It's hard not to be enchanted by the artist Oodlies.
Australian artist Joi Murugavell creates a world where bizarre characters act out the nuanced interactions that we all face in our day-to-day life. Her doodles crawl around on large paper squares—part abstract art with large, blocked-out colorful shapes and part Dr. Suess-esque, with zany characters, that all meet and interact.
Joi says that drawing these scenes are a way of "life-solving," a type of meditative act that helps her sort out her own perspective on an event, a moment, or a relationship.
We had the chance to talk with Joi about the theory behind her work, white lies, "unsubscribing" from friendships, and identity-building through social media.
Unsurprisingly, her words were just as humorous as her paintings. Here is what she had to say in our Q&A:
You started doodling at a very young age. How have your doodles evolved and how has your process stayed the same?
I have noticed a pattern since I started adding all new work to Artwork Archive which displays work chronologically. Things seem to look similar in clusters of about ten, and then it starts changing.
But, the process is always nearly identical. I have no idea what I’m going to end up with in terms of what a doodle will look like or what it means. Even when I think I have an idea, I end up with something different from what I started with. Whenever I force it or have a preconceived agenda, the artwork looks terrible and does nothing for me. So, I’ve stopped getting in the way.
How would you describe your artistic style?
Sometimes apple strudel, sometimes thunder and lightning—very, very frightening.
A style is often an artist’s identity, just like our personalities, clothes, and body language. These all form our personal identities.
Identities are often tricky buggers — you have to pay careful attention to when you’ve changed, as external identities don’t get an auto-update to match internal changes. Often out of convenience, or not knowing, we react to situations as our past selves—not who we are today.
And, it’s the same with art. So often a style becomes a comfortable one—a comforting one that everyone else is used to.
We love the way you talk about your work as both experiments in art and life. What has been your biggest takeaway from these experiments?
One of these experiments was about not telling white lies for a month. During the course of a normal day, where there is all this busyness, it’s easy to let a few silent lies out undetected. So, I paid special attention to everything I said.
Interestingly enough, when I caught myself at the verge of a white lie, it was always based on judgment. I would think, “Argh ... I better not say this because this person will take it this way or so-and-so won’t understand if I told the truth. It was basically a snap judgment based on the past, or at times, nothing at all.
The biggest takeaway from my month of no white lies was how I liked being lied to — as most of my judgment was based on what I preferred not to hear, myself.
There are some lies which are necessary. For example, if a friend is doing something seemingly lame — especially if it’s relationship related — I don’t say what I actually feel, as I could be wrong. I’m also aware that most things are process related. That's how we learn (i.e do something stupid, learn, move on, mutate, change, etc.) In this case, it’s not lying; but rather, being responsible with words. Sometimes you need to let someone else's process be just that — theirs. Unless they’re in clear danger, I suppose.
What are you working on currently?
My latest experiment is on friendship subscription options. When we take someone in as a friend, we actually have subscription options. It’s a romantic and completely unpractical idea that we have to like everything about everyone. Not knowing that we have subscription options is what causes a whole bunch of expectations and problems.
So when I think of a friend now, I think about my subscription options — mainly what traits of theirs I’d like to unsubscribe from. When I’ve unsubscribed from a list, I don’t seem to take it personally or get as annoyed. So far though, unsubscribing only seems to work if I’ve told the person what I’ve unsubscribed from — which is tricky. This is an ongoing experiment, so I’ll have to let you know how it goes.
Each of your works tells a story of a pretty specific time or event. And, while humorous, these doodles explore some pretty profound subjects. Why do you feel like doodles are the best way to examine these themes?
I use my art as some sort of life-solving machine, drawing from confusing or tricky events.
Painting or drawing is the best way to open and maintain a dialogue with myself at the moment. When, and if, that changes, I won’t hold onto it (of course there will be a period of gloom where I’m all confused: WHO AM I? Why am I not drawing anymore? But, I’ve always given in to the pull of change and benefited from it).
Also, I just can’t draw any other way. I’ve tried to be all pastel and peaceful with paint, but eyes, limbs, and faces always appear.
Do you have a studio routine when you get into the studio?
I like reading first thing while having my breakfast, which always includes a carrot. Then, I meditate for 20 minutes and get the water containers out to start painting.
Afternoons are for admin, hustling, and email stuff. Sometimes this routine is the other way around. Other days I don’t make art at all and read all day. It’s sort of a consistently routine-less routine.
Maybe the carrot is the only consistent thing (seriously).
You have a pretty significant social presence. How important do you think social media is for today’s artists?
When I first started using Twitter about 7 years ago, my mum asked me how many followers I had. I told her, “500 maybe” at the time. She said, “Oh ... Ashton Kutcher has millions of followers.” I’m still laughing about that one.
I found myself on the Internet. So, to me, social media is pretty significant. I stalked interesting people online, then lured them into an email correspondence to ask them questions — mostly about things I found tricky. Most of my “victims” are still friends or pen pals.
I think social media is important for artists to get their work out there and find similar minds, which is super important. The more people you talk to who are very different from you, the more you adapt and the more the real you hides. This can go on for such a long time that you forget basic things, like what you actually prefer for breakfast.
Social media is also addictive and there’s that attention-and-validation monster that needs to be watched.
What advice would you give to other artists seeking to build their online reputation?
Put a lot of time and effort into knowing when you’ve changed and let that show in your art.
What is one thing that you struggle most with as a professional artist?
Believing this, consistently: Meaning that is largely made up is not inferior to meaning that is "not made up." As, what is that, anyway?