story?
Miguel Angel Moya: In “The Fairies from Cottingley” we have a girl with a box with dissected butterflies and an old photograph. The butterflies represent, like the formalin specimens, the rational and scientific thought, the left hemisphere of the brain, while the photo, which is what some Cottingley girls took of some supposed fairies with butterfly wings, in 1917, represents the magical, creative thinking, the right side of our brain. The girl shows us the contents of the box showing us the secret, the mystery of that duality, as in the hermetic language, the open book means the revealed knowledge. “Irene and the Unicorn” is the same theme. The rhino represents that rational thought and the paper unicorn is its magical, creative version. The girl, dressed in white as the pure lady who subdued the Unicorn in medieval legends, is a symbol of that kind of magical thinking.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What is it about birds that speaks to us on such a primal level? Do we envy these creatures of flight? Or feel protective towards them? Or both?
Miguel Angel Moya: These paintings are from quite an earlier era. It is true that at a deep level we can find communication with animals and nature that goes beyond our rational mind. In this case, I treated the birds as symbols of alchemy. Goldfinches have the colors of Alchemy: the black, the white, yellow and red, and in the picture, Anima Mundi, the perched bird, represents the materialized spirit while the one who flies is spiritualized matter. In the tree of the philosophers, the image is based on an Alchemy text about the image of the tree and the birds that nest in it. It’s all part of a pretty hermetic and complex language to speak symbolically about alchemical processes. I was interested in those images because I thought they had plasticity and that this alchemical symbology gave them strength and mystery. Now I would work that idea in a different way, but I accept what I did at that moment.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: How has Jungian psychology influenced your painting?
Miguel Angel Moya: I would rather say that it has influenced my life. I have always been looking for answers, trying to get to know myself better and looking for solutions to life’s situations. Not only Jung, but many other authors like Castaneda or Jodorowsky shook me deeply with their books and made me consider many things. Jung gave me a deep vision of long years of study: how our unconscious acts, about synchronicity, archetypes, about how our consciousness looks for an accomplishment, etc.
For me, art arises on our most magical and mysterious side of those aspects of our personality or collective unconscious that are expressed through us through symbolic language, so Jung’s reading and that search for self-knowledge has helped me to decipher and understand certain chapters of my life and of my creativity.
I will give you an example: When I was little, my idea was that the really important thing was the mind, the intelligence, and that the body was unimportant. At that time, I started inventing and drawing superheroes. They were tremendously muscular and strong, and the very curious thing was when anyone who saw them would say to me: “Why do you draw the heads so small?” I was angry because I saw them normal and I didn’t understand why everyone was telling me that. Much later, I saw some of those drawings and found that, indeed, the heads were tiny. When I read Jung talking about the compensatory function of the unconscious, which tries to balance the imbalances of our conscious part, I perfectly understood what it meant, my superhero drawings were a perfect example.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What role does alchemy play in art-making and viewing?
Miguel Angel Moya: Well, alchemy was the precursor of the current chemistry, and some of the colors used in oil paintings, at least in their original version, we owe to the alchemists. But it is their psychological influence that interests me the most: Jung draws a parallel between the chemical processes with metal that the alchemists followed, searching for the elusive philosopher’s stone that gave them alchemical gold, with the mutation of consciousness in search of deeper understanding. As an artist, this has always been very interesting to me.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What would you like your viewers to take away from your paintings?
Miguel Angel Moya: I hope that they enjoy them, and that my paintings convey that behind them there is something more than what is seen by a simple viewing.
Born in Valencia in 1970, Miguel Angel Moya has shown in various exhibitions in Spain and the United States. His website is in Spanish but can be easily translated. You can also connect with him on Facebook. Mr. Moya leaves today for a month-long teaching trip to China where he will lead a workshop in figurative painting. He is also one of 30 artists participating in a free online Congress of Contemporary Painting workshop which starts October 9, 2019. Reserve your free ticket here: https://go.hotmart.com/B16939468B
A very special thank you to Byron Cisneros for providing the translation for this interview. Mr. Cisneros is a graduate of Pepperdine University and works as a consultant in alternative energy systems for RC Holdings of Cocoa Beach, Florida. We look forward to many further collaborations in the future as Combustus expands to in-person interviews world-wide, for which Mr. Cisneros will serve as translator.