Monica Hilario

Born in:1975, Portugal
Lives in: Greensboro, USA
Describe your art in three words: Science, Existence, Universal.
Education:  - Bachelor's in Anthropology by The Faculty of Sciences and Technology (FCTUC), University of Coimbra, Portugal;  - PhD in Neuroscience, Gulbenkian PhD Programme in Biomedicine (PGDB), Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal/Columbia University, NY, USA.
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Spontaneous Revolutions

"Originally from Portugal, I came to the U.S.A. to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience. After an academic career as a research scientist, I decided to paint full time. While maintaining a scientific perspective, I am currently exploring visual experiences of what it feels to be human that are shared universally."

What themes does your work involve?
My artwork explores themes that are at the intersection of science, universality and existentialism. The piece selected for this publication,” Komorebi Kaleidoscope”, belongs to a series that I named Komorebi. Komorebi is the Japanese word for the sunshine filtering through the leaves of trees. In the paintings from my Komorebi Series I tried not to paint the trees and leaves realistically to get to the essence of feeling “Komorebi”. The strokes of paint interlace with varying thickness and sizes to give the sense of organic and interactive. The crossing of the branches create points of intersection, a collision of forces competing for photosynthesis/energy. I was trying to have form as a cohesion/tension, a life that can be contextualized to our existence.
Describe your creative process.
At this stage of my life, I find myself working in series. This happens for a couple of reasons: each piece is liberated from the burden of overexpression, and having multiple pieces allows me to explore an evolving set of ideas and techniques. My work normally happens in three phases, The first phase begins with an idea/experience that I embody in an image. Then, I work to achieve the right tension between my conceptual plan and the technical and aesthetic. I am very methodical in the use of the composition, perspective, values, tone, texture, strokes, transparencies to get the right concept and emotional valence into an image. I am finished when the painting expresses my idea with the desired emotional impact.
What influences your work? What inspires you? Why do you make art?
I find inspiration for my artwork in the intersection of science, universality and existentialism. I wish I could say I create art because I aim for the betterment of society and human existential quest for meaning but I would not be sincere. I make art because I always felt the need to do it. Humans are all creators and I guess I was fortunate to find, very early in life, painting as the ideal creative outlet that suited my inquisitive temperament and desire for solitude. Interestingly, solitude in art is something of an irony because we all create ultimately for others, so “how” what I create resonates in others is what ultimately validates my painting and keeps me going.
What is good art? What makes a piece of art great?
Nowadays, art is an open concept that cannot be defined solely by aesthetics, subject matter, functionality, craftmanship, or its socio-cultural role. Similarly, I find the Institutionalized theory of art, where the art world (curators, art critics, collectors, artists…) determines what constitutes great art to also be problematic. While an object can be considered art through any of these means, personally, I find what makes a piece of art great to me is its emotional impact and its capacity to elicit an intuitive sense of sublime, both very specific to human experience and biology. How it can suspend reality for a few moments for pause, awe, or horror. My notion of great art entails that its appreciation can be shared universally, and this is probably rooted in my neuroscience background.
What is the role of the artist today?
Art has the power to be educational, therapeutic, inspirational, and subversive. A single form of art cannot provide all this. Art needs to be pluralistic. The role of the artist is to explore the experience of being a human through art. I was always attracted by the idea that art should be transformative, be an experience that can elevate the viewer and inspire humanity to do better. Art has the capacity to synthesize thoughts, fears, and hopes and enlarge them to resonate within us and give us a feeling of being understood in a very intimate and profound sense, fostering connection and unity, a sense of shared identity.
The Bird's Dream
Komorebi Kaleidoscope
Bird's flight Into Spring
In the Greenhouse


This interview was published by Circle Foundation of the Arts. © CFA Press ∙ Images are courtesy of the artist