“Essence of Us is a collaborative series of large scale paintings by Andrea Moni that explores past trauma as a conduit to creative expression and healing.” — andreamoni.com

What If I Chose To Be a Modern Artist?

Life Lessons on Healing, Purpose, and Perseverance from Renowned Artist Andrea Moni

In 2015, renowned artist Andrea Moni reimagined modern art. Her new artistic vision combined environmentally-friendly pigments, a popular Renaissance-era technique, and one-on-one collaboration with each of her painting’s subjects. Her abstract portraits hang in collector’s homes, galleries, and museums across the globe. But arguably, her most significant contribution to the arts has been a message of healing and love.

Moni’s collaborative art was borne out of her own hardship. In 2015, while attending a dinner with her husband and friends, Moni suffered third-degree burns over 10 percent of her body. Her traumatic injury was the result of an ethanol candle that, when refueled while still lit, combusted, burning Moni who was seated nearby.

“It was scary and painful. And as I was healing in the hospital, my approach to my artwork was stewing in my mind. A lot of artists create pieces that are decorative, and that is what I had been doing with my art up until that time.”

Since her injury, Moni has focused on painting the diverse survivors of trauma--from individuals with socio-emotional challenges, such as abandonment or divorce, to physical injuries, such as blindness. One by one, Moni tells these survivor’s stories through large-scale multimedia paintings. What makes these portraits unique is the subject’s involvement. Each trauma survivor meets Moni at a Southern California beach for four hours, where together they drag an unstretched canvas across the sand and paint a background with saltwater, rocks, seaweed, sand, and a natural ocean-safe paint that Moni invented with nontoxic pigments and egg yolk as a binder.

“When I first began to heal, I brought the pigments and canvas to paint at the ocean by myself, and the color washed off the canvas. The pigment did not contain a binder, which holds the color to the canvas. Binders are typically highly toxic. Then I remembered art history. In the old days, they used egg yolk as a binder. Artists used egg tempera to paint cathedrals, murals, and many historic paintings. Caravvagio used egg tempera [as did other Italian masters like Botticelli]. It’s permanent. I started to experiment with egg yolk and it worked. Then I was ready to have my collaborator join me.”

Although Moni is not an art therapist, creating this art has been therapeutic for both her collaborators and herself. “I have found purpose through my accident and my art,” shared Moni. “It is coming from a very spiritual place; from interacting with nature; and from collaborating with another human being and talking about the trauma they have experienced and throwing it on the canvas. Each piece tells an incredible story.” Together, the pieces showcase the poetry of life, and individually, the pieces are as unique and beautiful as their subjects.

When Moni met SoCal Hospice Foundation Executive Director Michelle Wulfestieg at a speaking event, the two felt instantly connected by their focus on living a life with purpose. Wulfestieg had suffered two strokes, at ages 11 and 25, that resulted in disability. She had also survived a life-limiting diagnosis when surgeons, in an emergency operation after her second stroke, successfully removed what had once been an inoperable brain lesion. Wulfestieg’s miraculous survival and recovery gave her an understanding of what it is like to face a life-limiting illness, and she has dedicated her life to helping hospice patients receive the care they need and deserve. Inspired by Wulfestieg’s story and SoCal Hospice Foundation’s mission, Moni asked Wulfestieg to collaborate with her on a painting, and soon after, Wulfestieg met Moni at Southern California’s iconic half-mile long Corona del Mar State Beach.

“The ocean is a beautiful thing. While Michelle [Wulfestieg] and I were there, roses began to wash up onto the shore right to the edge of the canvas. Michelle and I looked at each other, and I wondered, ‘what does this mean?’ She knew right away what it meant for her, and it was very symbolic. The fact that the roses floated ashore that day at that exact moment, I really believe was a message from God that what we were doing together and what she is doing for hospice are the right things.”

The roses felt particularly symbolic to Wulfestieg, because SoCal Hospice’s “Heavenly Home,” which is Orange County, California’s first nonprofit hospice facility and one of only four such facilities in the state, is adorned with a beautiful backyard rose garden. Patients can be transported easily from their rooms to the deck to enjoy sunshine therapy among the blooms.

Adding another layer to the symbolism, Moni plans to give a portion from the sale of the painting to SoCal Hospice Foundation to help fund operations of the Heavenly Home, which will help to provide a path for all terminally ill patients to have access to hospice. She has also donated an ocean landscape to the Heavenly Home to honor her late father, a mechanical engineer and artist, who felt drawn to the ocean like Moni. Her own father had benefited from hospice care, making Moni’s connection with Wulfestieg and SoCal Hospice Foundation particularly meaningful.

After Moni and Wulfestieg met at the beach that day, Moni brought the canvas back to her art studio to rinse off the sand and hang it to dry. “With each piece, I look at the imagery that my collaborator has painted and relate it to our conversations that we had at the beach. I photograph each piece and then use the canvas as the painting’s background.” Moni would not reveal details of Wulfestieg’s piece, as the painting will be unveiled at a special art exhibition at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art that opens May 1, 2021 and runs until May 30, 2021. But Moni described the process by sharing the story of her collaboration with Wulfestieg.

“Looking at her canvas, I tried to interpret her message. Also, I asked her, ‘If you were to have one sentence that you would want to leave behind, what would it be?’ Michelle’s message was “And He is with me always,” meaning God is always with us.” Moni added, “This became the title of the piece.”

Moni feels her paintings are “a journey of love.” She explained, “My goal is to have these pieces and their stories hanging in museums all over the world. These are the stories of relatable people who are sharing important messages. They are not the stories of queens or presidents. They are the stories of, for example, a young girl, like Michelle, who almost died from a brain lesion, who was partially paralyzed, suffered a stroke, survived, and who has a powerful message to share.” She added, with gratitude for the diversity of her collaborators and audience, “In each painting, it's a pure message that everyone can see differently.”

To see more about Moni’s upcoming exhibit at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art from May 1 to May 30, 2021, including a reception with the artist on May 1st, 2021, visit https://www.andreamoni.com/upcoming.

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