Michael: Yes, I’ve always wanted to be an artist. One of my first memories is of being in kindergarten and coloring in the lines and my teacher saying “good job“. It is a weird conscious memory about connecting the dots and I think there was something in that moment that inspired me and encouraged me to continue. I was fortunate to have really good art teachers.
Mimi: You make mostly dimensional pieces; did you build things when you were little?
Michael: I did not build art, but I grew up in Kansas and we played outside a lot in the summer time and I do remember building things to play with our “Hot Wheel“ cars - cities with roads. I always loved model trains. I loved and still do love creating environments.
Mimi: So, your father was an accountant. Did you consider becoming an accountant like him?
Michael: Yes, for awhile I did feel an obligation to do what my father did and it took me awhile to step into my own skin. Honestly, not until my mother passed away about two and a half years ago ………it was a huge catalyst in a lot of ways . Not only was my biggest family supporter gone, it is also your mom, she had a stroke and it was unexpected. One thing she always said was “Life is too short, you should do what you want to do“ and I have really taken that to heart. It is hard to think about my mother being gone, but it has been a huge motivation.
Mimi: Is your dad still alive?
Michael: My dad is still alive and still in Kansas. He remarried. She is more into”New Age“and I think she has helped my dad open up and especially since mom is gone he has become a lot more supportive. I don’t hear “when are you going to get a real job?“anymore.
Mimi: Do you have any siblings?
Michael: Yes, I have one brother
Mimi: What does he do?
Michael: He is a pharmaceutical drug salesman in Sacramento. We are like night and day. We come from the same cloth but we are like night and day. I keep coming back to my mom and since she has passed away my brother and I have become a lot closer. I kind of realize how much more alike we are it manifests itself differently. We both come from the same crazy gene pool.
Mimi: So tell me about growing up with tornadoes in Kansas. Your work has aspects of that.
Michael: Growing up somewhere where there is extreme weather. We literally spent several days in the cellar riding out tornadoes
Mimi: Did you find this experience frightening?
Michael: I found it very exciting; there was something that I liked about it because it brought the whole family really close together. You had to take your transistor radio and go down in the basement.
Mimi: So, it was a little like camping?
Michael: It was an adventure; we never did stuff like that as a family so I guess it was our version of camping.
Mimi: When you were young, how did you know structurally how to put things together?
Michael: Building has always been a very intuitive thing for me, and I have never felt super confident in my technical abilities so I don’t think it comes from that. It comes from the other side of the brain. At a certain point I just let go and it takes on a life of its own.
Mimi: What is your artistic temperament? Moody, stormy, over focused when you work?
Michael: Probably a little bit of all of those things. I think my process helps with my moodiness; it helps even me out a little bit.
Mimi: Do you make a plan or do you just find a piece of wood and say “this is what this is going to be“?
Michael: I rarely have a plan and that is what keeps me so excited about making art. I tend to after making several pieces of the same vein somewhere in the back of mind, I am thinking about the next thing and it often is inspired by a piece of wood or something that I’ve found. It has some characteristic and I may not know what it is, but it evolves.
Mimi: Do some things come together faster than others?
Michael: Yes, I tend to work fast and furious, when I’m working I’m super hyper focused and almost to an obsessive level.
Mimi: How many hours do you work at a time?
Michael: I have a sort of unhealthy desire to not leave a project unfinished once I have started, so I will work on it 8-12 hours at a time to get to a point to where I feel satisfied. Of course I have breaks, smoke cigarettes, walk away and get some perspective. You have to step back. If I don’t step back I will get too hyper focused. That is the beautiful part of making art, a fine line where you are the art and the art is you, and you haven’t yet separated and become two different entities
Mimi: How do you feel when the piece is done, do you feel separate or do you still feel connected?
Michael: I still feel deeply connected but I also feel separate from it, like I can take a breath.
Mimi: I feel like your work holds a lot of emotion.
Michael: I feel like there is an odyssey to the work a bit of an autobiographical nature. You might look at the skyscrapers and some of the wall pieces and maybe understand a little bit about who I am as a person. It is deeply important to communicate. I feel like these kinds of interviews are nerve-wracking. When I am making art I do not feel vulnerable, like being on stage. Talking about it with you now it makes perfect sense that you would be in the most secure state when you are making art.
