Michael Coppage Artist Talk


MARY: Hello! (Laughter) Well, good afternoon. My name is Mary Gray, and I am still the director of the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery. And on behalf of the OAC board and staff and the gallery team, welcome to the Riffe Gallery. Today marks the fifth of eight artist talks during the run of our 2017 Biennial Juried Exhibition through January 6. All the talks are being livestreamed on Facebook, so, if you missed one or you want to watch your favorite artist over and over and over again, you can do that. You can see the episodes, I’ll call them episodes because it’s— right— on the Ohio Arts Council’s Facebook page or the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery Facebook page. So, today, after Michael speaks, it will be available for you. So, let’s get to our main act. I’d like to introduce you to Michael Coppage. He’s today’s guest artist. Michael Coppage is from Chicago, originally. He is currently living and working in Cincinnati, Ohio. He obtained his BFA from Memphis College of Art. And his MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Coppage has participated in dozens of group and solo exhibitions, and has been included in a number of news and media publications throughout his esteemed career. Please welcome Michael Coppage. (Applause) MICHAEL: Thank you. Alright. Hi, everyone. How’s it going here? So, my name’s Michael Coppage. Next to you in your chairs are little toys you guys can play with. If you feel inclined, you can actually take one with you if you want. That’s fine. I kind of want to start with where, how I got where I am right now, as far as the images that I am making. I tell people I’m an artist all the time, but when people ask me what kind of artist I am, I tell them I’m a sculptor. Alright? And I haven’t made a sculpture since I made the things that you’re holding in your hands. Those were probably made in 2001. Alright? I tell them I’m a sculptor because even when I paint, I think in terms of of sculpture, sculpting. I was a sculptor and then I hammered a gouge through my thumb and I sliced a tendon and had to have emergency surgery and I haven’t been able to use a gouge since. It was recommended that I do some sort of physical therapy, so, in order to still kind of pursue some of my sculptural aspirations, I started weaving, of all things. The two— the only two classes I’ve ever dropped in my life, in college, have been weaving and painting. Alright? I dropped weaving because I didn’t like working with the loom. I dropped painting because I didn’t feel like I could control the outcome. So, ironically, as a therapy itself, I started weaving off the loom, and currently in my present life, I’m painting. I don’t know what that really says, but I just think that that’s a little ironic. So, in order to make this new weaving thing credible, I had to come up with some kind of philosophy to figure out what I was doing, why I was doing it. Because I had to do it, first off, I mean, it was the only thing that I could think of that I could do artistically that would require me to use my thumb and to use my muscle and force myself to use it. And so, I started moving more toward environmental approaches to art. I started focusing on the by-product of human consumption. You know, what is the by-product of human consumption? What is What are art supplies? You know, when I go and I buy canvas, a brick of canvases, they come in a box. You know, that box, I paid for it. It also, too, becomes an art supply. How can I use this? How can I extend the life of this kind of one-use product? The same thing with the things you have here next to you. It’s just the strap that comes around the boxes of copy paper at your office, if you work in an office. You know, you collect enough of it, you can create something that’s quite different than what it used to be. And it has a more long-term lifespan. It doesn’t necessarily go in a landfill. It becomes more important because it has more of an identity. So, you know, the identity of disposable things became this central theme in my work. And then that morphed into not throwing my garbage away for a month. And using all of the “garbage,” quote, unquote, with the exception of glass, using all the garbage to create these installations that were quite beautiful. They reminded me of these topographical, aerial shots of cityscapes or landscapes. Then I met my wife. And my wife came to my apartment one day and she saw this installation on the wall with my “garbage,” and she didn’t like it. But she wasn’t my wife then, so I didn’t really care, you know. (Laughter) And so, as things got more serious and, you know, she moved out of her apartment and she moved into my apartment, there was mounting pressure to get rid of this trash that was hanging on my wall. And we fought about it, you know, I mean, we really fought about it because she, she didn’t get it. She didn’t understand. And I expected her to. I mean, prior to to her, you know, I’d only gone out with girls from art school. They got it, you know, there wasn’t a— it was never a conversation, it was never an issue. But here I am with someone who is outside of, you know, the social group that I most associated myself with, offering criticism that I wasn’t familiar with. And you know, art school is all about criticism, so, I kind of tried to remove my ego and listen to what she had to say, which led to me taking it down and throwing it away. And so, around the same time, I had stopped working on art completely. You know, I didn’t have a studio, I was in an efficiency, basically. I was making music, which I also considered art. I was traveling around Europe doing shows and recording studios all over the world. I actually had a No. 1 single, if you guys can believe that, on BBC