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Mona Caron, Mural Artist

To many homeowners, weeds are some of the most unsightly plants in their gardens. They are unwelcome and every time they are seen, a form of weed killer is pulled from the store to destroy them. Unfortunately, they keep coming back. Others are so strong that they sprout through the cracks of pavement and sidewalks. So even if weeds are kept away from the fertile soil the garden, they will always find a way – they’re such strong-willed.

Such powerful and resilient characteristic of weeds is what Swiss-born American artist Mona Caron idolizes in her murals that feature massive, towering weeds.

Mona believes that weeds are beautiful plants and have a role to play in life. They are somewhat a symbol of people and issues in society that many others often consider of less importance, yet they have to be addressed. That tells why Mona often collaborates with local and international, social and environmental movements for labor rights, water rights, and climate justice.

Murals

As part of her “WEEDS” project, Mona has created murals in many places around the world including her adoptive city San Francisco, Portland, Sao Paulo, Colombia, Taiwan, and Spain.

She usually chooses the location of each mural in resonance with the “WEEDS” series metaphor – resilience and resistance. They are places where alternatives are being established, places that are making a difference while resisting the entropy of our world.

Take, for example, mural + assemblage collaboration with Dustin Fosnot in San Francisco. The work is a poetic representation of the precarious condition that many people find themselves in as a result of the real estate crisis in the city.

A recurring theme in her murals is the large scale portraits of seemingly unremarkable plants, in which the difference between the artistry’s heroic magnitude and the plant’s natural fragility or lack of appreciation is meant as a tribute to the resilience of all those beings that are often deemed unfit within the designs of society, but keep growing anyway.

Such is the narrative behind her soaring artwork in the city of Kaohsiung, Lingya District, Taiwan.

“I’m known to paint weeds. The plants in this mural are hardly weeds: their medicinal properties are appreciated enough to make them widely cultivated. But I painted them growing, like weeds do, from an inhospitable ground, a disturbed environment. Our disturbed environment,” she said.

“But from those beacons in the dark, healing plants grow upwards, pushing beyond our predicament. The healing plants assert themselves somehow, reaching that elusive clear sky, rarely seen in many cities like Kaohsiung.”

Collaborations

Mona Caron has created multiple pieces of art with other artists from around the world. In 2015, she went to the depths of Medellin, Colombia and together with Zatelite Afrobeat, they created a 500ft long mural on a convex wall on the fast lane side of a one-way street. This was for the 4th World Bicycle Forum of that year.

The mural unfurls to passers-by, starting small and growing to something big from left to right. According to Mona, the mural symbolizes the impact of the small, simple act of riding a bike in the city, something that can eventually bring about pronounced transformations, which further the liveliness and livability of the urban setup.

Other collaborations include Mona and Liqen mural in Vigo, Spain, Mona + Apexer at Trail Head in San Francisco, as well as a remarkable Collapsible painting kit and self-growing mural by her and SofT Zulah.

Artivism

In line with her activist trends, Mona Caron creates artwork to support issues in society. Her art has been used in labor rights groups, water rights groups and climate justice rallies with organizations ranging from 350.org to Zero-waste Detroit, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Land is Life, and US Social Forum.

A prime example is her 2016 Mujeres Custodias mural in central Quito, Ecuador. Featuring 6 Amazonian and 3 Andean indigenous women, the mural was created to raise their profile along with other women leading the defense from fossil fuel extraction, mining activities, and agricultural laws that endanger food sovereignty and abolish ancestral culture in the region.

A vast majority of her murals created for mass street actions involved collaboration with her longtime friend and partner-in-art, fellow artivist and puppetista, David Solnit. However, her social involvement transcends mural creations. In 2015, Mona made a host of paintings directly on banners and flyers for the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris.

Among other things, she does illustrations for books, posters for political or music events, and news editorials, using watercolor and block print techniques.

Personal background

Mona Caron was born and raised in the Centovalli area of Ticino, Switzerland. She studied English literature at the University of Zurich before moving to San Francisco, where she went to the Academy of Art University and graduated with honors BFA in illustration.

But her true love for botany is largely owed to three aspects; her childhood’s natural environment, her mother’s teachings as well as influence from her father, Peter Bissegger, who is a theater set designer.

The History of Murals

What is a mural?

A mural is a piece of art that is painted on walls. It can be on the inside of buildings or outside for public display. They are large and take artistic expertise to paint them. The artwork incorporates the architecture of the building to bring out the painting and the building as one.

