Waning Gibbous: Monica Magtoto


A painting series

Monica Magtoto

TAYO interviewed visual artist Monica Magtoto via email. We’re happy to present a preview of Monica’s ‘Moon Phases’ series, which is forthcoming in our 5th Anniversary Issue in Winter 2014–2015!

Monica Magtoto is an illustrator and graphic artist, living and working in San Francisco. She was born and raised in an old victorian flat, spending her childhood days playing with scraps of wood and nails, painting, and creating elaborate stories in her parent's backyard filled with plants, flowers, and salamanders. After attending Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, she returned to her native home and began teaching art to high school and middle school students in the inner-city. Check out her social media handles here: Facebook + Tumblr + Instagram.

Tell us a bit more about yourself.

I was born and raised in San Francisco, California. I attended Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and I majored in Digital Media, with an emphasis on Concept Art, even though most of my work now is illustration or design related.

I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the Mission District, making paper flowers with old ladies and watching family friends set up art shows, drawing, making a mess. I think that growing up in San Francisco gave me endless inspiration and reasons to create. Everywhere I looked, there was something beautiful. I think I really started to become serious about my art when I was in high school. I knew that I wanted to be involved in the arts, and I knew that I would never settle for anything else.

From 2010-2013, I taught high school art and a little bit of middle school art in inner city schools. I received my teaching credential in Art from San Francisco State University. After three years, I decided to take time off from teaching to devote to the development of my practice. This, so far, has been the biggest learning experience of my artistic career.

What interests you about the Moon? About femininity? There's an undertone of tribal homage in the series... Can you speak a bit more toward that?

I have always been moved by the moon and stars. As a kid, my favorite school field trip was to the Planetarium to watch the planets and stars swirl around. I have also always been intrigued by the moon’s influence on me. I feel connected to it and I think that each phase represents a different piece of a cycle. I grew up being influenced by all kinds of religions and forms of spirituality and the Moon Phases really speak to that. In terms of femininity, I have always wanted to be a woman who paints women. In traditional fine arts, women are most often portrayed by men, and I want to balance that out a bit in my work.

This series is really about prayer and meditation. It’s about inner strength and drawing from within yourself, in the quiet of night, to overcome oppression and hardships. Some of the pieces are about mothers, sisters, youth, ancestors, praying for change, praying for peace. Some of it is in response to the way that San Francisco’s climate and culture has changed in recent years and some of my feelings about it. Some of the characters in the pieces are looking for answers, next steps, strength to move forward, hope.

The tribal undertone stems from my own multicultural background. I am Filipina, Irish, Mexican, and Cape Verdean, and much of my work is about multiculturalism and the blending of traditions. It’s about my position within this racial binary system where you are forced to choose one identity and I never have. 

Who's your favorite artist? Who's one of your influencers?

One of my favorite artists is Alphonse Mucha. I think that his influence carries through most of my work; the natural elements mixed with typography, flat objects with three-dimensional ones, bodies, etc. Having grown up in San Francisco, I think that the Victorian and Art Nouveau and Deco periods really influenced me, as well as Japanese woodblock prints, and vintage sign making. I’m also heavily influenced by the graffiti and mural arts scene here in the city as well as comic book and traditional tattoo art, Native American, and Mexican folk arts.

Do you have a favorite book? 

One of my favorite books is the Dangerous Angels series by Francesca Lia Block. She writes a lot about women, and reading this book in high school changed my perception of myself as a young woman and artist. The series gave me a bit of fearlessness that I didn’t have before sparked a flame inside me.

What's your relationship to process? To form?

I’m very connected to my process. A lot of my work is really just my working through an idea, theme, or technique. I like to see where the work takes me. I usually begin by doing a ton of research and collecting a ton of reference. Sometimes this includes reading, taking pictures, sketching, doing studies, finding and printing out images, etc. Then I usually just look at all the research for a while before I make anything, maybe make a few notes or small sketches. When I began sketching the Moon Phases, I hadn’t considered what form they’d take, I just started drawing them. I had a bunch of cardboard that I had cut out for small painting studies for something else, and I just started drawing on them. I ended up loving the simplicity and the texture of the cardboard. I wasn’t getting trapped up in technique, I was letting it come naturally. I think that’s why the narrative really comes through in this work. It’s all coming from the same place and telling a story.

Tell us a bit about Bad Crit: A Revolution of the Underdogs. We love the journal's name. 

A Bad Crit was a blog that I developed with a friend whom I met at Otis. We were talking about how, as an artist or creative person, you always have that one critique that makes or breaks you. We wanted people to talk about that experience and we wanted to build a network of emerging artists so that we could give them exposure and talk about art and art shows. It kind of dwindled after a year or so, when I couldn’t take on the whole blog by myself. However, I’m still really proud of what we did with that project. I see it as a good chunk of history that we recorded.

Last but not least: what's your family's relationship to your art?

My family has always been supportive of my art. My mother is a bit of an artist herself (although she’ll never admit it) and she taught me a lot about craftsmanship and about how to be a creative person. My family has been the biggest support system in my life. They have been there for me through tragedy and triumph and if it weren’t for their unrelenting love, I would not be able to create the way that I do. I know that I’m not always easy to deal with, but they’re always there and their forgiveness and strength pushes me forward.