|MICHAEL DUTÉ: PAINTING MEMOIRS
Michael Duté is an artist who also paints murals for interiors. He’s from San Francisco, but now lives in Berlin. That’s where he’s painting up a storm and fully-engaged in a new life that he’s busily documenting on canvas www.michaeldute.com. Sounds like a cool gig. Read on and find out from Michael himself.
MICHAEL C: Hello Michael, Your work seems to be more decorative and geared toward interiors. Has that had an effect on how you're viewed in the art world?
MICHAEL D: The art world? Uh, oh. Are they like the authorities or something? Should I be nervous? Please tell the art world that Herr Duté is alive and well and living inside a painting in Berlin. Sure, you could say that some, maybe most, of my work to date is decorative, but my goal is to create interior environments that empower, mystify and reward the inhabitant. That's what art is all about, right? To have an emotional impact on the viewer. There's nothing like being literally surrounded by art, to really live inside it. I'm currently painting my apartment in Berlin, transforming a few ordinary rooms into a place that's intoxicatingly beautiful, full of color and life and mystery and surprises. It's a pretty great place to be.
MICHAEL C: Very interesting. I've often wondered what it would be like to live inside some great paintings. This seems like a silly exercise given the fact that you actually create environments in which people actually live. What does living in an art environment do for you? Especially one that you've created?
MICHAEL D: Well, first of all, there is the element of surprise. Funny that I'm still surprised when I walk into this big room I've been painting off-and-on for two years now. I'm still wowed by the power of this giant painting in progress. The scale is great. I haven't moved walls or raised the ceiling, but it feels grand with its soaring columns, towering gilded palms and obelisks. I find the colors endlessly fascinating; the greens, reds, purples arranged in perfect harmony. I'm amazed how colors work, how they complement each other, how they thrill and tease and involve the viewer. It is no small feat to get them all to cooperate, to do what I want them to do - to dance and sing and thrill. They need to be subtle enough to stay put, to not overwhelm. They also need to be gutsy. The play of shadows and highlights really brings them all to life. Yeah, there's a lot of life to these walls. Therein lies the magic. I love it.
MICHAEL C: I've actually seen TV shows where people paint over murals inside homes. Doesn't that ever concern you? You may not live where you are for much longer and leave and one year later the next tenant paints over your work!
MICHAEL D: Yeah well, if I moved into a place with ugly murals, I'd paint over them immediately. Gone. Just like that. I happen to own my apartment in Berlin, so I don't foresee any other tenants moving in any time soon. The work I'm doing here is of the highest quality and if I do decide to sell one day, I'll market my place based on the artwork. It will be a one-of-a-kind, dreamy, hideaway in Berlin. I'm not worried about that. I was in San Francisco for two months last fall and just happened to walk by my old rented digs. I lived in that apartment for nineteen years and painted the hell out of it. Anyway, the curtains were open and the lights were on and I guess I'd have to say I was pleased to see the rooms intact. I could see all my artwork: murals, pagoda-bookcases, over-door paintings, some crap chandelier (because I brought the good one with me to Berlin). So someone's living in there. I hope they're enjoying themselves. Heh-heh. I have to add that I'm hardly sentimental. When I decided to leave San Francisco and live full-time in Berlin (partly because I wanted to dedicate myself to this project), I got rid of everything I owned. When I left my old apartment, I just locked the door and walked away from it. It was very liberating. I have no regrets. A fresh start. It's exciting. It's inspiring.
MICHAEL C: I find it interesting that even though you create art for interiors, you don't seem to be owned by houses or physical spaces. This way of thinking or living really takes art to a new level. What do you think?
MICHAEL D: Wow. Your questions are thought provoking. I've always had a fascination for architecture and interiors, for furniture and art and all the good things that make up our personal environments. People do tend to clutter-up their lives though and get bogged-down by possessions. I don't want that. At heart, I'm a minimalist. I need to be free. Someone once said when visiting my apartment in San Francisco that it was so beautifully painted that I could never move. I heard it again from someone else: "You can never leave this place!" Imagine being trapped by one's own creation! A prisoner of art. Never! Anyway, that place was done and I got years of satisfaction out of it and it was liberating to get rid of everything: furniture, paintings, everything, every book, every sock. Berlin beckoned. I already had my apartment here and it was a new blank canvas. I stripped the place bare, made a few architectural improvements, put in a new kitchen and bathroom and have been determinedly painting away. All new is inspiring. New walls, paints, brushes, canvases. A new city is inspiring. A new culture. I'm amazed how learning a new language really opens up the brain. May I add here that I'm not merely a "decorative artist"? I've been painting my walls and cranking-out the works on canvas. I've done two series to date; one for (and about) each year in Berlin, about twenty-five pieces. They're autobiographical, dark and humorous and a direct result of running off - of not being tied-down.
MICHAEL C: I have to be careful here because I have a friend or two in Berlin. However, I imagine Berlin as this dark, decadent place where there's lots of debauchery and underground life. Is this some early 20th century (1930s or 1980s) stereotype?
