Updated: Apr 8, 2019

Traversing the Feminine: Self-appointed exhibitionist Marisa Mu celebrates the female form, cultural diversity and the joy of movement through tiny pops of dancing colour.

Marisa Mu. Photography: Simone Taylor

When I first saw Marisa Mu’s tiny colourful dancers floating across the white walls of her booth at The Other Art Fair in Sydney they instantly and tantalisingly beckoned me over. They weren’t like the artworks around them which where large and demanded attention, they were subtle and invited the passer-by to stop, or at least slow, to peer into their vibrant and understated nuances. Mu’s tiny dancers took me by surprise, they were raw and candid yet also carefully considered and utopic. Yet what stood out most about these beautiful tiny creatures was their energy. Full of the playful charisma of Mu’s lived female experience, her dancers epitomise what we all long to be – dancing naked with cowgirl boots and a cocktail (or at least in spirit).

"The organic nature of my creative journey often makes me chuckle because everyone who knows me personally would stand by the fact that I have always been an exhibitionist." - Marisa Mu

Marisa Mu, 'Piccolinas' 29.7cm x 42.0cm. Watercolour Painting. Courtesy: the artist.

Unsurprisingly the artist behind these effervescent works is as candid and vivacious as the women she paints. I recently sat down with Marisa Mu and discovered the beautiful and honest history behind her tiny colourful dancers.

RL: Firstly, how would you describe your work and your art practice?

MM: I would describe the Marisa Mu studio as a never-ending celebration and groovy dance of colour, womanhood and self-love.

My personal mission statement in life is to spark positive change within people; to empower them to understand the importance of naked candidness and cultural diversity. It is the soulful purpose of celebrating the simple day-to-day moments that make us realise that the little things in life are not so little after all.

RL: Take us through your artist journey, how long have you been practicing?

MM: I always wanted to be an artist since I was in kindergarten, but the wheels didn’t start churning for me until a few years ago when I graduated from COFA (UNSW Art and Design) with a BA Design and went on start my own label for producing colourful leather goods.

My mother used to be a beautiful painter, but she passed away in 2011 and I didn’t paint for a very long time after that because of the self-imposed pressure I would put onto myself – the voice in your head that tells you that what you produce will never be good enough. I put that voice to rest when I had a huge campaign launch for my design studio in 2017 where I challenged myself to paint a series of works to accompany my showcase.

It was a week out from the show, and I was so riddled with fear because I hadn’t painted anything yet, but I woke and heard my mum’s voice say, “Today is the day that you try” and I was shaking as I set out my brushes and paints and I do not know what possessed me that day but as soon as the brush touched the paper, I found myself painting colourful naked women dancing. I was laughing and crying at the same time because I was so overcome with happiness and relief because I was finally painting again.

The small series of paintings I did for the launch all sold that night and that was the turning point for me – where I realised that everything led me to this point where I finally knew who I was and what sort of artist I wanted to be.

RL: You undertook an artist Residency at Ganyula Studio in Florence Italy. How did this experience influence or help develop your work?

MM: The Ganyula studio is run by one of the most influential women of my life – Manuela Perez. Having the honour to work alongside her was a hugely positive experience in my artist practice as she encouraged me to paint in different scales and this enabled me to really understand what aesthetic and message I was truly trying to capture in my work.

It was during this artist residency where I painted the artwork ‘Piccolinas’ under the guidance of Manuela. I realised that the smaller I painted these little colourful characters – the happier it made me. I really felt the stars aligning for me during this experience as my closest friends had always referred to me as ‘piccolina’ which translates to ‘little one’ in Italian. This was the beginning for me in terms of really refining my painting and my style.

RL: Your playful use of colour and character are strong elements in your work, what do you hope people will take away from your work?

MM: I always hope that people will catch themselves smiling, on the outside and in their hearts when they come close and personal to my art. It is always a delight to see the spark in their eyes when they realise what the paintings are of.

The biggest take-away I want people to have is to have a deeper appreciation for the female form and also an understanding of the relevance of celebrating People of Colour. As a collective – we are a myriad of colours and movement, and the powerful nature of this is something I want people to walk away knowing and embracing within their everyday.

RL: Many of the characters and figures in your work, such as in ‘Piccolinas’, have a ‘free spirited’ and playful charisma about them. Is this reflective of your own lived female experience?

MM: The older I get and the more I paint and immerse myself within art – I realise that I am each and every character I paint. Elements of every woman I have crossed paths with within my lifetime have in some way influenced and inspired me to paint the characters I paint. I have always been pro-body and pro-life and that has translated heavily within my current creative practice.

The organic nature of my creative journey often makes me chuckle because everyone who knows me personally would stand by the fact that I have always been an exhibitionist. Having that body confidence to just accept all of who you are in a positive light is a powerful feeling and I want women to know that they are beautiful.

RL: As an artist and a designer, do you think there is more scope in contemporary art for traditional artistic practices such as painting to combine with designed objects?

MM: I believe we are all witness to the current movements of progression and change within society and the arts. Contemporary art is something that we are all pushing and wanting to embody within our own personal practices and the boundaries are being explored in ways we have not seen in the past.

The combination of old practices and new surfaces and techniques is what makes contemporary art and the new wave of creatives so exciting. The political stances we undertake within our lives and how we translate that throughout our art is what is pushing the current boundaries of what we define as old and new art.

There are several projects I am currently working on that are a true celebration of combining traditional practices with modern thinking, and to say I am excited is an understatement. We are all part of this huge youth culture movement where female voices are louder than ever.

Rosy Leake


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