There is an ongoing debate on whether the drawings that are on canvases then put up on the walls qualify as murals. It is an artistic style that has however been in use since the 19th century. Murals are on only on side walls; they can be on ceilings and floors.#

Brief history of murals

Murals date back to 30,000 BC from the earliest paintings in the Chauvet cave France. The largest numbers of paintings are from Egyptian tombs in 3150BC, Pompeii in 100BC-AD79 and Minoan places 1700-1600BC. The whole period within which ancient paintings are is known as the Upper Paleolithic times.

Dry plaster is how paintings were put together in the Middle Ages, the 14th century. Kerala mural painting is an example of fresco secco. When the technique of painting murals on wet plaster took root in Italy, circa 1300, wall painting quality grew. It is the age where mural painting began to take shape and become modern.

The best-known style of mural painting is Fresco, but there are many methods and techniques as shown by the Mexican muralism art movement that took significant root in modern times. The pioneers of this movement include Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and Jose Orozco.

Fresco technique of mural painting utilizes water soluble paints and lime wash. Applying the mixture on large surface results in a wall painting. Once the mixture dries, the colors take shape. For millennia, another method known as the Marouflage technique has been in use.

Today, people appreciate murals even more, and the methods are different. They now incorporate oil painting which is very popular. There are abstract paintings and trickster murals that are known as Trompe-l’oeil. The significant change came about through the works of Graham Rust and Rainer Maria in the 1980’s. In Europe, oil painting has taken center stage and is in private and public buildings.

Mural painting is revolutionary and proves that walls and ceilings do not have to be plain. Now, wall paintings can be shown by transferring the wall art into a poster paper canvas and then paste on a wall. The art or photographic image gives the illusion of a realistic scene on the wall.

History of mural painting techniques

Fresco paintings are the earliest method used. It came from Italy and came from the word fresh. There are two categories of the art. Fresco is whereby you apply paint on plaster on the walls and ceilings whereas the Buon fresco technique, you paint in pigment and mix it with water on thin wet, lime layer of mortar or plaster. The wet plaster and the dye mix, and when it is dry, the reaction with air glues in place the particles of the pigment.

 

Once the process is complete, the painting can last centuries with the pictures looking fresh, and the color is brilliant. Fresco painting is on dry plaster, and therefore the pigment needs a medium like glue, oil, or egg that will fix the pigment to the wall.

Mezzo fresco is another technique that paints on almost dry plaster and came to be in the 16th century by Ignazio Pozzo. The pigment will drive into the plaster lightly and give impeccable murals. The mezzo fresco style of painting considerably took over the Buon fresco method.

Materials used in mural painting

Over the centuries, different materials have been in use for wall painting and the evolution of the techniques has also seen to the change in the materials. The earliest known is the tempera painting which then gave way to oil painting in the 16th century.

Paintings once complete in the old days did not have any protection from sun rays. As the materials and times change, the application of varnish and protective acrylic has taken shape to guard the murals against UV sun rays.

The use of POP clay is what young muralists are using. They mix it with glue to make them even more durable. When the clay dries, you then paint with the colors you want and even apply varnish for protection.

Technology has taken its place in the mural painting. Digital techniques are now taking shape in a mural painting like wall scape. Mural painting has been in constant evolution over the years, and it continues to evolve to incorporate the use of modern materials and pictures.

Advantages of murals

Murals are imperative in the world of art and the contemporary world because they bring art to the public and make people more aware of art. Murals are expensive and take a significant amount of time that is why for a painting to be put up, there has to be a sponsor who is funding the project.

Murals are also a communication tool. You can use a wall painting to communicate the message that you wish the public to know. The size of the painting will attract the attention of the public which makes it an effective way of communicating a message.

Murals affect the attitudes of the people passing by them. Everyone gets their understanding of the painting, and they therefore add aesthetic value to the areas that they are put up. They can be a tourist attraction that brings improvement to the areas.

Murals can also be used as landscapes, especially because they are vast and hard to miss paintings. Every painting is unique, and it’s hard to mistake one for the other. Murals are a way of expression for the muralists. It is their way of speaking to people and the world. They command the attention of the people and leave their mark in the area for centuries to come

Murals are continually coming up, and most people are now aware of the existence of paintings, their artistic value and their significance in the community. They take time and patience to put up and with modern technology taking over, the evolution of muralism is even faster than before.