Maria Sel, a multi-faceted artist from Russia, recently opened an immersive art school in Barcelona called MACTE Art Spaces. She is a painter, business woman, healer, performance artist, world traveler, and overall lover of art. She was in an unfortunate biking accident three years ago that motivated her to follow her passions and fulfill her own dreams. I had the pleasure to sit down with Maria in her new art space and share her story.
What happened during your accident and how was it life-changing?
At the end of December 2015, I was in a bike accident in Bali. I was going home after a photo shoot and was super tired. I slipped from paint spilled on the road – I remember when I was turning I saw my wheel in blue paint. This was very symbolic for me. I broke my collarbone. We went to the hospital and the doctors were charging 9,000 euros for the surgery. The problem was that my insurance had expired the previous week. Also, I found out that it was not a normal case because the bone was broken at a difficult angle and I should have been operated right away.
And the biggest thing was … I didn’t have the money. My mother didn’t have money at the time. Nobody had money. I couldn’t even take the whole amount from someone. So, I had to go to another hospital and thank God they discounted the price because I had a business residency in Bali. Then with the discount they gave me, I had to only find 4,000 euro, but it was still a short time and quite a big sum. So, I went to Facebook and Instagram for help … And people started sending me money from all over the world. My friends from Russia collected money and then, one of my students sent me about 1,000 euros.
The problem was when I went to the hospital, I only had half the amount and I sent my x-ray to a surgeon in Kiev to see if this really was an operable case. One of my students actually helped me get in contact with this woman. She called me at night and I will remember this for the rest of my life. She called me at night to tell me I have 24 hours to live because two days had already passed, so the inflammation of the blood could affect my heart or my brain [pause]… Or they could cut my right hand off.
It was night and it was raining. I was alone and I was trying to call my friends. But everyone was already sleeping or they couldn’t come. I went to the hospital. I begged them to operate and they declined. Then I went home and I just talked to spirits, God, the Universe, or whatever you call it. I said, ”Okay, I will be more sensitive. I will listen to your guidance. I will do what you really need me to do, but please save my hand and save my life.” I was not scared to die, I was scared to not have my right hand! Then in the morning, my friends brought the rest of the money and another friend transferred money into my account. Then, I went to the hospital and had surgery within 24 hours.
So, now it works! (Points at collarbone)
How would you describe your art?
That’s an interesting question. I actually started with painting portraits. I found art classes in Bali and my teacher’s name was Noella Roos. Her father was a famous Dutch sculptor, but she was a painter and primarily an illustrator. She has lived in Asia for over 20 years. The concept for the class is you come for four hours and she begins with giving insights about art. Then, she puts a person in front of you and you just paint. She doesn’t tell you what to do, but only helps you. I remember touching the brush and plain canvas saying, “I don’t know how to do this!” I was painting with shaking hands and I did not know where to start.
She showed me and explained there are two colours, just do the sketch of shades and lights. [Then] after 40 minutes, I finished my first sketch of the oil painting. My teacher then said, “Maria! Who are you?! I am scared to teach you.” She didn’t understand how this was possible, because normally beginners take two or three classes to do the composition correctly. She didn’t expect me to do so well. I’m not mentioning this because I am super proud of it, but because she thought it was strange and it marked the beginning of my career.
Painting was the biggest pleasure for me, with the brush and canvas. In Balinese, it’s called taksu and means that a spirit enters you. In English, it’s called inspiration when the spirit enters you and you begin to create. It’s not your talent, but the spirit. The door or window has been opened and now you are ready for the spirit to enter. Because you know what.. I tried several times to make more or less the same portrait. I can’t paint the same colours or do the same brushwork again, because it was the spirit I caught in Bali.
Then, I painted a portrait of myself from a mirror. I put the mirror in front of me and out came my second portrait. Then, I painted all my friends! So, that is how I started to paint portraits and it became my signature thing. Actually what I do is paint souls. I don’t paint faces. I paint energies, but through faces. I always cut through the head, so the eyes are on the golden ratio. If you put all my portraits in line, all of their eyes are on the same level. All of them.
I would define my art as esoteric. I paint portraits of souls and write about the process in the healing section on my website. And then, for example there’s my “Love Yourself” project about masturbation, which everyone finds cool and new. It’s also esoteric in the sense that I want women to believe in themselves and be open to their sexuality. My art also has a social element but it’s more about the spiritual aspect. I am inspiring women to love themselves because it is very important nowadays. This is why I define my art as esoteric, social, and inspirational. I want to make this world better through my art. It is kind of my purpose.
Would you say that art and spirituality are intertwined for everyone?
Yes, because actually as I found out, being an artist is only a state of mind of being ready to receive. We can be artists in all ways, not just by painting. I also do video and live performances. I went to Venice to perform during the International Performance art week. I was also invited to do the “Love Yourself” performance in Barcelona, but I was too busy as I was opening the space.
