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Meet Meena Matocha

Today we’d like to introduce you to Meena Matocha.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Meena. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
Growing up in suburban central Texas in the 1970s, we were one of a few Asian immigrant families in our neighborhood. I had an amazingly happy childhood, but there was always that feeling of not completely fitting in.

When I was seven years old, I had an art teacher who gave a portrait drawing demonstration one day in class. He chose me to model for the drawing, and after sitting for about 15 minutes while the rest of the class watched, he showed us the finished drawing.

It was a perfect likeness of me in this beautiful drawing, and my seven-year-old self was in awe. I couldn’t really articulate it at the time, but looking back on it now, I felt seen and known in a way I hadn’t before. When I saw that drawing, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I want people to feel those same feelings of acceptance, of being known and seen through my work.

Drawing was always something that came naturally to me, and I enjoyed learning to observe the world around me and capture it into a sketchbook. My parents were supportive of my work, but we were a traditional Asian household in many ways. “Artist” was not on the accepted list of career choices. After struggling for many years, I finally caved and committed to pursuing art as a career.

I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Art and worked as an administrative assistant while making art on the side. I got married not long after graduation, and my husband and I moved to China to work with a non-profit in the western part of the country. We lived there for seven years, and our family of two became three with the joyful arrival of our son.

Within his first year of life, the doctors were finding that he wasn’t meeting his expected milestones, so we moved back to Austin to get our son the help he needed. It was these big changes that caused me to turn to making art again. We’ve been back for six years now, and I’ve been making art full-time ever since.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has been a bumpy road getting here! Most of the difficulty has brought about self-awareness and confidence that I didn’t have before, and for that I’m thankful. One thing I learned about myself is that I defer to whoever my authority is at the time too easily. I had authority figures who told me for years, directly or indirectly, that making art wasn’t the way to have a good life or make the world a better place.

After years of believing this, I hit a wall very hard. I was depressed and suicidal. I got help from a counselor (who I’m convinced was an angel sent from heaven) and anti-depressants. I also learned to take responsibility for my life’s choices, to have confidence in who I was and how I was made, and to listen to my inner voice.

As a Christian, I believe that we are made uniquely and that how we are made is beautiful. It took me a long, difficult time to realize that there was something in me that I could give to others in a way that no one else could. We all have that innately in us. Out of that realization, my art came out again.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I’m trained as a painter, drawing as the foundation underneath. After cultivating my painting for years, I found myself stuck and a bit bored. It had become very academic for me, and I was looking for something with a little more freedom and spontaneity… a way of making art that would incorporate spiritual practice, abstraction, and the figure and portrait.

After being commissioned by my church in early 2017, I began to create art while meditating through the Christian church calendar. Ash Wednesday inspired me to incorporate ashes into my work, and I went back to basics by using charcoal as my main medium. I love how the material is elevated to bring meaning to a piece of art. After using ashes and acrylic paint to create washes over a panel, I let it dry in its organic state and then sit in front of it for a time.

I’ll sketch in figures with charcoal that emerge from the organic shapes, wipe them down, sketch again, repeating this process until the final figure or portrait emerges. I then cover the image with cold wax to create a dream-like effect, and as a protective layer. In addition to the materials and meditation and prayer involved, the movement in these pieces, some of them large, has brought me renewed energy.

The themes I’m dealing with in these pieces are around life and death, grief and joy, being so closely related. They are about how brokenness and beauty share the same breath in our lives. I’m not even really sure how to categorize these new pieces! I’ve recently been calling them charcoal paintings, and I think that fits.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I’m a very introverted person by nature, so it takes a lot of energy and overcoming anxiety to go out and be with people, particularly people I don’t know. As a new-ish member of the central Texas art community, it has been so important for me to fight that voice that tells me to stay home and instead go out to art events and meet other artists and art organizers.

As a mother of a young child, it isn’t always easy, but it has been those times that I’ve been able to go out and be in the community that opportunities have been presented to me. I guess there has been some luck in those meetings and opportunities, but I think it has more to do with the generosity of the artist community here in Austin, of which I’m so grateful.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Lisa Van Allen, Liliana Novati

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