Mimi: What do you prefer - the finished product or the process?
Michael: Honestly, sometimes the process makes me a little crazy because it is so organic and free form. Because part of me is very analytical, I feel a difficulty in justifying those things as I am working on them. So sometimes I am very gratified when there is an end result. You want to take a breath, there is a bit of anxiety involved until you get to the point where you say, ok this is finished, it is time to move on to the next piece. I do feel like that anxiety is excitement and the equivalent of stage fright, much like performance anxiety.
Mimi: So, let’s talk about the weather a little bit, do you feel like you are more productive in the winter, summer, spring or fall?
Michael: I would say probably in the winter. Obviously there is less distraction, crappy weather outside, so it is easier to be inside and focus on your work. That being said I am very inspired by being out in the world and seeing what I see, so I think in a way in the winter I do less of that.
Mimi: When you are working do you like to drink coffee or tea? Which do you prefer a hyper state or a calm state?
Michael: I drink one or two cups of coffee in the morning and that’s all. I’m hyper. I don’t drink tea either. I do drink Gator Aid which is really bad .
Mimi:: Do you work more in the day time or night time?
Michael: I definitely work more in the day, which is kind of strange for me, cause I was always a night owl kind of person. I hate to say it but I am in my forties and a little more set in my ways. I have a dog and I have to go home and make dinner and take the dog out. I have a routine .
Mimi: Today for lunch I brought Mexican food which is a favorite, why is Mexican food a favorite? Is this a childhood favorite?
Michael: Yes it is a childhood favorite. It comes from my first job. My parents were always very practical. When I turned 14, I started wanting things. You’re in junior high school, you start wanting your own clothes and my parents said if you want that you can get a job and pay for those things yourself. That led me to working at Gutierrez which was a Mexican restaurant in Salina Kansas. I worked there from age fourteen and a half until college, before child labor laws apparently.
Mimi: Were there many Mexican restaurants in Kansas?
Michael: Not at the time. This was in 1980 so I think there are a few more now. This was a family owned place. They were from Kansas, it was a crazy job probably one of the craziest jobs I’ve ever had.
Mimi: What did you do at fourteen and a half?
Michael: I was a line cook. It was a busy restaurant. I still have dreams. Like anxiety dreams about being on the line in Gutierrez kitchen ………………….so you’re surprised that I like Mexican food - right ?
Mimi: So you just walked into this Mexican restaurant when you were fourteen and a half and said “I would like to apply for the job”?
Michael: Yes I did, but it was also kind of known that they hired kids from my school so I knda knew about it. It was a real defining era of my life. I still have weird dreams about it, but I love that food so much.
Mimi: And they put you straight on the line!
Michael: You know what salamanders are, they have the lights and they used to burn the shit out of your arm, just hellacious battle scars from working on the line. Plus the kitchen manager Jerry, he was nineteen and he drank a lot, when it was really busy, he would take plates of food that we were getting ready to put out to the server and he would look at it and say “what the hell is this “and throw it against the wall ……splat, china is shattering, food is splattering against the wall, so it really was like a Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen.
Mimi: So were you methodical as a kid?
Michael: Yes, I kept my cool. Work to me was always doing the best possible job that you can.
Mimi: So you got a very good work ethic from early on?
Michael: I did get that for sure from both my parents, and I thank them for kind of pushing. My brother ended up working at Gutierrez around the same age; they said “oh your brother worked here so you can work here”.
Mimi: Mexican restaurant nepotism.
Michael: Yes, with children, if you consider children under eighteen, we were all children. There were like two or three people that were in their twenties.
Mimi: Are you working full time as an artist now?
Michael: I am since I moved into “Inscape “about a year and a half ago. I just took the plunge and like I mentioned earlier with my mom’s passing away, I woke up one day and said to myself “what are you waiting for?” Just like a little kid waiting to come out of you, holding back for so many years because you are doing what you think you need to do or what you think other people expect you to do. It may sound very strange, but losing one of your parents can be very liberating. It sounds strange hearing myself say that, but it has allowed me to let go of the past and fear and insecurity. The real truth is you are faced with mortality and faced with the fact that you may not be here tomorrow. It drives me to work every day. I will try and take a day off and stay home and clean my house and do laundry, but I don’t like it , I feel like I need to be in the studio .