Radio for four weeks. But then I decided, you know, I wanted to do visual art again, but what could I do? So, my wife, she suggested portraits. I wasn’t a fan of portraits because I didn’t want to contribute to the vanity that was already out here in the world. With the amount of selfies and pictures that people take of themselves, you know, I just felt that I didn’t want to contribute to that. So, I started out drawing images of the mentally ill. I work in the mental health field professionally as well. I work for an agency called Talbert House in Cincinnati. We offer mental health services as well as housing services and community services and correction services. I also work for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital as a mental health specialist, where I do therapeutic art groups. So, I’ve kept these things kind of separate, but, you know, they’re, a merge happens. So, I started drawing portraits of African American males with schizophrenia. And this is one of the images here, and then— So, that’s the only one I have there. But I did 33 images, all different sizes, Not exact portraits of the guys that I was working with, obviously, because of HIPPA laws, but they were all inspired by the guys who I was working with who look like me, right? Not only do they look like me, Hm. Okay. We have two more. So, not only do they look like me, but we were the same age. So, I thought about how if circumstances were different, I could’ve been one of these guys and they could’ve been me. And it really, it really struck a chord with me and I didn’t really know how to articulate it in a way that would result in a productive conversation with my counterparts from other cultures, so I decided to just draw it because art always seems to be a great entryway into difficult conversations for me and for lots of people that I know. And so, I drew these 32 portraits and I was able to have an exhibition here in town. At a few places. And I had some of these conversations and I felt much better about it. I felt like I was helping to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, which is kind of what I do in my work every day. So, I just used my my art as a vehicle to do that. And so, after that, you know, I didn’t want to continue to, you know, after a certain amount of recognition, I felt that if I continued to depict the mentally ill, it would be me taking advantage of a situation and kind of profiting from mental illness. And I, you know, since I don’t make very much money in the work that I do, I didn’t want to do that in my artwork. So, I took another break. About a year. My wife then said, ‘You know, you should—’ she was just pushing this portrait thing. ‘People want portraits. People want portraits.’ And I kept saying, ‘I don’t care what people want.’ Like, I want to make sculptures. I want to go back to weaving. I want to do some of these installations. Some of the ideas that I have for the installation work that I plan to do at some point far exceed any visual outcome I’ll ever achieve with a painting. I honestly believe that. But, you know, the great thing about painting, especially with acrylic, it dries fast, it’s economical. If I pick up a shift at the hospital, third shift, I can pin up a painting on the wall and work on it for a few minutes, a few hours, I can roll it up, put it in a tube, take it home. Storage isn’t much. I mean, there’s just so many benefits to painting. I mean, it’s just the most convenient thing for me to do and I can’t not have this creative energy and … and not use it. So, so I said, ‘Okay. I’ll keep doing portraits.’ And so, I made a commitment to myself that I want to paint 100 large-scale portraits. By large-scale, I mean 5 feet by 3.5 feet. And I want them to be of people from my life. Not necessarily people that I even like. You know, people that I like, people that I dislike. People that I met in passing. You know, people that impact me in some significant way. Long-term, temporarily, negatively, positively. But also people that I personally did not find attractive because I didn’t want to contribute to that vanity piece that I mentioned earlier. So, the first, the first thing, now, none of these are in order, and I didn’t want them to be in order because I didn’t want to go through the timeline. But what I wanted to do was I wanted to paint the diversity of my life, I wanted to paint people from both genders, people with glasses, people with long hair, people with short hair, bald heads, old, young, you name it, alright? And I haven’t quite accomplished that. I mean, I have 100 portraits to go. Of 100, I probably have 20 completed, alright? So, this is going to take me years. I understand that. But at some point, the goal would be to show all of these portraits in a space where I could do kind of a summary, you know, kind of make a big splash, if you will. So, this is one of the earlier portraits. This is Alice. It’s hard to scale by the scale, but all of the portraits that I’m going to show you from here on out are about 5 feet tall and 3.5 feet wide. I refer to them as big heads. They’re big heads. Alice and she has given me her permission, Alice I met in the mental health setting. She was in recovery, and she was actually doing really well. And when I started this series, I reached out to her to ask her if I could actually depict her as she is versus creating a portrait based on who she, who she is. And she said, ‘Sure. I have no problem with that.’ And I said, ‘I’ll send you progress shots, I’ll send you pictures. If there’s any issue, you let me know, I’ll scrap it, I’ll do whatever I need to do to just kind of respect your likeness, respect your wishes.’ When I finished the portrait, she was she was fine about it, you know. What I liked about Alice is that, first of all, she wasn’t a young, African American male, but she was this Chinese girl that was in love with African American males. And she was one of the most confident people I’ve ever met in my life. You know, who also was living with mental illness. But mental illness, a lot of times, people with mental illness, they struggle with the stigma, they struggle with their, how they see themselves. And Alice was not one of those people. She was extremely strong. And her, how she saw herself, she was the most beautiful person in the world. You know, and I really respected that. It really moved me, and it inspired me to continue doing what I was doing because if I could get, you know, one person a month to convert to that kind of mindset, you know, I’d be really doing some good work, was how I felt. Now, I don’t think I had anything to do with how she felt, you know, I met her at the right time and she had probably inspired me more than I inspired her, which is why I painted a portrait of her. So, this is Corey, Corey Nejati. Corey Nejati, I don’t know him, actually. I’ve never met him. Only through texts and through Snapchat. Corey Nejati is a a music artist in based out of Washington, D.C. And he reached out to me to ask if I could do some cover art for him. And I said, “Yeah, I can do that.’ You know, I said, ‘But, you know, it’s kinda expensive just to use it for cover art.’ I said, ‘Don’t you want me to ship you the portrait?’ And he’s like, ‘No, I just want to pay you to paint it. I don’t even want the portrait.’ And I asked him, I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ He’s like, ‘You know, at some point, if I want it, you know, I’ll reach out to you and we can, we can set it up.’ I painted this portrait two years ago, you know. And he hasn’t reached out. He just wanted me to paint it because he saw some of the work that I was doing, and he wanted his image depicted in the style that I paint. You know, I don’t know him, like I said, but every time I see him on social media, he’s always in his car, singing stuff, and he’s always acting goofy. And he seems like someone that I would actually spend time with, one of my friends. I feel like I know him, even though I don’t know him, you know. This is someone who supports me from afar, that I have never met, but we have this kind of kinship that I really respect. At any point, if you guys have any questions, please, feel free to ask because I can’t imagine talking for 60 minutes straight. Alright. This is David Mann. David Mann is the vice mayor of Cincinnati. I consider him and his wife, Betsy, a friend. They’ve been over to the house, I’ve been to City Hall, more than a few times. I met Vice Mayor Mann because he has an art gallery as part of his office space. And there was a call for artists to do portraits, it was called “Cincinnati Portraiture,” and I submitted a portrait of my wife and another gentleman, who I’ll show you soon, and he really liked the portraits, he had a lot of good things to say about them. And, you know, through our conversations, I asked if you know, if he would be willing to sit for a portrait or if I could take a photograph. And he said he was okay. He sent me some pictures, and, you know, it was the political picture, where it’s a glamor shot with the little sparkle in the tooth, and you know, I said, ‘No, that’s not what I’m trying to do.’ It’s hard to tell the vice mayor, ‘I don’t want to paint a flattering portrait of you. I want to paint you how you look.’ And he said, ‘Okay,’ you know, he trusted the process. But when he when he came to see the portrait, I think that, you know, he had never quite been depicted as close to his age as I depicted him. And I could tell that he was taken aback by it. And that’s not to say he didn’t like it, I just think that, you know, I kind of achieved the goal that I was looking for. You know, he— AUDIENCE 1: How old is he? MICHAEL: I don’t know, but he I would, if I had to guess, I would say he is in his late 70s. And, you know, with this painting particularly, you know, with older folks because they have more crevices and they have just more wear on their face, it’s much more interesting to paint and I approach it much more like a sculpture, you know, so, you know, with sculptures, you build an armature, which I guess would be the drawing in the case of a portrait, and then from there, you start kind of building things up and then chiseling things down, and, you know, with this painting, it started with the darks first, and then I went from the darkest colors to the lightest colors, and it just became this real sculptural experience for me. And when I was done, I, personally, was extremely satisfied with it, but, you know, I think that he was expecting it to be, he was expecting there to be a layer of flattery there, you know, that wasn’t there. It was stripped, I mean, it’s raw, it’s really extremely fleshy, you know, it’s not a pretty portrait, but it definitely is a successful one as far as I’m concerned. So, after I painted the portrait, you know, we talked a little bit about my work and my art fusing, as part of my work for Cincinnati Children’s, I do therapeutic art groups and we have started a project called Piece By Piece, myself and my partner, Brent Billingsley, who is also an artist, and we do large-scale black and white portraits, where we take a photograph, we put it through a filter to get the different the different tones, we grid it, we cut it up into 12 to 16 pieces, they’re all numbered, and we give one to each of the participants in the group. Now, the participants don’t know what they’re doing in the group, they don’t know, they’re just asked to draw and paint what they see here. So, it could just be a solid black square, and they have no idea how that contributes to the overall piece, the goal being, you know, working on your problems one piece at a time instead of trying to deal with them all at once. So, we get 12 people to do that, and we come up with these beautiful portraits. In the last two years, we’ve creating over 120 of these portraits. I mean, they’re all maybe 5 feet by 5 feet or larger. The smallest one is nine squares, the largest one is 54 squares. So, they get pretty large. The reason I’m sharing this with you is because I then went to my friend David Mann, who has an art gallery, and said, ‘Hey, this is the work we’re doing in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. You have this space, it’s Black History Month, it’s International Women’s Month, it’s this month, can we show some of the kids’ work there that we put together?’ He says, ‘Well, you know, let’s talk about it, come on down.’ We go down, we meet with his assistant, they agree to let us do something for International Women’s Month. We had a show up of the kids’ work. 20 large-scale portraits for three months, I mean, in City Hall. We had so much feedback and so much recognition for the work that we had up there. And actually, City Hall bought one of the pieces from the show. We weren’t even selling the pieces, but, you know, they reached out, they said they wanted to buy one, we said we weren’t selling them, they said, ‘We’d like to buy one.’ So, we sold one and we used it to just pay for supplies for the program. So, I call him a friend because not only is he interested in like the political piece of what’s happening in Cincinnati, but on a personal level, when you see him and when you meet him, what I like about him is that he is so humble and he remembers almost everyone. He walks up to people, shakes their hands, greets them with a hug, and it’s not like what you would expect a politician to do, it’s like what you would expect a friend to do. He made a house visit. He didn’t have to come to my house. He could’ve said, ‘Well, bring the piece to City Hall,’ but he and his wife came, they showed up, and it was just an extremely personal experience. So, for a man with a face as popular as his, you know, he doesn’t walk around with bodyguards, he doesn’t have a security detail, he’s just a regular guy, you know, surrounded by people. So, he was one of those folks that definitely imparted something on me as well. AUDIENCE 2: Was there a reason that— I think it’s quite striking how you focused on just the face and sort of the white— you left negative space white. Was there a reason for that? MICHAEL: Yeah. Yeah, so I can answer that. So, I mean, so, think about when you meet a person, you know, when you meet an actual person, most times, you look them in the face, I mean, that’s where their eyes are, that’s where their mouth is. There’s background, there’s stuff in the background, but I’m not paying attention to that stuff. when I’m talking to you. So, I just felt like it was more important for the full focus to be the face, you know. When you’re confronted by another figure, especially a figure that is larger than you, you know, you have your own individual response to that figure, and whatever your history with a figure that looks like this might be. And there’s a relationship that starts at that moment, and I don’t want to I don’t want to create anything visually that would take away from that experience. If that makes sense. AUDIENCE 2: That’s a good explanation because I think the human face is so fascinating. Everyone’s. And I thought this was quite striking about this piece, and I liked the way you explained it. MICHAEL: Thank you. I look at these all as two portraits. I usually start… My process, there’s a portrait of the eye, so I take a close-up of the eye so that I can make sure I get those right because if those aren’t right, the portrait won’t be right. And then there’s the portrait of the face. So, but I always start with the eyes, and you know, I work on those for days sometimes until I am satisfied that I have them as accurately described as I can do them with my skill level, and then, and then once I’m satisfied with that, I move to the next, the next phase, which is the face. Alright. Alright, so this is Desirée. Desirée, Desirée is my sister-in-law. When I painted this, my wife was so jealous. (Laughter) Because my wife was the first portrait that I did, and it, I think, is probably the most successful out of all of them because it’s gotten the most recognition, and it’s been converted into a mural in downtown Cincinnati. And all of these great things have happened with my wife’s portrait, but it was not flattering. Alright, so, I painted my sister-in-law, and it’s flattering. Well, my sister-in-law, she’s a makeup artist, she’s, she, I mean, she’s good. She’s really good at what she does with makeup. She could make a gargoyle look like a beauty queen. (Laughter) And, you know, so she sent me this picture, this is probably the only painting that I’ll show you that’s more than just a head, right? And this was very early on, this was probably the second or third portrait once I started painting people. And I was just really interested in, you know, kind of developing different techniques. Here, she has this leopard print thing that requires gold paint and this pattern. And then she has these braids that require this tool that I had to build to get different marks and strokes. And so, it was more of an experiment that turned into a pretty painting. I never display this painting. I never submit it for exhibitions because it’s not a successful painting based on the standards that I set for myself. In fact, this painting, the reason I’m showing it is because I feel like I failed in my kind of underlying motivation for my work. Because it probably contributes more to her vanity than it does to say anything about who who she really is. MARY: Michael, why didn’t you continue the right arm? MICHAEL: Because I kind of, I realized I failed, and it was too late, and I just kind of just kind of gave up on it. You know, it was done. I overworked the face, it was way too way too modeled. I mean, the arched eyebrows and all of that stuff. I mean, it just, it was just a failure for me, so I completed just enough for it to be, you know, even the background, I mean, you know, we talked about how I don’t paint anything in the backgrounds. This is the only one with a background. Most of them, if there’s a background, it’s white. Or tan, depending on the color of the painting, right? So, so in every aspect of my methodology for working, it’s a failure. So, yeah. Alright, so this is my wife. Alright, so, compared to this, which is what my wife expected I would be painting, you know, I started with this, and she could not stand this painting. She was not satisfied, she thought that I just made her look horrible, and she just was not a fan. And I have a friend, I have a good friend who is also an artist. His name’s Pete. He comes over to the studio, and we paint together. He paints his futuristic paintings and I paint my portraits. And Pete is extremely critical. You know, he he does not bite his tongue. He’s cutthroat, even. You know, I really value his his criticism because most of the time, he’s right. And so, as I’m painting this, he was saying, you know, ‘It’s not done. It’s not done.’ You know, ‘You need to think about this, think about that. Try this, try that.’ You know, ‘Just let loose, relax.’ And so, I did all of those things, and I came out with this painting that I thought turned out extremely successful based on, again, those standards that I set for myself. My wife, however, was not a fan. The first time I showed this was at Fresh A.I.R. Gallery, and a lady put a bid on it to purchase it, and it fell through, and I got to keep the painting. And I’m glad that that happened. At first, I was kind of bummed, but I’m glad that that happened because after that happened, I got to show it a couple of more times. And in showing it, the City of Cincinnati reached out to me and they said… So, this piece was one of the pieces I showed originally at City Hall. So, David Mann had the portraiture show, I showed this, and another gentleman, someone from the city saw this hanging in the gallery, they reached out to me, and they said, ‘Well, we’d like to, We’d like to turn this into a mural and paint it in downtown Cincinnati.’ And I said, ‘Awesome.’ So, they paid me for the rights for the image, and they blew it up and they put it, it’s the first painting as part of a walking mural tour in Cincinnati. There’s a series of 11 murals, it’s called the, mural… Walking Mural Project, that’s through ArtWorks Cincinnati, I’m not sure if any of you have heard that, but they are responsible for all of the murals that happen in Cincinnati. AUDIENCE 3: And where is this located? MICHAEL: It’s on 13th and Main Street. 13th and Main Street, you take a right, and it’s it’s in a breezeway like along the walking tour route, the walking mural route, in downtown Cincinnati. So, so that made my wife, that scored me some some brownie points with my wife. AUDIENCE 4: Even if she didn’t like it. MICHAEL: Well, now, now, it’s a different story, you know. She loves it. And she loves it because she understands why other people like it. You know, she didn’t like it because it didn’t fit her own personal visual, aesthetic tastes. But now, she’s gone down, she’s gone down multiple times to visit herself. She’s taken photographs with herself. Her friends have gone down to take photographs with her and tagged her in the photographs on social media. And And I would say that, you know, she’s extremely happy with, you know, the life that this thing has kind of taken of its own, you know. It’s more than just a portrait now, it’s a symbol, you know? I had to write an artist’s statement about, you know, what this meant for me, and, you know, I married my wife for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons was that she reminded me of a lot of where I grew up, you know, the people I grew up with. You know, how much she valued family, how strong she was, how outspoken she was. Like how loving she was. Like all of the qualities of the black women I grew up with in my home, my wife embodied. So, I felt really inpsired to paint this portrait of her you know, to kind of symbolize that love for her. You know, she didn’t know that at the time. All she wanted to do was look cute. But So, she was the impetus for all of the portraits. This was the very first one. And as you can see, they look a great deal different now because I was a sculptor transitioning into painting. So, this one is even much more sculptural with the layers and the lines. A lot of straight lines, you know. A lot of straight lines. A lot of modeling, a lot of surface. It looks like sanding, but you know, it’s just kind of you know, I even used a lacquer. You know, I mean, I really was transitioning from that sculpture, sculptor range to this. Next up is Kat. Kat Alright, so Kat is one of those people that I’ve known for well, two years or three years, and I only remember having one conversation with her, one real conversation, and that was recently in my kitchen. You know, Kat is you know, she’s one of the, I think she’s someone that I respect because I think a lot of people underestimate her. Because she is actually really pretty and could be considered one of those trophy-type of women, with the blonde hair and the nice build and all of this stuff. And, you know, and people think that she’s not smart. I don’t think that people think that now, but I think that that was my general impression, is that people didn’t take her seriously. But she is smart as