MICHAEL D: Indeed, Berlin is dark and decadent, full of debauchery and underground life. It's awesome. My head is still spinning from the most outstanding New Year's Eve! Berlin is much freer than America and it seems to me that the people are much happier without the restrictions and baby-sitter mentality that are the norm in the States. Whatever you've heard is probably true. Berlin is the party capital of the world. The bars and clubs and so forth don't close at two or four or six in the morning. The festivities go on and on and on. There is a certain desperation in let's say, San Francisco, where the clock is always ticking and the chances of having a truly good time are well, rather bleak. It works for me. Here in Berlin, I can paint and paint and paint, then when I feel the need, I simply step out get me some. It's brilliant. Then it's back to painting again. Berlin is huge. It's affordable. There is a vibrant art scene, more museums than you can shake a stick at. It's relaxed. It's green....thirty-percent park-land. The U-Bahn and the bicycle are the primary modes of transportation and I think that does the citizenry good. It's hard to say exactly what it is, but here in Berlin I feel free and relaxed and inspired. It's pretty great.
MICHAEL C: Obviously, interiors are just a small part of your work. Where are you now with your other work as an artist?
MICHAEL D: Wow. Such a simple question about such seemingly simple paintings and I barely know where to begin. "Other work.” Yes, I've been documenting my life in Berlin through a series of straightforward, predominantly black and white paintings. They're simple, figurative, expressive. Eisbären (polar bears), stray hounds and somewhat-anguished humanoids tell the story of big change, of running away from home, of hating language-school, of unwanted advances, unrequited love, bike accidents and that ever-pesky guest-list! It’s the trials and tribulations of being a stranger in a strange land. They're dark and funny, my therapy. I'm totally into them. I love having them around too as they remind me that I have really challenged myself, risen to the occasion, overcome such adversity in these past couple of years. Heh-heh. Whereas my mural-work demonstrates my pursuit for harmony, perfection and beauty, an ideal world perhaps, the black and white pieces tell the other side of the story; the reality of life outside these walls and all the craziness involved in being alive and kickin'! Life is fascinating. Sometimes I just need to paint all about it. In contrast to the complexity of these wall-paintings, their intricacies, the hundreds - if not thousands - of carefully prepared colors, I decided to pare everything down on my autobiographical work, to put it out there as bare and honest and as straightforward as possible. The rough streets and raw emotions represented through just a few brushstrokes. The series entitled "Heroes & Strays" is full of hope and determination and optimism, representing my first year in Berlin. The second, "You Can't Go Wrong" is the one about the absurdity of it all, of laughing in the face of adversity. Black and white, torn and trampled upon. It's fun to sit here and think about the paintings and the great adventure that is my life in Berlin! I've been wondering when I'll next take a break from these all-consuming walls, set up my "painting corner" and crank-out the next chapter. I have no idea what the next paintings will be or what they'll tell. Like life, they are totally unpredictable!
MICHAEL C: Very cool. Do you see any differences in the way Europeans regard art compared to Americans?
MICHAEL D: That's a tough one. Probably? I really don't know. There does seem to be more of an emphasis on the performing arts; opera, theater, ballet, etc, and I imagine that applies to the visual arts as well. Art as culture - Culture, tradition, history. Yeah, they got it goin' on. I do know that I was granted an artist's visa which allows me to live and work in Europe. That impressed me. Since the German re-unification in 1989, Berlin has strived to re-establish itself as a center for the arts which is also cool. May I remind you however that I come from San Francisco? San Francisco is stylish and I'm more aware of that now than ever before. I've been searching for that culture of stylishness here for two years now. Nothing against Berlin, but it is pretty laid-back, generally a no-frills kind of town and here I am, a total style freak! What will become of me? Heh-heh. I sure hope the Europeans will appreciate my work. I've consciously cranked-it-up several notches in order to prove myself, to not come across as an unsophisticated American. As I've been keeping a low profile and painting my heart out since I got here, I have yet to make my debut. It's getting to be that time though; time to show my work, to find a gallery, commissions, that sort of thing. Maybe I can better answer this question in a year from now.
MICHAEL C: Finally Michael, what role do you think art should play in society? Is art still relevant?
MICHAEL D: Of course art is still relevant. Art will always be relevant. It's like nature, the closest we can come up with at any rate. It nurtures, inspires, astounds. I couldn't imagine life without it. Art's role in society? Art is busy! Art brings people together, it makes us think, think about ourselves, about everything beyond ourselves, the past, the future, the here-and-now. Art is revolutionary, it's unconventional, it flies in the face of conformity. It's brilliant. Art and artists. I often wonder if artists see the world differently than non-artists. I think so. Crazy artists. Isn't that what they always say? Heh-heh. Where would they be without us?
MICHAEL C: Absolutely. Thanks Michael. This was quite fun.
Check out Michael Dute’s cool work at his website, www.michaeldute.com.