Mimi: Do you feel like making art makes you happy?
Michael: Yes, I don’t know if it is a healthy way of going about it, it is a need almost, almost an obsession. I jokingly say “ making art keeps me sane” but I think there is a great truth to that. It keeps me from worrying. It keeps my mind occupied and it keeps me feeling like I am progressing. I don’t feel like I have to make better art than other people, I feel like I have to make better art than I just did. I have to continue growing.
Mimi: Now I would like to talk about the motorcycle accident.
Michael: The motorcycle accident was about seven years ago. It was horrific. It was one of those moments that things change just like that. I was riding home in the rain hit a curve a little too fast, the pavement was wet , I over compensated , what you call “high sided”. The bike kicked, flipped me over and I was right at the sidewalk and there was a brick wall right there and it slammed me right into the brick wall head first. I had a helmet on, hit the side of my face and my shoulder, my clavicle was separated, crushed and pushed through the skin, my helmet broke and all the visor went into my eye and it broke my nose and it broke several ribs. The weirdest part about it was you really do see it unfolding before your eyes in slow motion and all those things that people say are totally true. You feel like it is an eternity when it is happening. I sat there for almost a half an hour watching cars drive by and seeing me sitting there and I’m sure I looked horrible …..I was bleeding. Nobody stopped, people slowed down and gawked at me and I was slipping in and out of consciousness. Finally I got the sense to make a phone call. I called a friend and said ”I just had a motorcycle accident and can you come and pick me up”. Right after that someone stopped and said “I’m calling 911”. I remember going to Harborview and I didn’t even spend the night in hospital. They gave me a shitty cheap sling and sent me home. It took me over a year to recuperate. I ended up having a surgery on my shoulder blade where they had to remove some bone.
Mimi: So this accident changed the way you work?
Michael: I hadn’t been painting for years. I worked as a graphic designer for many years and it kind of sucked the creative life out of me. After the motorcycle accident, I almost ended up being homeless. I lost my job, I couldn’t pay my bills, I ended up in public housing, an incredibly humbling experience, lonely, scary, very isolating and I just started painting one day.
Mimi: How soon after the accident did you start painting?
Michael: Three months or so after , I started painting and the painting came out of the music I was listening to at the time. This Mortal Coil - a lot of depressing, melancholy music. Stuff I could relate to at the time, very poignant. Coincidentally it was the same music I listened to in college.
Mimi: So it was almost like a comfort food.
Michael: Exactly, and the comfort food brought out the creativity or allowed an opening for the creativity. I haven’t stopped since then. I worked at home and was painting every day and I was still doing that and then I got the call my mom died and that was a crazy period too.
Mimi: So, the motorcycle accident and then the death of your mother?
Michael: Yes and you realize how inter-connected everything is and how we can use that in a positive way to build or we can really let it crush us and break us down. I am kind of an extreme thinker in that way, so for me there is no choice, I have to go the positive route.
Mimi: I do want to ask about music, so, who are your favorites?
Michael: David Bowie, Souixie and the Banshees, Throbbing Gristle, Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins. I played classical music for ten years, piano. I like loud techno like Lords of Acid, Kraftwerk.
Mimi: You listen to music while you work? All the time?
Michael: Yes, I have a vast collection on my iPod
Mimi: Do you feel like the work you are doing now is your niche? Working with reclaimed materials and sculpture?
Michael: I think so; I don’t see this coming to an end any time soon. I think I have finally found the medium that allows me to express myself in the most genuine manner.
Mimi: I feel like your work has elegance about it.
Michael: It is an organized chaos - a manifesting of sort of what’s going on in my head on a daily basis. Trying to make sense of our lives and our world and how we fit into it.
Mimi: So if I just walked in off the street, could you give me a description of your work and say what is this work about?
Michael: I would say that this work is my journal. This is my writing. These are my stories. They may not be the most direct prose, more like poems. They are open to interpretation, but they come from a genuine place inside of me and ultimately what I hope comes across.
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