Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I have three interests that have remained throughout my life. One interest is nature. Since I was young, my parents would take me, my two brothers, and my sister camping and on nature trips all the time. Some of my favorite memories are of my dad teaching us how to rock hunt and collect insect and butterflies.
The second interest is spirituality. I was raised with church, and the conflict I found within it drove me mad to find sense in all the nonsense. That pushed me to be a part of various communities and to learn alternative ideas and beliefs from other sources. One concept I’ve been into recently is ritual in morphic resonance, a theoretical idea found by biologist Rupert Sheldrake.
Then my third major interest is music. I grew up playing trumpet and piano. Music became my first love. I even went to three different music colleges. Now it has become a part of my perspective and the way I process.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
When I was 18 I decided to transfer out of my first college after the first semester. I was too late to transfer to the music school I wanted to attend, so I decided to do a few GE’s at a community college. I thought, Community college only offers sucky education, so why not take an art class? I was far too wrong because that’s where I met one of the greatest art teachers, Jason Eoff. (We’d even go play some blues piano during lunch break!)
Before his class I thought art was all Thomas Kinkade and dolphin murals, but he introduced me to the art world. I started to notice how process and personal idiosyncrasies in art created unique outcomes. Jason gave me new eyes to see and provided amazing experiences to understand art. After that I was hooked.
What do you like most about working where you do?
After living through the dense and cold winter ice ages of Chicago, I like the space, warmth, and quiet of being out in the boonies of California. My soul missed nature since being trapped in the 3 mile radius of city. I’m happy to be in a place where the wilderness offers lots of diversity and adventurous experiences.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Lately, I’ve been playing around with ideas of resonance within the mind. I like the idea that the mind extends outside of the body — that it stretches out into a morphing form that anchors into every location we’ve been to, every person we’ve encountered, every ideology we partake in, every memory we have, every dream we see, etc. I imagine minds overlapping within the shared spaces where social and physical bonds arise. In those places a kind of resonance occurs where experience can be shared and transferred a lot easier.
I see this happening with painting, where mind-space creates a unique resonance that can be transferred onto a painting-space. I think of each potential painting as a template created by the intersection between various anchor points in the mind. Each anchor point of thought becomes a harmonic that comes together to create a fundamental tone (a collection of harmonics), which would be the painting. As the body experiences the conglomerate of thought, it resonates the space of the fundamental tone, and therefore the body can then transfer that experience from the mind to the canvas through mark making.
These ideas come from my interest in morphic resonance and sympathetic vibratory physics.
Has your practice changed in the last months/years? If so, in what way? Why do you think that is?
My work is very nature based, and sometimes I feel I can hide behind that. It’s an easy way for me to not be as vulnerable about some of my ideas and interests. I went to NYC at the end of 2018 and saw Hilma Af Klint’s paintings at The Guggenheim and Jack Whitten’s sculptures and monoliths at The Met Breuer. I experienced how art and spirituality was intertwined. I started to create work that I felt more personal with. The work felt connected to ideas I’ve been processing throughout my life.
The Young Space show “Run Straight Through” at Torrence Art Museum going on right now has some of my new work that I’m describing. The ideas I’m processing in them I describe in the next few questions.
What is your process like?
I do not plan my paintings because I sense them noetically. I discern the works passively as deja vu like memories. Discovering and manifesting a painting feels like I’m a blind man being led by a river — I can discern the river in so many ways, but I can’t see the river. I intuitively perceive the painting the whole time, but I only see the painting once it’s complete.
It’s an improvisational process where the interactions make the painting feel like it knows what it wants to be. Even though I find promptings in my mind (a color, brushstroke, form, etc), when that prompt is applied it always turns out unexpected. There’s mystery that lies in the relationship between being able to control paint and letting paint be what it is. The proportions and balance between those two things generate this mystique within the practice that makes the paintings feel alive.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
There’s an old notion that angels are just ideas floating in the ether waiting to embody a prepared mind. I often think of some of the abstract marks on my paintings in this way — that they are idea filled forms waiting to embody a ready consciousness. I don’t think the idea-forms are dualistic, where they can be defined as something and not something else. They are subjective. The idea-forms connect infinitely to webs of thought-spaces to be explored. They become concepts in the realm of the felt intellect, ideas that permeate the mind through experiencing. In connecting to this old view of supernatural beings, the abstract marks become an angelic language.
My goals in painting these idea-forms is to open up a world of shared mind-space to experience the subtle energies in ourselves, nature, and each other. This transcends thoughts of self, tangling them into feedback loops of time, place, and others.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
This might be a tie between measuring the inside of a subway train to make sure I could transport a giant painting through it and collecting hair. I had 3 bags of different pony tails pinned to my wall. One bag even said “for Michael”. I didn’t think anything of it because they were all donated for a sculpture, but I sure did creep out everyone who saw them.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
Sometimes I design props for special events, and earlier this year I even had to design an escape room for Maybelline product launch.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
Upon looking at my palette, Claire Sherman mandated me to clean my palette. It had been eight years of build up… Once I cleaned it I felt like I had gone through three years of color theory in five minutes. After cleaning, something clicked with my work. The first painting I did with a fresh palette was my first work published. That’s when my “Others” series began.
Valerie Hegarty has also been really influential with my practice. She’s someone who is generous with her support, for me and other artists she mentors. She creates a space where it’s easy to feel believed in. She also opened my mind to see other spaces besides galleries as a place to host my art.