hell, you know. And her brain has led to her being extremely successful in her job and in her field and she is probably one of the most successful people that I know. And she’s recently, over some time, developed a really good friendship with my wife. But, you know, she’s like one of those people that reminds me that no matter, you know, who people think you are and what you look like, you know, that they don’t define you, you define yourself. And, you know, this painting is kind of a reminder of that for me. Regardless of how, you know, how I might be received, you know, that might say something about who I am, but it doesn’t really dictate who I am and what I’ve become. So, I thought that, you know, I asked to paint her as well because she really did she really reminded me of that, that fact, you know. That you are who you say you are and not who other people want you to be. And so, that’s what led to to this one here. Leroy. Leroy. Leroy is my granddad. Leroy, you know, I don’t know what to say about Leroy. I mean, he’s probably one of the strongest men that I know. He raised five kids, six? I don’t know how many kids he raised, too many if you ask me. He He raised my my cousins after their mom passed away from cancer. I mean, he beat cancer twice. He was the silent partner in my success, you know? I mean, when I went to college, and when I travelled, you know, I didn’t know how instrumental my grandfather was in making that happen until I became an adult. He, you know, he never needed recognition. He never, He was He was always humble, you know? He’s just a really humble guy, you know? He never really brags. And it’s interesting because my I learned that he was in the Korean War, and he came back home because he got injured. A piece, a grenade exploded or something and a piece of shrapnel cut his face and his nose. You know, and all, and the story, the only story that I heard about that was that you know, they ruined his pretty face. You know, that that was his story. You know, ‘Those folks ruined my pretty face.’ You know, it wasn’t anything from the war, he doesn’t seem to carry around any trauma or any like negative side effects. I mean, just his ability to kind of deal with the hardships that he had in his life. You know, just growing up hearing about how he grew up down South. I don’t need to go into that, but I just really appreciate the legwork he’s done to to put me here right now. I don’t think that it would’ve been possible without some of the hardships and some of the sacrifice that he has had to endure. I’m still learning about my granddad. I mean, he’s been in my life my entire life. And I grew up in his house for the first 10 years of my life. And, you know, I just found out he had a Purple Heart two years ago. And I found that out because he was talking to my wife about it. You know? You know, I’m still learning things about him every time I go home because, you know, he’s not one of those people that really like I said, seek recognition or need to brag about their accomplishments. And so, you know, if I could be that humble, which I don’t think I ever could be, I would like to try to do it how he does it, you know? I would like to think that everything that I’m working for now would create a better life for my son and my future children if I have them and my family. So, he just was one of the best role models someone like me could ever have, you know? And, you know, he was silently pulling strings in the background to ensure that I was successful, you know? I went to college on a scholarship, I didn’t necessarily take it serious, I lost my scholarship, but somehow, I was miraculously able to stay in college, And I never really asked how that was possible. Because I know my mom and my dad couldn’t afford it, you know. But somehow it happened, and I took it serious and I got back on my A game and I got straight A’s the rest of the three years I was there and I got my scholarship and some other scholarships. You know, I turned it around. But I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t have, you know, like a a shadow partner there. And I don’t think I ever thanked him for it because I don’t think he knows that I know. Because my mom told me accidentally. So, I don’t, I don’t think that he wanted me to know, you know? So, just the humility that he represents, it just kind of, regardless of how successful I become, it’s just a reminder to, you know, everyone doesn’t have to know everything you’ve ever done. You know, sometimes, you knowing should be enough. As long as what you are doing is providing for the people that you love and impacting them, then that’s all that really matters at this point. So, so, every single piece is, you know, a story, a reminder, a visual sign for me, you know. It’s a chrysalis as well, I mean, it kind of captures these people at a certain time in their life, or at a certain time in my life, if you will. In a way that a photograph couldn’t ever capture. They say a pictures is worth a thousand words, and it may very well be, but, you know, the paintings for me represent, you know, an experience in its entirety. You know, and serve as more than just you know, words, but you know, a guide as to how I, how I should think, how I should live. What type of qualities I’d like for people to say they see in me. So, this is one of those, this is one of those pieces. Molly Wellman. Alright, so, Molly Wellman Molly Wellman is a business owner in Cincinnati. She owns bars and punch houses and vegan cafes. I mean, and she’s doing extremely well. And she is one of those people that when you look at her, you think she’s just a rockabilly chick, you know, tattoos on her neck and on her hands and, I mean, she does not look like what you would expect a successful business owner to look like. You