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Mona King's art inspired by nature. Winston-Salem artist's work on display at Milton Rhodes Center

Mona King's art inspired by nature. Winston-Salem artist's work on display at Milton Rhodes Center

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Mona King, an artist, designer and interior architect, learned to appreciate nature and art at a young age.

As a child growing up in Gary, Ind., King and her family spent a lot of time on the beaches, and in the parks and dunes.

“A lot of family time together,” King said. “That’s probably part of why I like being outside in nature so much because my mom always had big picnic baskets. We had lots of food and would play in the park.”

Even during her college years as a fine arts major, King would sit in the greenhouse at Indiana University in Bloomington. Ind., among a variety of flowers and plants.

“I would draw,” King said. “It was mostly between classes. I would just relax because it was quiet. Greenhouses are very warm. You get a lot of natural light and the sun coming in. They are very peaceful places, and the air is clean.”

King’s “ri-ˈnü [renew],” an exhibition of Living Aura moss art and nature inspired installations, will be presented now through Jan. 3, 2021 in the Arboreal Gallery in Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts at 251 N. Spruce St. in downtown Winston-Salem.

“I wanted to offer something different, that actually brings nature into the space,” King said of her Living Aura works.

She moved to Winston-Salem 30 years ago from Indianapolis, Ind., for a job with Sara Lee Knit Products then worked for Hanesbrands after Sara Lee Corp. spun off its branded apparel division.

Today, she is the owner of Mona + Associates Design LLC, a multi-discipline, human-centered collaborative design group focused on creating holistically designed spaces and services that promote wellness in the built environment.

Q: How would you describe your art?

Answer: My art is a combination of my experience in graphic design, interior architecture, design and construction and my passion for nature. I am able to create art that is structural, colorful and not traditional in the design arena. It is also known as Biophilic - design inspired by nature.

Q: How have you evolved as an artist?

Answer: It is a continuous process and it allows me to explore what if, rather than throughout my professional career when other specific goals had to be met. I get to play so to speak with a variety of materials, different ways to construct, sizes, colors and express myself through nature’s materials along with traditional painting, sculpture and construction.

Q: Who has influenced your art?

Answer: I was lucky to have parents that encouraged each child in my family to do what we enjoyed, art being my favorite. I never was discouraged by the perception of being a starving artist. My father was a strong advocate of trying your best to do whatever you chose to do and not let others decide your path. I have a wide interest in architecture – Richard Meir, Michael Graves, Zaha Hadid; painting and illustration – DaVinci and Kehinde Wiley,  bold graphic fashion, and beautiful serene natural landscapes. The world is a constant source of inspiration.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

Answer: The arts, design and construction industry continues to be minimally represented by minorities. Research data shows we represent 2% to 3% in all these professions. It has not changed during my career and that is unfortunate. As a result, many do not practice art or remain in the design field due to lack of opportunity and recognition. Getting my foot in the door as an entrepreneur is continuously challenging. Once I left corporate, it seems my value was tied to my title, the corporation and not my abilities.

Q: What does art do for you?

Answer: It calms me, it provides a time and place for me to be creative without boundaries. I am not a fan of boundaries or restrictions. I have been fortunate to be the first in many areas of responsibilities in my career but that can also be lonely when you look around a room and you are the only representation as a female, minority, now I can also add the age factor.

Q: Any advice for other artists?

Answer: Art is a business and should be taught as one. If it is not, research and teach yourself. Fortunately, there are more educational institutions teaching this. The Kenan Institute for the Arts at UNC School of the Arts is one locally through its Creative Catalyst Certificate program. Universities are also recognizing the value of liberal art, arts degrees and the correlation to problem solving and critical thinking. Design thinking is the most recent business buzzword. I have always believed it is the same as critical thinking and empathy which are key components of the arts. We are more challenged now due to the pandemic, however many problems have been solved by arts-based, maker businesses. Professional art and design is not a hobby or part time craft. The value the arts bring to the world is immense in all areas. Artists and creatives need to find their niche, to enable others to see their value. We are also intuitively collaborative when necessary. Creative minds feed off other creative energy.

Fran Daniel writes about artists — visual, musical, literary and more. Send your story ideas to fdaniel@wsjournal.com or call 336-727-7366.

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