11:54 Sep. 2, 2016
"I like to make art which is impactful and meaningful" - Mata Ruda talks about his new mural in Kyiv center
Mata Ruda, a Latin-American artist and muralist, created a mural Beregynya in the heart of Ukraine's capital - at Maidan square. A journalist Olga Skichko talked to him and asked about his works.
- You painted such a beautiful mural in Kyiv. Please tell us about that. How did it happen? Who invited you?
- I was invited by the organizers who were doing the project ‘Art United Us'. The main organizer is Geo Leros and another curator by the name of Irina Kanishcheva. They invited me earlier in the year. I have been talking with them over the past few months, finally coming to paint the mural we have here.
Mata Ruda's mural Beregynya in Kyiv, Ukraine (Source: mataruda.com)
- Why did you agree? What was your purpose?
- I was just interested in the project and the idea behind making murals and creating art work. I mean, this is what I do, as my career as well. I paint, and make murals, in different places. I try to allow my work to be inspired by the area. Also to have an impact in the specific place where I paint. So I was really interested in hearing from them when they contacted me, because of all the things we hear about Ukraine here in the United States and Latin America.
And it was really interesting and funny to note because only the month before I was painting in St. Petersburg, Russia. So, you know, it's great when you can see two sides of the story and I have a chance to do both of these projects the same time.
So yes. I guess I was just interested and I accepted it because this is what I do as a job. I like to make art which is impactful and meaningful.
- And what about Ukraine and your experience here? You said that you want to look at the other side. So what did you see?
- Honestly, when I travel, my experience is mostly based on personal relationships with people and communities, whether it's eating dinner or having a conversation with somebody. It could be a worker or just a regular citizen who is walking by when I'm painting. My experience was really nice. It was incredible.
A lot of things in Ukraine remind me about my own culture and the people where I'm from. I was born in Costa Rica. I grew up in South America. And everywhere I go I try to draw the similarities of things I'm familiar with, and in Ukraine, there were a lot of similarities I think.
- What are they exactly?
- One which is really interesting for me is traditional embroidery with flowers on shirts. And, the patterns and symbols are very similar to ones we have in Central America, Costa Rica, and Mexico. I think also the mythology and the stories were a part of the influence that inspired me to paint the imagery that I painted, which is kind of a motherly-protectress figure. For me, there are similar figures where I'm from in Latin America and Costa Rica, there are many figures that are motherly and protective, so, I can relate to it, this is where the starting point for my inspiration came from when doing something in downtown Kyiv.
- So that is the sense in your mural - mother-protectress?
- It's interesting also about the place which was chosen for the painting. This place was downtown where a lot of history is. Was it important for making the decision to start it?
- Yes, absolutely. Originally the organizers of the project had large buildings for me. There were apartment buildings, big ones... very nice smooth materials which are very easy to paint. I was very excited because usually, you don't get big buildings and such interesting material to paint, so I said, "Yes, I want to paint a big apartment somewhere". Later I had an e-mail from the organizer who knows my work and offered me this wall to paint. She explained to me that it was in the very center of Kyiv where the revolution happened a few years ago. These things I had heard about, and I feel like my artwork sometimes speaks about healing. My art can have a lot of spiritual focus in one place, maybe even create a meditative or a peaceful area.
Instantly, I agreed to paint this wall getting very excited, even the brick which is more difficult to paint. And, it's an older wall and much smaller. I think the most important thing for me is the location rather than the size. So absolutely, I said yes.
Because it is in a downtown area, where very intense events took place I had to change the design a little bit, to make it more appropriate for the space, with it being a lot more meaningful. It's also a delicate area. You can't just paint anything there. You have to really think about the space you are in.
Mata Ruda's mural in California, USA (Source: mataruda.com)
- So you were already conscious about the image you were going to paint? Or, did it appear in the process?
- Yes, my idea… I was already going to paint something like this. Some things changed in the process just because I have to listen as much as I talk. So, when I go somewhere I also have to listen to people's opinions, people who are living in the area I'm painting, or people who have experienced things that are native to the area. I have to listen. So, a couple of things changed in my design. My overall idea stayed the same, which is like I mentioned before, a mother figure - Beregynya.
- Why did you choose that figure?
- I read about it and I thought it was very interesting, it relates to contemporary issues with a mythological narrative. And, it's a healing spiritual piece, like I said before, relating to mother and protectress symbology that I relate a lot to in my culture. I thought that is very appropriate to that space, so the idea stayed the same but only small things changed.
- Could you tell a little bit more about those things which changed?