know, based on the stereotypes we you know, set for each other. But she is extremely successful. And you know, her, just like Kat, kind of represent similar similar things. You know, that it doesn’t really matter what you look like. Maybe it does, you know? But as far as success goes, you can always find your own lane to success, whatever success is for you. And it doesn’t have to be based on standards that other people set for you. Much like my painting, you know. My wife, what she would’ve liked to have seen in my painting is not what I want to see in my painting, you know? So, I still see my painting as successful, even though I’m following my own visual kind of guidelines. So, she, Molly is a great reminder that, you know, you just be true to who you are and, you know, continue to do what you’re doing and at some point, after I few good decisions, success should be easier to obtain. Santu. Santu is from Cincinnati. A really interesting looking guy. Really thin, really short, he can’t be any taller than 5’5″. Cincinnati by way of Scandinavia, served in the Scandinavian Army as an officer. Now works for the Department of Defense. You know, I realize I don’t know much about this guy. He’s just a mystery. Avid traveller. Just one of those guys who, you know, he’ll tell you a story, and you get envious. I mean, he’s just, it seems like he’s lived so many lives in one life, and he’s had so many experiences. You know, he’s that guy that you know that like no matter how much you’ve accomplished, no matter how much money you have, now matter how many shows you have, or whatever that is. You know, there’s always someone who has more, right? So, appreciate what you have. And that’s, that’s what this guy reminds me. You know, just when I talk to him about travel, when I talk to him about life experiences, he always has this perspective and this story that really just kind of reminds me, you know, man, this guy is awesome! You know, but, you know, what he’s done with his life really doesn’t say what I’ve not done with mine. It just kind of, you know, helps me obtain some sort of perspective. I mean, I guess since I can’t experience it, you know, maybe I can live it vicariously through him. So, all of these people, you know, whether I have a relationship with them or not, all they all contribute to the kind of commandments I have for my life, you know? If you will. And they’re people that I know, they’re people that I meet, they’re people that I have relationships with, and people that I don’t. But at the end of the day, you know, they’re just all people. If you guys notice, and I’m not sure if you did notice this, with the exception of Desi, Desirée, my sister-in-law, everyone is looking straight on, no one has a facial expression, everyone’s mouth is closed. And that’s intentional. Alright? Because, although these people mean all of this to me, and I get, I have the luxury of kind of explaining it to you guys today, when you see them, you know, you’re not going to know any of that stuff. You’re going to project onto that person what you think, what you see. You know, we walk past thousands of people a day. When you guys leave here today, you’re going to walk past 100 people from here on the way to your car that you won’t even speak to. But you’ll make an assumption. You’ll have a notion about who that person is. You’ll project onto them you know, what your experience has taught you, and you’ll have a narrative in you head about who that person is. You know, from the person that you just catch a snippet of their cellphone conversation, to the guy coming out of the sandwich shop. And so, I wanted to kind of create that same thing with the paintings, where you walk up to a painting, you have no idea who they are outside of their name, and then you come up with your own narrative. And so, for each of you, for each of you, you’ll have a a different experience. So, I just kind of want to do a test, right? So, I’ll ask a question to you guys. Is there anyone who feels comfortable telling me what they think about this guy? Who he is, where he’s from, what—anything. Is there anything you can pull from this portrait that you feel comfortable sharing? There’s no such thing as wrong answers. Anyone? AUDIENCE 5: I think he’s an individualist in the sense of distinctive characteristics of his beard and expression to me. I’d say he is his own person. AUDIENCE 6: Are those tattoos on his body? MICHAEL: Yes, they are. They are. AUDIENCE 5: Which is another, I think, thing about an individual. That to do that, I think you have to have, you know, a feeling about yourself to do the tattooing. MARY: Chances are he doesn’t wear a suit to work. MICHAEL: Okay. Anyone else? Alright, so. This is Sergio, alright? I call him Power Surge. (Laughter) Alright? I call him Power Surge. AUDIENCE 7: I like that. MICHAEL: But I don’t know if he likes it or not. So, Sergio is, most people think Sergio is Arab. Right? And so he gets kind of profiled a lot. But Sergio is actually his mom’s Italian and his dad is black. And, you know, he does have this distinctive look, he is an individualist, he started his own kind of clothing company, he has his own brand. But Sergio is one of the sharpest dudes I know. I mean, he can wear a suit like no other. Alright? I mean, he is always dressed nicely from head to toe. Always. I’ve never seen him dressed like me today. You know? I’ve only ever seen him sharp. I mean, I met him, so, his portrait was the other portrait with my wife’s that I showed at City Hall. I invited him down for the opening. When he showed up at the opening, he had on a dress shirt with a really nice fancy belt and some pants. And then, but he had on gym shoes. And so, he got out of the car and he walked behind the car and he popped his trunk. And his trunk was a