Art Moura—refreshingly—doesn’t have a significant online presence. I pieced my knowledge of him together through different articles and time spent with images of his work.
Moura’s story is interesting—he’s traveled extensively in Spain, worked as an electrician and—until its demise in a 2018 demolition derby—drove a Volvo 740 Station Wagon covered in doll’s heads, painted figures and mannequin legs. Growing up in Santa Rosa, I saw this car many times.
Among other things, Moura creates dolls—I would call them creatures—out of found objects such as fabric, paper and wire. Looking at them is intense. I spent a while with the images I found from Moura’s exhibition with the Good Luck Gallery in Los Angeles in 2015 and came away feeling slightly haunted, as though his gaze was on me.
In explaining his process, Moura says that a piece isn’t complete until it has a soul. In an interview at the 2015 Good Luck Gallery exhibition opening, Julian Stern wrote, “Moura explains that, though he doesn’t believe his pieces to truly have souls, he imagines them vividly and personifies them. Each of them has what he describes as a rascally, slightly wounded personality.”
I don’t believe that Moura doubts his pieces truly have souls—I think he knows they do. Something truly magnificent about the motivation to create art is its root in the experience of inspiration, in its etymological sense, from the Latin inspirare, meaning “to breathe life into.”
For the creator or artist, the experience of inspiration is a transfer of vital force from an internal to an external manifestation, a.k.a. the imparting or producing of a soul. It is what separates bad art from good art, and here the word bad could be substituted with dead, or sterile. “Bad” art meaning lifeless art, lacking that pulse of vitality that animates “good” art, or simply, art that is alive. This is how the artist knows their work is real, even if it stares back at them mockingly or with the X-ray vision one’s art can sometimes have when it takes shape outside of their own consciousness.
This is an alchemical process, taking rags and wire, or paint and canvas, and creating something vital from them. No, the creature does not take literal breaths, does not independently reach its hand out or stand up on its own, but it is undeniably alive, animate with the inspiration by which it was conceived.
This imparting of soul is what makes Moura’s work such a reactive pleasure to experience.
His latest exhibition is on view at the Hammerfriar Gallery in Healdsburg. The video his daughter, Aja DeWolf Moura—an exceptional artist in her own right—made of his creative process is also on view for the length of the exhibition, as well as on her website at ajadewolfmoura.com.