Visionary artist Maria Mikhailas, a resident of El Rito, north of Questa, began her lifelong love of the arts in childhood, finding art classes in school "such a joy." While her irrepressible …
Visionary artist Maria Mikhailas, a resident of El Rito, north of Questa, began her lifelong love of the arts in childhood, finding art classes in school "such a joy." While her irrepressible sketching of horses, gods and goddesses landed her in the principal's office in her native Santa Barbara, California, by the time she was 18, Mikhailas found herself in Taos County. Here she discovered the kind of art which still feeds her spirit: exploring her inner response to esoteric or spiritual truths.
Mikhailas' first formal training began when she was 14 and 15 when she attended the Instituto Cultural in Guadalajara, Mexico. "That's when I learned to oil paint. I can still smell the place," she said. When she returned to Santa Barbara, she continued studying wherever she could. "I studied under several established painters there. Jack Baker was one of them."
This irresistible desire to paint led her away from traditional schooling. Mikhailas realized it was going to take her "years of just standard stuff" before she could "really even paint."
She was 18, had heard of Taos and the era of the communes was in full swing. She and a girlfriend hitchhiked here and soon she met her future husband and shortly afterward the artist who was to mentor her for 10 years, Herman Rednick. A painter in Taos from the 1950s into the 1980s, Rednick, says Mikhailas, came out of the Symbolist Movement in the 1920s and was aligned with those artists, such as Nicholas Roerich, who were influenced by theosophy.
"It just blew my mind when I went into his studio," she said. Upon seeing Rednick's paintings, depicting hidden worlds and inner truths, Mikhailas was moved to follow in his artistic footsteps.
Though Mikhailas' artistic journey has always led her toward a path of inner discovery as she met new painting processes and mentors, the journey did not always include Taos County. Some years ago, her mother, living still in Santa Barbara, needed her assistance. For years, Mikhailas traveled back and forth from El Rito to Santa Barbara and while there she painted in acrylics.
"I prefer oils. It [oil painting] is just so smooth. I usually have five paintings going at a time." Because of space considerations, however, the Santa Barbara paintings were all painted in acrylic, though Mikhailas found the colors to be "too tinny."
Back in New Mexico full time, Mikhailas continues to paint her visionary topics: a tree with a heart within its trunk, a Celtic environ dominated by a green nature spirit or god, the wildly destructive energy of Pele, goddess of Hawaii's volcanoes, or the idyllic spirit of a tree.
"People ask me why I paint the kind of work I do," she says. "Well, every artist paints what they're interested in. I want to know these [esoteric] things. I want to experience these things for myself. Somehow doing this visual work helps me to do that."
Mikhailas explains, "We're so used to seeing things with our eyes, but not with our intuition or feeling nature." This type of art, the intuitive approach, is "an exploration into what's hidden behind the form."
In "Two Primal Forces," the viewer witnesses Mikhailas' intuitive feeling when she looks "into what's behind the form" of the planet we call home, our world. The earth, in this drama, finds itself in the embrace of opposing cosmic energies, encouraging, it seems, the viewer to ask, "What's next?"
As well as revealing the feeling side of life in her paintings and sculptures, Mikhailas thinks that art galleries should also move in a more proactive direction which "supports the art being showcased. Ideally, I'd like a gallery with colored walls and lighting, an experience like Meow Wolf [the interactive art installation in Santa Fe] where you go into a space and there's a vestibule or an entrance and maybe some voice is coming from somewhere, telling you where you're entering into and what attitude to have."
Mikhailas suggests "a new kind of gallery," emphasizing that "galleries have to change." The gallery experience needs to be "more interactive to draw people [in]."
Although Mikhailas showed in a gallery in Taos in the 1970s, most of her recent shows have been in San Francisco and Santa Barbara. These latter include the Santa Barbara Tennis Gallery, and the annual Buddha Abides and Angel shows.
Mikhailas can be contacted at mariamikhailas.com, firstname.lastname@example.org on Instagram, and by calling (575) 770-2635. Her cards, prints, paintings, and giclées are available at her El Rito studio. Her cards are for sale at Wabi Sabi and some prints at Rael's Store and Coffee Shop on 2430 State Road 522, in Questa.
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