closet. (Laughter) He had three pairs of shoes, and he had some pants, I mean, he, he, I mean, he travels with a closet in his car. Right? He’s a sharp dude. So, he changed his shoes, we walked in, and it was fine. Sergio is also a bodybuilder. I mean, he is probably the most diesel guy that I know. He’s He probably weighs 130, maybe 140, but he is like bench pressing 300 pounds plus, you know? I mean, he’s a, he’s a strong guy. He spends hours in the gym a day. So, I mean, he’s just a very meticulous guy, very detailed, and kind of you know, kind of, really, unexpected. You know? You see people like a lot of people with tattoos, you know, probably, his entire torso is covered with tattoos. You see people like that, sometimes, you don’t expect them to to be that, you know, but he’s he’s really concerned with his physical appearance, his visual appearance, everything, you know? He’s got it. AUDIENCE 8: So, he covers his tattoos up? MICHAEL: Yeah, yep. Yep. He’s got the man bun going, he’s got the beard. He’s a fly dude, as we say. Alright, so I just have a few more minutes here. Tommy, I’ll just go through him. This is my best friend. I’ve known him for over 20 years. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him get in a disagreement with anyone. He is the most, I mean, he can I feel like he can integrate with any group in any place at any time without any friction. He’s just found a communication style that I’ve actually adopted. People think I am extremely calm, which is great because I attribute all of that to his impact on me because when he met me, I was an extremely angry kid, you know. I had poor impulse control, a short fuse. I completely changed my life because of this guy. And without him, without meeting him, and kind of seeing how he operates with people, I’m not sure that I would even be here today. You know, because I would’ve completely destroyed some relationships and burned some bridges and stuff. And then, I just want to go to my last piece. That’s me. I don’t have to talk about myself. This is the last piece. This is the piece that is hanging in the gallery if you haven’t seen it. This piece is called “The Matriarch of Havana.” Because I didn’t get this lady’s name. I went to Cuba a few years back. I stayed with a lady who was easily the most popular person in her neighborhood. The neighbors came over to gossip, they came over for tea, they came over for babysitting, they came over to get nails done, to get hair braided. I mean, her house was the place to be. And I was staying there for a few days while I was in the country. And every day, she would send a young girl who was working for her to go and retrieve her mom. And this is her mom. Her mom would come over, her mom would sit out in the courtyard, they would feed her, they would make sure that she was okay. She would never talk. I didn’t realize she was blind until I asked to take a portrait of her and they told me she was blind. But, you know, her face just told this story that, you know, I felt like everyone should see. And so, I asked if I could take a picture of her, and she said, ‘Yes,’ and I took a picture, knowing that she would never get to see the image that came from the picture. Fast-forward two years, my wife and her brother are going to go back to Cuba in about a month. So, I’m going to send the portrait with my wife to give to the daughter to hopefully, to hopefully display in her place just as a token of gratitude and a token of thanks. For providing me with shelter, food, and everything while I was there. But I just, I just felt like there were a lot of people in Havana, especially, who, whose face had a similar story. And she was just one of the many. So, I didnt even feel like it was important to really find out what her name was. And just call her The Matriarch because, you know, there’s so many faces and so many stories that are extremely similar in that part of the world. You know, I spent a few days with her. And, you know, I hope she’s doing well. I guess I’ll find out soon enough. And I felt like this was this was one of those people who definitely would make a beautiful portrait. A painted portrait. Unless you guys have any questions, MARY: We’re at just about 1 p.m. If anybody has any questions before we wrap up? Questions for Michael? AUDIENCE 9: Are there any artists that inspire or influence you? MICHAEL: So, yes, but they’re all sculptors. AUDIENCE 8: Okay. MICHAEL: I actually don’t, I try to stay away from other artists, if you can believe that. I don’t really, I don’t hang out with artists, I don’t go to social events with artists. I don’t have those conversations with artists, the verbose ones, you know. Except for the folks I went to school with, that cohort in undergrad and in graduate school. Because I don’t want to be influenced by what other people are doing in their work, you know. Like, what I talked about with Santu, you know, every time I talk to him, I just get envious kind of. You know, and it just kind of it makes me feel like I should be doing more sometimes. And I don’t ever want to feel like that when I’m actually pursuing what I want to pursue with my work. When I talk with other artists, there just isn’t enough time to do everything. So, I don’t want to be influenced, I don’t want any of that. So, I tend to limit my interaction with other artists. Now, I do go out to see shows. I like I like going out to see like big shows, especially, you know, in other cities and when I’m traveling and stuff like that. You know, the Impressionists, most of the people who I’m attracted to are people who are long gone. With the exception of a few sculptors that are still around. MARY: Anyone else before we wrap up? Michael, thank you! MICHAEL: I want to thank you. (Applause)

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