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Artist in Residence 

A haven for creativity, the home of Mimi Moncier and Alan Lewis is alive with color

I once heard Mimi Moncier joke that filling the walls with your own artwork is just an economical way to decorate your home. To be sure, it is a tenet that would leave the average person's walls either completely bare or unbearably unsightly, but in the Uptown home she shares with her husband, Alan Lewis, it is beautifully, colorfully, masterfully realized. After living and working in Boston for 13 years, the first stop on the couple's 2001 house-hunting trip to New Orleans was much like the day the two first met in the parking lot of the architecture building at the University of Tennessee: love at first sight.

"This was the first house we saw," recalls Moncier. "Literally, from the airport, our realtor brought us straight here. We just loved it."

In terms of architecture and interior design, Moncier says she's a true modernist at heart. "But we're living in a building that's from 1881, so we have to be sensitive to that as well," she explains. "The amazing thing to me is that these shotguns really hold up well to many different interpretations. Even though this is a very traditional building, it is incredibly loft-like, and that was one of the things that attracted us to it. Because of the high ceilings, it's got a lot of volume, and I think it can really handle clean, modern pieces very well. And the light in here is fantastic."

In addition to changing paint colors, fixtures and lighting throughout the house, the couple, both trained architects, redesigned the backyard and the kitchen. For the latter, certain things were not negotiable. Moncier, for example, has an aversion to upper cabinets.

"I think they're like these carbuncles on walls. I can't stand them," she says. "They're crowding. I want to see what I'm working on. We put a mirror above the counter so we could prepare food and still visit with guests. It also expands the space drastically."

Along the mirror is a rail system by Hafele, a transplant from their home in Boston. The various racks and shelving units that hang on the rail are movable and can be switched around with ease. Other pieces in heavy rotation around the house are Moncier's own paintings, a vibrant testament both to her thrift and, more notably, to her creativity.

"I've always painted," says Moncier, who, after working as an architect for 10 years, decided to make a career change. "I realized I was painting every night when I got home from work. I thought I might prefer being an artist, so I decided I'd give it a try." She went back to school to study art in Boston, and shortly after graduation, she and Lewis moved to New Orleans. While he pursued a career as an urban designer — now working as an architect at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, as acting director of the Tulane City Center and as an adjunct architecture professor at Tulane, Moncier kept painting, began showing her work in galleries and has just finished her first year in the master of fine arts program at UNO.

As an undergraduate, she started off working from the figure, but then shifted her focus to the power of color to influence perception.

"It began when I started altering color in my figurative painting to heighten your experience in what I was trying to communicate," says Moncier. "And then I went completely abstract and made color the actual subject of the paintings. Essentially, I indexed color from my environment on a very personal level and then all the way up to a larger, cultural level. For instance, I did all of the colors of my shoes, all the colors of my clothes, all of the colors in a room. I even did a painting about the colors I was painting at that point in time in my studio. It became very self-referential."

Moncier also studied color on a cultural scale. The multi-canvas work that runs along the bottom of her living room is called The Strip. "It's the colors of all of the signage of all the big-box stores," says Moncier. "I was very interested in the way color is used as a marketing tool."

As her art continues to evolve, she has begun to address the concepts of memory and place.

"I've always been interested in memory and the inaccuracy of memory, not only personal memory, but also collective memory," says Moncier. "We all remember things differently. And how do you represent a memory?"

She found that her background in architecture and her interest in urbanism and cities could go hand in hand with a study of memory.

"I love buildings, but I hadn't really found a way to conceptually and formally introduce them into my art," says Moncier. "And it seemed to me that, coupled with place, memory could create a very interesting formal strategy for creating paintings, because place and architecture can actually ground memory."

One of her more recent works, was inspired by a specific memory of a hiking trip in the hills north of Lucca in Tuscany and the day she and Lewis came across a goat herders' village that was accessible only by foot.

