When Mona Ruehle invited me to her studio, I was bubbling with excitement. I had already seen some of her art online, and I was smitten with it. To be granted access to the place where it all happens truly felt like a privilege.
As soon as I arrived at Mona’s artistic space, I understood why this room is an art studio. The double-height ceilings make it feel so airy, and the light streaming through the ground and first-floor windows illuminate the entire room. The walls are completely adorned with Mona’s vibrant artwork. You don’t need to be an art school graduate to understand that they celebrate and revere life at the same time. If I had to explain how I felt when I look at her paintings; joie de vivre is what I think of.
The bold and abstract colors are everywhere. A camel here, some fruit over there and the Kuwait Towers. They don’t feel traditional or conventional. Instead, they are layered with different textures. Some are grainy, others are smooth and shiny. She uses everything from acrylics, pigments, sand from the desert, charcoal from the barbecue, to even coffee.
Before Mona starts painting, she soaks her canvases in the salty seawater. She doesn’t just use paint, but also adds pieces of linen and leaves, stencils motifs on her paintings, and finishes them off with a layer of wax. Every step adds more dimensions to her artwork. The end result is breathtaking.
One of the methods that she uses for the base of her paintings is called Alla Prima which is Italian for “at once”. It is a wet-on-wet painting technique, adding new layers before the preceding one has had enough time to dry. From there, Mona continues to add to her pieces more transparent layers, from more textures to colors. When I asked her if she wanted to try other ways of painting, she said that after having tried so many different approaches, Alla Prima is the one she loves the most. The urgency helps her create.
I can see why this style suits her, as Mona is unbounded in her energy and passion for her art. Splashing, pouring, spilling and throwing paint is what she loves to do. She works quickly and tirelessly to bring to the real world what she first envisioned in her imagination.
Mona herself is open, playful, warm and visibly curious. Spend a couple of minutes with her and it feels like you have known her forever. She grew up in Palatine, a region in Germany known for its beauty, green forests, vineyards and warm climate, which she believes started her on this path. At a very young age, she was inspired by her father, who loved to paint at home.
A degree in Art or Art History was not in the cards for her. Instead, she studied interior design and real estate management, but she never gave up on painting. She went to every workshop and masterclass she could find. She still loves going to them because her hunger for learning is insatiable. Mona’s bookshelves at the studio are a testament to her dedication to her craft. They are fully stocked from top to bottom with beautiful books that are part of her journey.
In 1997, she opened her first studio and by 2001 Mona became a full-time artist. In 2006 her family relocated to Dubai and in 2010 they moved again to Kuwait. A huge contrast to her homeland, the Middle East has been an inspiration to Mona, with its bright blue skies and expansive desert landscapes. The same dust storms that are a nuisance to most of us arrive as a muse to the artist.
Mona continuously draws from what she sees around her. On one of her many tables, was an interesting black and white mixed-media piece of a photograph of a lone tree. Her family was on the road to Wafra when she took the picture.
Everything that she sees eventually finds a way into her art. A friend’s photograph of a curious looking goat was the inspiration for another painting. The goat has very thought-provoking eyes that make you wonder.
The mother of two easily gets lost in her art and can paint for hours at a stretch when she is hit with inspiration. Her daughters know that once she is engrossed in something, she won’t be able to stop until she feels it is done. Creating takes courage, however, because it also means that if things go in a direction she is not happy with, the painting for Mona is ruined and she needs to start over. For her, this is heart breaking. Artists are known for their sensitivity and vulnerably and Mona is no exception.
I was curious about the best advice she was given. A mentor told her “to just let it go” when she was going through a difficult time which was blocking her. Once she gave herself permission, the art poured out of her soul. Her advice to fledgling artists is to just start. The time is now, don’t wait.
When I asked Mona if she thought of herself as a painter, artist or a creative person, she paused before commenting that she saw herself as “a creative person who focuses on painting.” She also told me that everything she sees, or touches gives her creative ideas. Her latest and most beloved paintings are of pomegranates. A pair, one represents spring and summer and the other fall and winter. The pinkish reddish fruit sits in the middle and is surrounded with golds, whites, and blacks. Little fragments of cloth add more texture and layers to the painting and geometric patterns complete the effect. There is so much depth and movement in them.
If you ever want to be inspired or are just curious about her work, Mona’s studio is always open to visitors. Coffee is also part of the deal.