By George Howell
Probably the most fascinating of Gloria Muriel’s murals in the alley is one she did with friends this year. Framing a large, classic “Glow” woman, a series of faces, beginning with two softly rendered women, evolve into hard-edged geometric faces that burst into triangular forms, all of which are bracketed by semi-circles floating over black space, a kind of evolutionary progression of humanity in time and space over chaos.
When I say this one appears to have a fully developed storyline, Muriel laughs.
“It’s so funny because there wasn’t a story. I think as good artists, we can work together really nicely and that’s what happens with this wall. I’ve been meaning to paint with Shaun Burner, he’s from Sacramento. We have a really good friend in common, Erin Yoshi, but we haven’t had the opportunity to paint together. So Shaun and Frankie [E.W. Frank] came through last year; I think they were doing something at the Convention Center. Frankie is another artist who paints beautiful faces.
“So knowing what we all do in our style, we freestyled it. Shaun is very practical, yeah? He was, ‘Put your girl here and then Frankie can do her three quarters,’ and then we just expanded from there. Then Alex did the last part, he figured it out with Shaun. Then we blended a little bit. Because sometimes you see a wall and there are four artists and you can see the separation, right? And this work is very nicely done and blended; it comes from organic to just nothingness, or the cosmos.”
Another blend, according to Muriel, is the mix of male and female energy. She points to the soft treatment of the women’s faces and the delicate, vibrant styling of the hair and leaves, in contrast to the hard-edged lines of Burner’s Aztec-like faces and Branach’s machine-like elements.
“Crystals and industrial,” Muriel says. “Those are the guys, and you can see the female and the masculine energy, but they blend, there’s a nice harmony to it.”
Muriel owes much to what she’s learned from women and men street artists. Over the years, she has painted with Few and Far, a collective of women muralists, where she met Beth Emmerich. But she credits male artists, like Persue and Mostrinho, with pushing her to create wall art. “They’ve been my awesome teachers and mentors and friends, so I love painting with guys. And they’re fast, so you learn fast with them, too. You put your female energy out there and it works.”
Speaking about male-female energy, I had originally suggested to Muriel that we might talk about the male gaze and issues of feminine self-representation, especially about the narratives male critics spin around the work of female artists.
“Exactly, although it’s cool to hear what you guys feel, what the viewer is feeling. I did a show in Tijuana, very intricate drawings, and there were students studying philosophy, and they were tripping on my stuff. I was like, ‘What are you guys talking about? I need to listen to this.’ They were comparing some of my work with Heidegger, very existentialist, you know? I mean, Wow. I used to read a lot of Heidegger and Kierkegaard, there might be a little bit of influence, but you don’t do it without intention. It’s just so interesting to listen to what other people have in them and it just projects, like mirrors.”
Does she have an agenda or concept for the characters, or does she leave them open so that people write their own story over the faces?
“Good question, because I feel that it’s based on emotions; I go by my feelings, my emotions. That’s why I sketch, it’s like therapy. Most of it is a reflection of that state of being, most of it, and the other ones, like the walls, I don’t have as much time as I do in the studio.
“People ask me, ‘What was going there,’ and I am, ‘I don’t know, you tell me what’s going on.’ You know, I do have a story for some of them. Some of them, I just don’t. That’s how I was feeling. That’s not just a drawing of something that you can see, but if you dig deeper, that’s what comes out.
“I feel it’s very emotional to have the viewer get in touch with themselves, you know, as I’m always looking for a connection with myself and with a higher self, with the earth.
Likewise, Muriel connects her female characters with the natural environment.
“Yeah, and I think that’s my statement, there’s more of a connection that we have with nature, with a higher-self-cosmos-divine intelligence, or whatever you want, than being a political-feminist-Mexican, you know, all these statements. I want it to be more universal than going into specific themes, you know.”
Finally, we talk about a beautiful mural at the beginning of the Manzanita Canyon trail that was recently painted over after being repeatedly defaced. Working with Mexican artist Alonso “El Norteño” Delgadillo, the two created a surreal, landscape-seascape, surrounding a sad, dreamy-eyed woman with jellyfish and little fishes. Muriel says the sea creatures were a graphic response to the nearby Ocean Discovery Center.
The face always reminded me of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, Hamlet’s tragic love interest who drowns herself after the mad prince of Denmark kills her father.
Muriel is happy that I picked up on the sadness of the image.
“I love melancholy, I love it. I don’t know why. I love cloudy overcast weather. I love dark forests and little fairies. I love being in that melancholic state. I love to play with that.”
I have to admit, in the era of #MeToo, that I wondered if my Ophelia-projection wasn’t my own inner fantasy of rescuing women.
“Right, I love that a wall can make you just question yourself. Why am I feeling like this? I’ve had emails that were like, ‘I was passing by your wall and I was having a really shitty day and then you just made my day!’ That’s what I want, questioning yourself.”
Certainly, Muriel uses her work to question herself as to what matters for her as an artist.
“I’ve been finding myself through art. I feel I’m always looking for that state of being that is like a search for whatever needs to come out.”
Having listened to Muriel talk about the collaborative nature of mural art and her concern for making an emotional connection with her viewers, it strikes me that the connectedness that happens in the murals really reflects on the nature of human relationships, requiring mutual exchange, people being on equal footing, communicating with each other, trusting each other.
Here’s what she recently said to a couple interested in commissioning her for a project.
“I told my clients, ‘If you give me full on trust to paint whatever comes out, sometimes it’s just crazy magical, you know. I don’t even know what’s happening, but if you trust me, I’ll trust myself, and boom!’”
Part I can be found here.
Writer and artist George Howell moved to Wonder Valley, a unique desert community outside of Twentynine Palms, California, in December 2013. His articles, reviews and artist interviews have appeared in Art Papers, Sculpture, Raw Vision and other publications.