IRVINE, Calif. &
Artist Kearine Muizz draws her greatest inspiration from places many people spend their lives trying to avoid &
For more than two years, Muizz has wandered through graveyards, searching for the spark that will guide her to complete her most challenging work: nearly two dozen impressionist paintings based on the statues she saw at Paris' storied Pere-Lachaise cemetery.
The project was inspired by the slaying of a close friend.
"People say, 'Why are you painting tombstones? That's so morbid.' But it never entered my mind. I think, because death is such a part of life, not to look at it is morbid," Muizz said as she wandered a cemetery near her Orange County home, carrying brushes and canvas.
She goes there often, she said, looking for something that will compel her to finish the eighth in her series of paintings and get her started on her ninth.
"My creative purpose is to see how humans evacuate life," Muizz said after reviewing a tombstone dedicated to a couple united in marriage and &
many years later &
She started her project in December 2005, but it was the slaying of her friend Jeanette O'Keefe several years earlier that put the 30-year-old Muizz on her career path.
She was studying French civilization and Freudian psychology in Paris in 2001 when O'Keefe, a student from Australia, was killed. The case remains unsolved.
Muizz had a peripatetic childhood, changing schools often as her family moved from Illinois to Florida to Georgia to California. As a result, she says, she sees herself as a loner who is slow to make friends. But for some reason, she and O'Keefe, who were roommates, quickly bonded.
She was devastated by her friend's death.
"I created the 'Sacred Stones' series as a tribute to her and also to give myself the visual affirmation that I had grieved and come to a complete cycle with my grief, because it took several years to do so," said Muizz, wiping away a tear.
She hopes the series might gain enough attention to inspire a new investigation into her friend's killing.
"This piece is called 'Adieu,' which in French is goodbye," Muizz said as she stood in front of one of several works she has temporarily put on display at a wealthy patron's home in a gated community in suburban Orange County.
"But it is more so about the final goodbye. This is a goodbye that will be forever," she continued, standing in the home's courtyard, sunrays reflecting off the gold-tinted dreadlocks in her dark hair.
Soon after the killing, Muizz returned to the United States, settled in California and threw herself into painting, which until then had been a hobby. She never planned to do it professionally until a neighbor insisted on paying $2,000 for one of her works.
"Someone asked me how I decided what to charge and I said, I knew it was going to hurt me to let it go. So it was going to have to hurt him in the wallet," she said.
She now operates her own gallery and charges considerably more for her works, which have begun to gain notice. An earlier series, "Speaking Stones," was inspired by the statues found throughout Paris.
"I would categorize it as being spiritual, almost in a folk-art sense," contemporary artist Laddie John Dill said of Muizz's work. "In the art world, the term would be outsider art and that's not a derogatory term. It's like high folk art."
Muizz started "Sacred Stones" after returning to Pere-Lachaise, the 204-year-old final resting place for such luminaries as Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Isadora Duncan, Jim Morrison and others.
At some point, she'll do paintings of the graves of Morrison and Wilde, commissioned by their fans. Most of her works, though, were selected randomly as she wandered the cemetery, observing the statues that stand over many of the graves. She stopped to photograph and sketch the ones that affected her most.
"I connect with statues because of their vulnerability and their invincibility," Muizz said. "The fact that they have endured so much and stood through time."
With that, she again mulled her friend's death and the role her art played in her grieving process.
"They had no voice," she said, referring to the statues. "And I felt like I had no voice &
that I wasn't seen. That Jeanette had no voice."
Friend's slaying inspires art series
IRVINE, Calif. &