Perhaps Secaucus’ most interesting story collection is inside a quiet, unassuming one-story home at the end of Huber Street.
It’s not behind the front door, but just beneath it, instead — a wooden door with a horseshoe attached that stands where the garage entrance used to be. Wander inside, head right, and enter a new world, one where art jumps at you from each angle.
At your feet is one of the first stories: an oil painting of an older man who could’ve been a “Lord of The Rings” extra, with his apprentice, a young, hooded boy, right behind him. Both have glowing orbs in their hands.
“They’re looking at you, but it’s a narrative story,” said Rich Moglia, one of Secaucus’ most well-known fantasy illustrators, as he discusses the piece. “This is called, ‘The Apprentice.’ He’s a wizard, and [the young boy is] an apprentice, and he’s looking at him, waiting to see what it is his next move will be.”
The story behind that story is that the boy is actually Moglia’s teenage son, and the man is a plumber who worked on his house. Moglia had taken a photo of the two of them that ultimately inspired the art. (“Models could be anyone,” Moglia argues.)
Most of his original commissioned paintings come from preliminary photographs he takes of his posed subjects in his studio.
Moglia—who prefers to go by “Mog”—makes a living as an artist, giving lessons and crafting oil paintings for commission.
He has been using his basement for storage since temporarily closing his official studio and school, the Mog Creations School of Art at 154 Front St., for renovations. The studio/ school was scheduled to reopen on Feb. 12.
In his basement studio, visitors are watched by action figures, from Wolverine and Red Phoenix to Robocop and Hellboy.
Paintings commissioned by HBO’s “Game of Thrones” (used by the show), and even Marvel and DC line the floor.
Some works focus on Native American culture, a tribute to Moglia’s Chiricahua Apache heritage.
Explaining his creative process for his original paintings, Moglia says, “First it becomes a concept-it’s narrative. That’s the key word. Every painting has a story. If you paint someone just standing there, it works, but it’s not interesting to the viewer.”
Another story creeps up in another corner of the room, featuring a muscular man holding a spear in a Spartan-like pose, standing before a dragon.
The man is Jose, Moglia’s friend, who had no idea when he posed that he would be turned into–as the painting’s title says–“The Dragon Lord.”
“He’s a friend of mine, from my gym,” Moglia said. “I said, ‘Just pose like this.’ And he didn’t know that he was going to be a dragon master. That’s how that works. I have the vision.”
Usually, it takes Moglia 40 to 60 hours to finish a painting; he works 16 hours a day on average. He can’t estimate how many paintings he sells each year, but says it can range from six big ones to well over 50. He only paints using oils.
Impact around town
Many Secaucus residents are familiar with Moglia’s talents. The town Hall Chambers bears three oil portraits of Mayor Michael Gonnelli and former mayors Dennis Elwell, and Richard Steffens.
Gonnelli hosted a ribbon cutting for the Mog School when it opened in 2016. It attracts people from all over town and beyond, Moglia says.
The Secaucus Public Library has previously hosted exhibitions for Moglia’s paintings. More recently, Town Hall displayed, last month, his recreated version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” a painting of Jesus Christ.
“My biggest influence is Leonardo Da Vinci,” Moglia said. “I paint the same traditional way he did. I’ve studied his ways, his works, since I was a child. He wasn’t the greatest painter who ever lived, but he approached things in such a fashion.”
Moglia created the painting the same exact way Da Vinci did. He created the pigment from powder and blended it with oil.
“I would not be where I am, if not for my teachers.” – Rich Moglia
Going full time
Though Moglia has been painting since he was 11, he didn’t make a full-time living off it until 2005. That was when he created perhaps the most important story of his career.
It was a “hyper-realistic” Batman painting, featuring the Caped Crusader standing over villain Two-Face as he holds Wonder Woman in his grasp, with Two-Face having “four seconds before Batman beats his [expletive].”
He explained, “I had done a commission painting of Batman, and I had three models. A bad guy who posed as Two Face, another model was Batman, another was Wonder Woman. And when I did that painting, it went into a gallery and people were crowding around, looking at it. I was a professional artist, but I wasn’t full time. When I did that, I realized, ‘That was it.’ ”
The model who posed as Wonder Woman was Cuban, which appealed to Moglia. “Wonder Woman was always an Irish, white woman,” he said. “With blue eyes, and I chose to make her Cuban. And now, Gal Gadot (who plays Wonder Woman in the DC live films) looks just like her!”
One of Moglia’s latest projects is portraits modeled after the popular Magic trading card game. He also recently began working on a portrait for chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall.
“I’ve done a lot of work which was donated to her institute,” Moglia said. “It’s called, ‘The Weight of The World’; she’s very old now, but she’s a legend. I refuse to take money from her because she’s struggling to raise money to save these poor chimpanzees.”
He says he has been a fan of Goodall since his youth, and he has spoken for wildlife conservation in African countries.
Showing his soft side for animals, Moglia has two African-spurred tortoises and two iguanas in his basement studio.
“Somebody was going to euthanize them about 10 years ago, and I took them home,” he said, of the tortoises.
He loves doing wildlife art, “but unfortunately, wildlife art doesn’t sell that well.”
Still a student
Though fully confident in his skills, Mogia says he couldn’t have reached his current level without those whom he calls his “master” teachers. They include Donato Giancola, who has worked for LucasFilm and the United Nations; Hugo Award winner Boris Vallejo, and renowned commercial illustrator Kevin Murphy, founder of The Art Academy.
“Studying with the masters, I would not be where I am, if not for my teachers,” Moglia said. “Everybody needs help. Even Da Vinci studied with Andrea del Verrocchio.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org