- I ended up using more sunflowers. I had to change the composition because it looked like a propaganda poster of some political woman. So, I changed it. It was the little things I didn't know about.
- Do you mean Timoshenko, talking about that political woman? The politician with braid?
- Yes. And, it was a big mistake. I had no idea. Originally I had her holding a sunflower like this (he demonstrates). The curator said: "I don't think that this is a good idea". She showed me a picture and, oh my God, that's so random. I never would have thought that is possible. And later I remembered this, you know. What this lady explained to me. And I said, "Okay, I don't mind. I'll create a new design", so I changed the sunflowers. Not here (in hands), but like surrounding the head and then I took the hands away.
And then also the color of the traditional scarf...I originally had it in black. I think two people said, "You know, maybe we shouldn't do black". Maybe because this place is very heavy to do black. Because of people's lives, we deсided to make it blue.
Mata Ruda's mural in New Ark, New Jersey, USA (Source: mataruda.com)
- And you've chosen a very nice color.
- Thank you. Yes, I think I have to listen to people sometimes. If I just went ahead and painted it black, I think it wouldn't be so nice. If I didn't listen to people then it would be inappropriate.
So, I do appreciate listening and I imagine if I painted this painting (shows Timoshenko style) that would be rude. So, the proсess is very important for me. It does change my design.
- Do you have a lot of experience in mural painting?
- Yes, I'm a painter, I just paint. Recently I enjoyed painting murals because murals are something that everybody owns, not just one person. Also, they function in ways that are good for the community. It is like they create healing. Colors and vibrancy can make people spiritually happier and feel proud. So, I really enjoy the process of making murals and I think I'm always going to be making murals. I've been doing it a lot recently and I will continue.
- For Ukraine, it's rather a new kind of art. It became popular not so many years ago. You spent in Kyiv several days and had an opportunity to observe it. Could you estimate how Kyiv is doing in this sphere?
- As far as public art, street art and murals? I think the project I was a part of - as far as I can see Geo's projects of Art United Us are doing a really good job, consistently bringing a variety of art. But also, art that is actual art. Not always this, but sometimes like contextually relating to the space where it's painted in. The curators do a good job in that specific project making sure that the artist is able to do what the artist wants to do. But, choose the right artist to attack the situation and make the artwork.
But I think Ukraine has many murals and, from what I see, many large beautiful murals. Almost more than most places that I have been to.
Mata Ruda's mural in New Jersey city, New Jersey, USA (Source: mataruda.com)
- Which one is the most beautiful to you?
- I wouldn't know what to choose as the most beautiful, but I really enjoy what my friend Gaia has just finished painting.
- Was he also painting in Kyiv?
- Yes. He painted a reflection of St. Michael… on an apartment building. Maybe last week he painted it. He finished after me. So I didn't see it in person, but I saw the wall he's painting and I really like what he did recently and I was happy to be a part of the same project with him.
As far as what I saw on other walls… there were so many beautiful walls. Well, there is a variety from which to choose. They are very beautiful and I think the variety is better than having just a few. Variety is important, especially in public art. We have to have variety because it's more inclusive and more people can enjoy different art.
- And what places in Kyiv did you like most? This question isn't about murals. Maybe there are some places here you enjoyed a lot?
- When I was painting in Kyiv, It was raining for few days, so one day when it was forecast to rain, I said, I'm not going to paint tomorrow. I called a guy who is willing to give me a lift. I told him, I'm not going to be painting today because it's going to rain. But when I woke up and it wasn't raining, it was a beautiful day. I just started walking around and walked the entire day. I didn't even know where I was. I first went to the post office and from there I got lost. I went to that beautiful place, like a market place, and I passed so many beautiful churches. I went inside one. It's a different experience for me because this kind of architecture is feeling different from what I'm used to. Also, at the same time it's similar and reminds me where I'm from.
In Costa Rica, there are many churches and social plaza areas. For me, it was a nice experience because it was similar but different at the same time. I had a really nice day just getting lost in a beautiful city. And "it is a beautiful city...a beautiful city to get lost in".
- By the way how old were you when you moved from Costa Rica?
- I was born in Costa Rica and when I was two years old my parents moved and eventually I went to Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. I lived there until I was 12 then we went to Washington DC. I lived in three different countries and have like a mixed background. I was a young boy when I moved to the United States.
- And did you start to study art in Washington?
- Yes, I studied in Maryland which is near Washington at the University of Maryland, College of Art. At this university, I met Gaia. I've studied with Gaia and ever since I've been making murals. He's been travelling the world and making murals. He was one of the original motivators for me to do public art.
Mata Ruda's work (Source: mataruda.com)
- Is it a style of life - travelling and making murals?
