Behind the vision of East County artist Mona Mills, and now, a ‘Living Legend’
Art simply came to Mona Mills as a child. Her father, an accountant, would bring her home blank paper to be thrown away from his office and she drew on every piece. Coming from the city and to the country, the family was very anti-television, anti-comic books, so she created her own stories. A shy and sometimes melancholy child, she entertained herself.
“I created my stories, I climbed up an apple tree and I thought and rode the horses. I had all these scrolls of stories that were interesting to me. And that’s how it all started,” she said.
Her mother, a teacher, always encouraged her creativity. It was at the family’s first trip to the library and she saw and touched her first oil painting, and a seed was planted in this 4-year-old budding artist. Her mother’s encouragement continued, as she took her to museums. At a very young age her creative mind became open as she looked and studied original paintings from the great artists from history to present, which silhouetted versatility in her artistry.
Mills lives in Deerhorn Valley, in the mountains outside of Jamul. She wrote, sketched, sculptured and painted her way into the phenomenal artist she is today, with her works seen daily by swarms of people throughout San Diego County and beyond. With her intimate affiliation with the San Diego County Library, her murals brace the walls of many of the libraries, each unique in composition, and portraying the culture of the geographic of the community. Within the walls of the Heritage of Americas Museum, she captured the indigenous of the Kumeyaay people, here in their native land. From Chicano Park to Brawley, her murals have a message, a vision and heart. It is a vision to creativity belief with all of her art, regardless of medium.
“We want to emulate art we see and we want to give art back as creative people. That’s what I promised grandma, giving it back,” said Mills.
These principles of art are clearly seen in her works with the San Diego County Library and Aging & Independence Service’s” San Diego Legends: living well.” This project embodies the lives of people in our communities that embrace inclusion, spiritual integrity, humanism and healthy living by local elders that lead by example. Each year, people of the community are celebrated, and each project, there is premise in Mill’s portraits that changes the landscape of the exhibit each year. These portraits, over the years are much more than paintings to Mills, as she gets to know many her subjects and learn the stories of their lives. This brings a belonging visualization to the portraits she paints.
Now with the Project in its fourth year, she finds that she is the focus of one of her portraits, chosen as one of the 2016 Legends.
This year her theme with the Legends Project uses symbolism, but Mills said it is never “in your face or surreal”
“It’s pretty and it’s meaningful,” she said. “Each one progresses. I’m going beyond their faces.”
Mills said she works closely with SDCL Director Jose Aponte, and with all of his photographs, she is finding pieces of their lives that she is subtly incorporating meaning into the paintings. She said they do not use photo-realism, but it is Aponte capturing a moment of the person through photography and an interpretation of it through her art. But as an artist inclusive, Mills said that art goes well beyond a person’s personal limitations.
“If we actually succeed, what we produce stands alone. It is separate from us and it’s better. We don’t have to promote it, we don’t have to explain it, we don’t have to push it, we don’t have to be there. We can be deader than doornails. It would last better than we did. It doesn’t matter who sees it to the one that’s creating it If it is a real success, it is better than the individual.”
Mills said to look through history. There were artists that were dispirited jerks, but created masterpieces. When they were working, they were free.
“If they succeeded in catching their other side, the creativity side, what they left is better than they are,” she said. “That’s a salvation in itself.”
The creative process is a passion for Mills, recently holding a learning exhibit at the Del Mar Branch Library. A process that she has put together herself to encourage people to look inside at the creative possibilities that lie within them. “The Creativity Project: Discovering Your Creativity” was open to all people in the arts and those that love the arts to engage in discussion on learning more about the creative side in people’s existence. Still a work in progress, this pilot program that Mills will continue to other parts of the county, beginning at the Lakeside Branch Library in September. This is based on Mill’s 10 methods for creating and the meaning behind each of the methods. It is something that Mills said can engage any person, artistic or not and the conversations go well beyond art, but real things in the world, and extraordinary experiences of people, whether physically, mentally or spiritually. Mills said it is an objective conversation and participants are open minded when it comes to the diversity of topics discussed, many that lie outside of the art realm.
“It’s creativity using the creative process,” she said.
2016 Legends Exhibit debut is at the Fallbrook Library from May 7-June 24, with the reception, including the opportunity to meet this year’s living legends, on May 13 at 6 p.m. It will then tour the county, visiting local libraries throughout the county.
For more information about the Legends Exhibit and it’s touring dates visit www. sdcl.org. Mona Mills work can be seen at www.monamillsartist.com and her books are available on Amazon.