So, art is only the way to express yourself, to be honest with yourself, and be ready to show it to others. You don’t have to go to an art academy, or be a professional actor. I didn’t know I was a painter until I tried. I came to the class. Where is the brush? Where is the paint? How do I use it? You mix like that. This is turpentine. This is oil. This is transparent oil. So mix it… make the palette, this is the brush, this is the canvas, now go paint. And I tried and discovered that. I am an artist. I became an artist. I was an artist for all of my life, but inside of myself. We are all artists. We all have our hidden talents, like gems. And what I believe is that everyone can open up that small door to the universe and be connected to the spirits.
Tell me about MACTE Art Spaces and goals for your new project.
The idea came from the intuition that everyone can be an artist! And I wanted to make something alternative to what I saw in Barcelona and when I was traveling around the world.
First, I knew that I wanted to share a studio with someone to save money and to make a co-creating space where several people can paint and create. The second part I wanted to create was the unique art courses. I got the idea to do both and went back to Russia to get my visa. When I finally got it, I was in a dark train coming from Bulgaria to get my stuff and brainstorming for MACTE Art Spaces.
The first step of the project is an online art gallery with a perspective of virtual reality. Then, a co-creating art space for anyone who has never been an artist, to open their creativity, and increase their emotional intelligence.
MACTE Art Spaces will provide art support to help artists with crowdfunding and get them in contact with famous brands for collaboration. Then, an art club for artists, gallerists, art dealers, and other types of people who are interested in art. There will also be an art academy for art managers, since there is a lack of art managers throughout the world. I too have an Art Manager Certificate from Synergy Art Academy in Russia.
And what I already started is the immersive art school with classes and a residency for co-creating. I hope to have other locations in the future.
Another one of my goals for MACTE Art Spaces, is to provide options for special needs people with down syndrome or autism. People with these conditions are actually very, very creative. There are not many spaces that offer art classes for them since they are quite discriminated here. I want to make art centers for people with these conditions and to give them the opportunity to be artists as well.
This is why I call it MACTE Art SpaceS because there will be seven projects.
Very cool! I am seeing a lot of exciting goals for MACTE Art Spaces. How did you meet your team?
All the girls on my team were somehow connected to Bali. For example, I met Marusha in Bali. She had been living there for 8 years, and then we moved to Barcelona together. She’s a copywriter and a journalist, so she helps me with all of the text for the website.
Ksenia was living in Bali before I lived there and she knew Marusha. Then, Marusha introduced me to Ksenia in Bali.
Then, there is Vera. I am so proud to have Vera on my board because she actually writes all of the programs. Like me, she became an artist because of an accident, since she was hit by a car twice. She was an industrial designer before and now she is a painter.
I met Vera in Barcelona, but Ksenia met her in Bali. Marusha met Ksenia, and I met Marusha in Bali. We are all connected by the island and it brought us all together.
You mentioned earlier that you go at your own special pace, but where do you see yourself in 5 years?
This is an interesting question. I have my plan here (brings out notebook). Let me see what I wrote down. Sometimes everything goes super fast. For example, I see myself here in five years (points at notebook), and then I get there in one year! Then, I have to make something else up.
In five years, there will be a net of art schools in major art cities all over the world including an online art gallery with a virtual reality perspective.
Then, an art business school where students learn how to present themselves as an artist, learn art management, art collecting, art curating and so on. MACTE Art Spaces will have online courses for development in art business too.
There will be an art gallery specialized for young artists. I want to create this because I am an emerging artist going through this challenge. I want to be an art director for them and provide advice or direction.
MACTE Art Spaces also will have a network of curators and art critics. There will be an art business school that I will teach at. Lastly, the Instagram account will have more than 400,000 followers.
Have you ever said these goals out loud?
To myself (laughs). You are the first one!
Yay! I love it. What is some advice you’d give to emerging artists?
The main thing is to believe in yourself. Otherwise people will always tell you whether your art is bad or needs to be better.
The perception of art is personal. The main thing is to believe in what you are doing, 100%. Not even 99%, 100%. I had doubts that I was not a good artist. Do what you really want to do. If you feel a flow like a spirit is coming into you, don’t stop yourself.
It’s quite difficult to be an artist because you always have to remind yourself that you are doing what you love to do. Know it is your flow and nobody can judge you for that.
First of all, what is art? It is expression which means it is someone’s energy. Express your reaction to society, to events in your life, environment changes … I don’t know… whatever happenings in your life. For example, my “Love Yourself” project was inspired by my relationship with men. Even though they were not accepting of my sexuality, because it was too much for them, I thought why should I closet myself in?
I believe in what I am doing because it is my expression. So, emerging artists, if you are painting, creating video art, drawing, building installations, performing, acting, writing or any other type of art … know that it is all art. Believe in what you are doing, even if it only stays with you. It doesn’t matter.
I once heard a quote that Picasso said to Joan Miro at the beginning of his career that, “the art scene is like a queue.” So, you can just stay in the queue and wait until your “star hour,” as Russians say. That is what I do as an emerging artist. I just stay and wait.
“At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity.” Rachel Naomi Remen
Angela de Mesa is an emerging writer from the San Francisco Bay Area who got enchanted by Barcelona’s magic. She enjoys live concerts, discovering tasty foods, and is a lover of travel.