Her inspirations in becoming an artist started early. She has deep appreciation for Filipino artist Sofronio Ylanan Mendoza (SYM), who founded a school of artists, Dimasalang III, in Canada. In Alfredo Roces and Sandie Gillis’ book entitled SYM: The Power of Struggle (2010), Jonavonic stated, “When one studied with Sym, one always got the feeling that art is life--that art is a way of being and painting is a way to express and share it with others. He taught us how to live inspired.”
Jonavonic never settles for less. When it was time for her to study art, she went to the world’s cultural capital: New York. Concentrating on traditional figurative art, Jonavonic graduated with a master’s degree from the renowned New York Academy of Art, which she attended on a full scholarship from the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts. The school at the time focused on the abandonment of expression and sought to revive the French academic curriculum of the 19th century.
But it was not all art for Jonavonic in New York. She found time to own a catering company, which grew big. She staged parties and made food for celebrities, like Andy Warhol, Jackie Onassis and Ann Getty.
Relocating to Los Angeles, she became a full-time artist. She can paint almost anything in any style, including custom fine art, murals, chinoiserie, period furniture, Old Masters paintings, French-ornament panels, trompe l’oeil panels, and toleware. Her artworks are in museums and private collections around the world.
Jonavonic continues to reinvent herself. Married to Serbian-born Misko Jonavonic, they own MJ Atelier & Construction, Inc. in Los Angeles. Working closely with architects and interior designers, they make complex furniture pieces, reverse-painted glass, murals and objets d’art. They use old-world methods, such as the pounce technique used by Renaissance artists to transfer imagery onto various surfaces.
All things that the company creates seem to have simple or complex engineering, involving planning and often multiple well thought out drawings. Designers often have pieces that need to be recreated, but the original materials and techniques used to produce them have been lost through time. In the case of the reverse-painted antiqued mirror, Jonavonic did her research at the Getty Research Institute. She found the secret in a very old book describing the trade between China and the English East India Company.
Mid-20th-century pieces can also pose a problem. For example, where does one go to press bend heavy gage steel into tight curves? The company that originally made the item has been out of business for 50 years. As such, Jonavonic emphasizes the importance of being resourceful in finding great talent and ingenuity.
The company is a collaborative endeavor. “I do much of the groundwork, fine-art painting and sculpture,” she explains, “and Misko does much of the carving and modern-art glass pieces. Otherwise, we work together on everything.” They deal with a team of carpenters and finishers in the Los Angeles area. From time to time, there are other artists who help on large or specific projects.
The company has wealthy clientele worldwide. It has also made art pieces for iconic buildings, such as the newly renovated Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, Canada, and the presidential palace in the Kazan Kremlin in Tatarstan, Russia. It is currently doing groundwork on Microsoft’s headquarters in Japan.
“All art forms,” Maria Apelo Cruz Jonavonic declares, “are interrelated.” Formally trained as a painter, sculptor and ceramicist, delving into wood carving, glass processes, interior design and other fields seems a natural extension of her creativity and love of learning. She adds, “It’s always a joy to learn and create anything!”