It takes some chutzpah to be mononymous. Look at single-name pop culture icons Madonna, Prince, Sting, Beyonce, Cher, Liberace, Bjork, etc. But the Asheville painter known simply as Misha didn’t start out with attitude. “I was never really anything,” she says. “I was a shell of a person. I was playing at being an artist.”
Though an art major in college, Misha says she was unhappy as an aspiring artist (a perfectionist, she deemed her work as not successful if an image did not perfectly represent reality). She swiftly entered into a family career as a property manager, building a successful practice in real estate over ten years.
But Misha eventually found her true self.
The first step came in meeting her future husband, who encouraged her to take risks and attempt to lead a life not-so-intensely-planned. After three years of marriage, their joint urge to leave their native Orlando gave birth to a large risk — saying goodbye to their successful careers, taking their savings, and venturing to Asheville, a city they had never even visited before. Arriving in 2010, it was the first of many instinctual decisions that would later inform her rebirth as an artist.
She joined a bell choir. She designed props for the Asheville Community Theatre. She interned for renowned artist Jonas Gerard. In the last month before their savings account dried up, she was offered a full-time position in Gerard’s studio. This connection led her to the event that redefined her as an artist with a personal vision: The Painting Experience, a workshop in August 2012, led by Stewart Cubley.
“I finally heard that little inspirational voice in my head…telling me which colors to use.” Misha never would have dared to use a color in a painting that didn’t represent reality. But after just one day of the two-day workshop, it instilled in her a courage that she had never before experienced. She awoke on the second day with the simple confidence to wear a brightly colored sweater that she would have previously felt to be too bold. Less than a year later, she feels exponentially more grounded in her artwork, and in being able to playfully express herself as an individual. “I’m really loud. I love cussing. I love unicorns.”
That loudness comes across in her color palette that spans a variety of intense hues. The primary imagery that arose from the workshop experience is cityscapes — a distinct departure from her figurative roots. In breaking with the assumptions of most cityscapes, the vast majority of her paintings do not represent any specific locale, but serve as an imaginary backdrop for her “love affair with color, texture, and materials.”
Take her large mixed media work “Concrete Jungle #1.” Misha has experienced a certain power in hearing people say this painting reminds them of their home city — everyone can attach emotionally to the work on some level even though the cityscape is imaginary. This piece in particular flirts with abstraction in its complementary color scheme of blues and oranges, full of energetic lines. Shapes appear through spraypaint stencils, a happy accident that Misha chose embrace and incorporate — a happy departure from her previous philosophy that would have brought the composition to a halt due to her “mistake.”
Misha’s new outlook on art-making is perfectly symbolized by her primary choice of painting media: watercolor. Indeed watercolor has ties to traditional schools of landscape painters. She also admits a switch to watercolor appeased her concerns in wasting acrylic paint — you can always reactivate dried watercolor with water. However, watercolor’s organic nature takes some effort and skill to tame it, and for Misha, letting watercolor be itself becomes a daily practice of letting go, letting the paint inform her, becoming a vehicle for intuition. “It is definitely not a medium I would have used in college.”
Misha does not look to other artists for inspiration — in fact, she tries to avoid looking at much artwork altogether. “Creativity does not come to you, it comes through you. I don’t want to repeat what someone else has done, I want to take what is out there in the world and process it into something new.” In light of this, her inspirations are many; her studio is filled with clippings from fashion and home décor magazines, samples of paper that she has always loved collecting, bits of detritus from daily life that most people would overlook.
Misha’s strategy is simple: keep making more work. She is interested in 3D art, in what her cityscapes might look like as mobiles. She might try to marry her old subject matter of figural work with her current intuitive process, reconciling her bumpy beginnings as an artist. While such new ventures may be intimidating, Misha shows no fear. “If you’re uncomfortable, you’re on the right track.”
Misha’s studio, aka Delphian Artistry, is open on Sundays from 11-5 or by appointment; a great time to visit is during the River Arts District Studio Stroll June 8-9 when more than 160 artists scattered throughout 25 historic buildings along the French Broad River open up their studios for a weekend full of creative endeavors, including art exhibits and demonstrations.