studio isolation . . .

“But if you could just see the beauty,
These things I could never describe, “ – Isolation, Joy Division

As I am staying at home like the rest of the world in forced isolation I decided to interview myself for my website blog! I found a list of questions for artists online and started to answer them. I hope this is inetersting for anyone who may be passing by . . .

1. Who are you and what do you do?

I am a curious being! Culture, art, music, film, literature and all the fabulous people that populate these areas have always fascinated me. I am voracious in seeking out experiences and information. Even when I have met new people I have always questioned and probed, trying to find the essence of what they are and thereby, maybe finding something to appropriate, sample and use!

What I do is use this aspect of my being to try to create ‘art’. I am a conduit, a sampler, and a food blender! I scatter images, build up, erase, fuse and distil. I find inspiration and subjects from my life basically and play with them.

2. How do you Work?

I used to always work at night but mainly work during daylight hours now. Maybe it’s an ageing thing! I usually have 3 to 4 pieces to work on simultaneously and make marks and words until it’s done. Sometimes I work directly from small, crude sketches (eg Oskar’s Catalogued Dreaming) but mainly work without any idea of the outcome! It’s a scary thing to face a blank canvas and begin without any sense of where it’s going. However, I like Paul Klee’s idea – “A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.”

3. What’s your Background?

I didn’t go to art school I studied English literature. I am what is known as self taught, I am a defiant outsider!

I have always held down a ‘day job’ too and worked on art in tandem, being at pains to create something each day if that only meant making a mark. I worked in marketing in theatre, music, and festivals for years. This gave me a rich source of inspiration being able to see so much for free! It also informed my visual vocabulary with graphic design and photography which I practised in my job.

4. What’s Integral to the work of an Artist?

Passion, bravery, curiosity and shear hard work with a little anguish thrown in!

5. What Role does the Artist have in Society?

For me the role is storyteller, bringer of beauty, poet, comedian, enlightener, the role can expose, ridicule and exalt too. In my role I try to be mysterious, to create deliberate enigmas that may get people thinking about life.

6. What has been a Seminal Experience?

In the late 80’s I got a job working at The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield in publicity (marketing was but a glint in it’s father’s eye back then). Being around actors, directors, designers, writers, photographers and all round creative beautiful people had a profound effect on me. It was astonishing and transformative.

This is when I started to paint and make things seriously.

7. Name three Favourite Artworks?

How difficult is this? I’ll try:

1. Hardware Store by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

I love everything Basquiat ever made but this painting, whilst not being one of the most recognizable is for me sublime. I won’t attempt to critique it, it is simply beautiful and the quintessence of his style.

2. Coronation of Sesostris by Cy Twombly

An epic painting cycle in ten parts. Vibrant, smudged and smeared, drippy, dreamy and magnificent!

3. The Liver Buildings by L. S. Lowry

I have loved Lowry’s work since childhood. He is totally unique; a true original and very underrated in my opinion. The industrial scenes are better known but I adore this depiction of the ‘three graces’ in Liverpool. Simple, less is more . . .

But then again there is the Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas, Danse Macabre by Bernt Notke, Tallinn, Estonia, Ruth’s Zowie by de Kooning . . .

8. What memorable responses have you had to your work?

In 2012 I showed work at The Granary Gallery, Berwick upon Tweed and found these comments in my visitor’s book:

Love the colours. Michael need help!!” and “Very interesting artworks. Michael has a lot to say and should talk to someone to help him find the peace he seeks.

I did receive more positive comments but these made me unsettled and upset to be honest. They made me wonder about what I was projecting and actually made me doubt myself for some time.

9. What do you dislike about the art world?

It’s obsession with ‘training’, it really gets on my nerves. I feel the establishment does not value artists as much unless they were ‘trained’ at art school. I mean, Vincent van Gogh studied art briefly at the Antwerp Academy, but this had little influence on his approach to painting. Surely the end product is what counts not the route or journey to it? No one says, ‘self-taught’ about musicians, actors or writers so why say it about visual artists?

Schools teach you to imitate. If you don't imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade.” Robert M. Pirsig

10. What is your dream project?

To be asked to paint something for a new Patti Smith album/book cover or Jim Jarmusch film (and have it accepted!).

11. What food, drink, song inspires you?

Wholesome. Porter and coffee. Bowie.

12. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

In 1999 I was fortunate enough to visit Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural Foundation in Langkawi, Malaysia. It was closed for the day, but Ibrahim and his wife kindly let me in. After, seeing the exhibition I was invited into his office for a drink and chat. As I was about to leave, I finally plucked up the courage to say that I was a painter too whereupon he smiled and said, “Just keep going.

A humbling beautiful moment . . .