"It had this mystique, because everything that was up there had to be brought in by foot," says Moncier, adding that the place felt even more removed when they observed the rows of harnesses and frames set up for draining carcasses of the slaughtered animals.

"I've never been around that, though it is a very natural thing," she says. "But just because of the way our culture has evolved, it feels very remote, and it shouldn't be. There's something kind of beautiful about understanding the process."

The piece is also about cities, and how the growth of cities has caused some more graphic realities of modern life to seem foreign to us, Moncier explains. "If you look at the surface of that painting, there's also mold," she says. "I used mold as a metaphor for cities because it is indiscriminate and grows anywhere."

Moncier's work will be featured in a show called A Time for War or Peace: Art That Confronts the Realities of the Present at Space 301(www.space301.com) in Mobile, Ala., with an opening reception on June 29. To see more of her work online, visit www.mimimoncier.com.

click to enlarge Emil Nolde is one of Mimi's favorite artists. - THERESA CASSAGNE
click to enlarge THERESA CASSAGNE
click to enlarge "This one is called Timeline. It presents all of - the colors I had used in the persona project when color - was the subject," says Moncier. "In a way, it represents a - spectrum of me. The canvases are arranged so it looks - like a sentence. It's kind of a self portrait, very - abstractly." - THERESA CASSAGNE
  • Theresa Cassagne
  • "This one is called Timeline. It presents all of the colors I had used in the persona project when color was the subject," says Moncier. "In a way, it represents a spectrum of me. The canvases are arranged so it looks like a sentence. It's kind of a self portrait, very abstractly."
click to enlarge "I prefer things that are simple and streamlined, things - that are well made with really high-quality, natural - materials  things that will last," says Moncier. "That - couch for example. We have two sets of different colored - slipcovers. Italian designers really have it figured out. It's - all simply velcroed on and is removed easily for - cleaning." - THERESA CASSAGNE
  • Theresa Cassagne
  • "I prefer things that are simple and streamlined, things that are well made with really high-quality, natural materials things that will last," says Moncier. "That couch for example. We have two sets of different colored slipcovers. Italian designers really have it figured out. It's all simply velcroed on and is removed easily for cleaning."
click to enlarge THERESA CASSAGNE
click to enlarge Moncier and Lewis started from scratch to create a peaceful - patio setting. - THERESA CASSAGNE
  • Theresa Cassagne
  • Moncier and Lewis started from scratch to create a peaceful patio setting.
click to enlarge Moncier's painting, "This Year's Candy Colors for Shoes," - hangs next to a dress form by Royal Dress Forms and - above a white console by Cappellini. Two more of - Moncier's pieces, "Colorscape 6" (small canvas) and "This - is your brain on Prozac" (sculpture) share the space with - "Giraffe" by Howard Finster, in front of an untitled - painting by Ethel Revita. - THERESA CASSAGNE
  • Theresa Cassagne
  • Moncier's painting, "This Year's Candy Colors for Shoes," hangs next to a dress form by Royal Dress Forms and above a white console by Cappellini. Two more of Moncier's pieces, "Colorscape 6" (small canvas) and "This is your brain on Prozac" (sculpture) share the space with "Giraffe" by Howard Finster, in front of an untitled painting by Ethel Revita.
click to enlarge A recent portrait of Moncier and Lewis' beloved Rhodesian - Ridgebacks, Mr. Bones and Tarzan, by photographer Kent - Hardouin - THERESA CASSAGNE
  • Theresa Cassagne
  • A recent portrait of Moncier and Lewis' beloved Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Mr. Bones and Tarzan, by photographer Kent Hardouin
click to enlarge Silk bubble dress by Ella Mos - THERESA CASSAGNE
click to enlarge Silver art necklace by Ninh Wysocan - THERESA CASSAGNE
click to enlarge One of Moncier's recent paintings - THERESA CASSAGNE
click to enlarge Italian art boxes - THERESA CASSAGNE
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