Then Jason Eoff told me once to not be stingy with my masterpieces. Being able to let them go gives room to create more masterpieces. Learning that in the beginning, even if it was just letting them go in my mind, helped me believe I had an endless supply of energy and ideas to create with.
What is your studio like?
I have a jungle studio! It’s complete with 24 tropical plants, a skylight, and my dad’s old machinist tool cart turned painting taboret. I’ve been renovating it the last few months, so I made a light-filling 38”x78” window across from where I paint. This place is the second floor of an old barn, so the ceilings are a bit low — my tallest painting, at 80”, only gets 2” of headspace. If you’re ever here at 2pm, it’s rainbow hour! That’s when the sun filters through the prism window. I also live here. So along with the art studio, there is the world’s tiniest kitchen, a bedroom, and study/piano area, all furnished with furniture I made in my wood shop.
The wood shop is in the warehouse next to my studio. The warehouse is a mix of Roger Brown’s house (lots of cool antiques and weirdo objects), storage wars, and a fire protection business. That’s worth a visit all on its own.
PS: Three dogs and one maybe-dog named One-Eyed Lucy roam the grounds, two kittens and their mom guard the warehouse, and one cat named pigeon (he coos) keeps me company in my studio.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
I never had a community surrounding one of my greatest passions until I went to art school. Being around other committed artists gave me a place in conversation, and as I was exposed to their practices and work I was able to expand. It was the antithesis to my life previously, and all the new experiences and conflict gave me the means to move into a new territory. The art world opened up to me, and if I hadn’t gone to art school I would have still been hiding away from all of that. Now that I graduated, I can see that school provided me with the hunger to sustain and find that community and conversation to keep growing the experiences around what I love.
How would you define “success” in art?
I think creating art that constantly expands yourself, causing you to face fears and challenge your previous ideas is one type of success. I think there’s also success in being able to create art that participates in the conversations happening with other artist’s who are also expanding and challenging ideas.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
I went through a process of resurrecting my passion using art.
My passion was originally devoted to music. I absolutely loved playing the trumpet and piano. I joined as many bands as possible, but went through an experience at music school like the movie “Whiplash”. There was an abusive teacher who would scream, punch chairs, humiliate, and play games in order to motivate me to work harder.
That kind of motivation didn’t work for me. I ended up losing my passion. Remembering how much I loved music while being disconnected from it tortured me. Although I tried, I couldn’t play music anymore. I focused on painting at that point. The next five years, I sabotaged everything that would lead to building passion. I kept myself from growing in art. I wouldn’t let myself be productive or carry out any plans to pursue art.
Eventually I started to recognize the patterns of self-sabotage, and realized I was trying to destroy what I loved before someone else could destroy it again. I had to choose between a life with no art or to pursue art.
That crossroads manifested as an invitation to teach painting in the jungles of Belize. I had been planing art trips before, and I undermined all of them because it scared me to become too passionate about art. I was presented with the chance again to face the fear that kept my passion at bay. If I pursued this trip it meant I’d be opening up to express something I loved again. I decided to go.
I lived in a tin roof shack in the jungle for a summer, and the first time I painted there I cried. When I painted before, I was so afraid to let the paint be paint. I would never be caught using thick paint, leaving brushstrokes, letting paint drip, scraping, wiping — I would never let myself truly paint. The jungle freed me. For the first time I could suddenly paint without limiting myself in the ways I did before. I could paint!
For the next two months I trekked into the jungle, a place where chaos reigns, to paint a landscape. As Werner Herzog put it, the jungle contains a “harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.” That place tore off the bottoms of my shoes and ripped every piece of clothing I had. My feet covered in mud, shirts drenched in sweat, skin bleeding, animals lurking, and bugs attacking gave me the dissonance I needed to breakthrough the boundaries that constricted my paintings. This “murderous harmony” tuned me into the determination to put my fear to death in order to resurrect my passion in its place. As I finished the painting, I knew that I could pursue art with every passion I had in me.
Being able to make my first abstract paintings and first live landscape paintings in the jungle woke up something in me that had died. This resurrected passion was far greater than the original. It was harder to achieve, and now it’s mine. There’s nothing I would trade for it, and I don’t believe there’s any other way I could’ve found it. It’s one of my greatest accomplishments.
Are you involved in any collaborative or self-organized projects?
It’s a dilemma having ambitions to pursue art and also wanting to be around nature. Art happens in the city, cut off from nature. It seems art and nature don’t often happen in the same place, so I’ve been working on a project where I can merge both.
This last year I’ve been converting my Isuzu Trooper into a camping car, complete with wet painting storage on the roof. I’m going to travel out into nature and set up a temporary studio to paint in places that inspire me. I can be in environments that I can both explore and create from. I’m hoping to go on my first road/art trip this coming August or September.
After that, I want to think of ways to expand this so other artists can join. If anyone is interested, definitely feel free to reach out.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve always been working with the idea of reflection, where abstract landscape reflects the inner landscape. More recently I’ve been expanding that idea by creating my own mirror surfaces within the painting.
I would always go to the Art Institute and look at this divination mirror they had. It was made of raw black obsidian with one side highly polished, and years after, that has stuck in my mind. I like the idea that one would look into that mirror to see other worlds, but I always wonder if it was just the viewer’s active imagination at play or if there was some sort of vision into another place. Either way, I like that the function of the mirror is to see yourself, and the divination mirror expands the definition of self to include seeing into these other worlds.