- Yes, it's been my lifestyle for the past two years or more until recently. I think now I will be a lot more balanced because I'm going to go to university to teach undergraduates Art, and also I'll be getting a Master's in Fine Arts. But, I'll be travelling less doing murals, maybe just in the holidays.
- Good. And I wish you will make one more mural in Kyiv. Your Protectress is very beautiful.
- Thank you! I was supposed to do another one in Kyiv but I couldn't because of conflicts with my schedule in doing another mural. I had to leave. But, I really fell in love with Kyiv and I think whenever I'm in Europe next time painting another mural I will make a quick stop and try to organize something there because I really enjoyed Kyiv.
- It's great! What really inspired you to be an artist?
- I don't know. It's a hard question because it's a form of expression that I have always been comfortable with. I think I just realized the healing potential which art has and the communication potential that it has. So, it's just a calling that I eventually continued to pursue. I felt like it worked when I used it. It's a good way to communicate important messages and heal. I think that's what I've been focused on recently… the healing values in a kind of a spiritual way. You know, it's like food and water but another way of living.
- Maybe you could tell me about one of your works, or maybe several of your works, which gave you the biggest satisfaction of completing?
- Yes, I think every time I do something new I feel like I grow as an artist and honestly the wall in Kyiv was one of the first times when I felt very successful, 100% throughout the entire project-to-completion.
Well, let's see. I've also recently painted a mural in Chuchela, California. I don't know if the mural was as beautiful, but I think the project was important to be part of. I definitely think for me the wall in Kyiv was very important because it was one of the first times I could do it totally by myself, 100%, doing everything. I spent many years collaborating or doing projects with multiple people. So, making all the decisions and all was great. It was really important for me.
- Do you usually create an image before starting to paint or it appears in process like it was with Protectress?
- I would start off with a sketch and then I use Photoshop and take the images off the Internet or use photographs and make a collage almost for every painting and then it changes in the process. Even at a wall it changes. But yes, I start with a sketch and a collage and use the computer a lot, mainly Photoshop.
- As I understood, you want to give the audience some healing. Maybe there is something else you want to bring to mankind?
- Yeah, I think it's hard to put it into words. But there is like an immediate effect. You know I see it in the artists when they are painting murals. That doesn't happen when they make paintings for galleries or other installations. When I'm painting the mural, almost immediately you can see the effect it has as something that brings people together, online or in person. Something that makes people speak to each other, in a way that they would not otherwise speak to each other. I mean, there is a sense of community that comes even within the process, and then, it exists on the Internet later. There's a sense of something that's happening. I think it's something like a catalyst, which brings people together and it functions as a monumental memorial too.
- What is it about mankind that makes them want to memorialize life from your perspective?
- I feel like humans have this tendency to create memorials and monuments for impactful things that happened in history, or in the past. It's just like a human tendency to venerate, think and meditate and have one's space to be very much like a secret place. I feel that the wall in Kyiv was like a secret place for a kind of a monument or something. More, first in the spiritual sense, not political as much as it's like a spiritual meditation. I think colors just in general are important to have. Yes, color and sense of beauty that is important to have in our everyday life. We see a lot of advertising, posters, and propaganda – we see all this stuff all the time. Sometimes it's important to have things just for your soul...food for your soul. And, whenever I saw public art growing up, whenever I saw photographs or big murals, whenever I was in place which had public art, I felt that (art) always. I want to use my abilities to continue that. Basically, to tell stories that are on public display. That are owned by everybody. I think it's some sort of happiness, satisfaction, and motivation.
MATA RUDA (Karl Miller Espinosa) (b. 1989) is a Latin-American artist and muralist who was born in San Jose, Costa Rica and lived in Caracas, Venezuela until he was 11 years old when he moved with his family to the United States. In 2012 he graduated from MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) with a BFA in Painting and is currently attending The University of Arizona teaching undergrad illustration seeking his MFA and is due to graduate Spring 2019 . Using iconography from both sides of the border, he creates a variety of murals and paintings that empower overlooked communities, illustrates local cultures, and speak upon contemporary social issues. Many of his murals and projects also lend a special focus on humanity's relationship with the environment and how understanding one's surroundings and rediscovering nature can be mind opening and spiritual healing. His work has been exhibited by esteemed institutions including but not limited to: the Newark Museum, El Museo Barrio in Harlem, the Street Art Museum in Russia, and the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art. Since 2012 he has been invited to travel and paint various commissioned public murals all across the world including Russia, Puerto Rico, Ukraine, Mexico, and dozens of cities throughout the United States.