Michael Filan is an artist based in New York City. He creates fantastic abstract paintings http://www.filanmichael.com/ that experiment with layers of color, paint and the “accidents” or compositions. In short, Michael Filan takes risks with paint. How does he do it? Read on and find out …
“… It feels exhilarating and it feels self-affirming that I'm doing what I'm supposed to do in the world … It’s a wonderful, silent conversation with myself and it’s full of mystery, surprise and newness. The idea of not knowing what will be coming out is so cool …”
MICHAEL C: Hello Michael, I love your large, painterly works. Did I read on your site that you don't use paintbrushes? How do you paint?
MICHAEL F: I begin all my paintings with a trip to Home Depot. I spend about an hour looking at all the color charts and then quickly I begin to choose colors that will make up my palate for the next group of paintings that are 68” by 72”.
I use enamel house paint in the gallon size. Instead of using brushes, I start the painting with large splashes of color. Then I put the canvas leaning against the wall and begin to drip smaller amounts of paint onto canvas using smaller cans.
I also use spray paint which has a way of separating out the color and it causes a cracking affect. I love the way in which the paints runs into each other creating new colors like new rivers in an overrunning stream of water.
There is a wonderful freedom to not using the brush - wonderful accidents happen that can be harnessed and used.
MICHAEL C: Wonderful accidents? Very interesting. Most people don't like surprises, even if they turn out to be wonderful. When did you learn to give up total control of this artistic process?
MICHAEL F: That's what I love about making art … having the accidents become an integral component of the painting. I love the freedom that I experience while painting which is truly an autonomous act. I also have been painting for so many years that I have some sense of what might happen when I put different colors on top of one another. Accidents inform the direction of the painting.
MICHAEL C: How often do these accidents happen? Do you find that you have to recover from mistakes or do you “go with the flow?” Also, aren't some accidents just disasters that require you the throw the whole thing out and start over?
MICHAEL F: These are not accidents that lead to disasters. They are new combinations of colors that are created and all the drips are going downward so they create cohesiveness and not a random mess. The word “accident” probably isn’t the best word to describe my process. I love action painting which does take in making unconscious decisions, but those decisions are made from past experience with painting.
MICHAEL C: I would think that the larger your canvas, the better. Don't you need a lot of painting surface for people to really SEE your process? Do you also paint small? To me, anything about 6 feet by 6 feet is large.
MICHAEL F: For the most part, I do paint on large size canvases, but my process works on small canvas as well. I do pour paint from smaller containers for smaller works, so the drips do vary with the size of canvases.
MICHAEL C: Are you actually painting or are you experimenting with the fluidity and texture of paint? I don't know. Maybe both? Do those things coincide? Many people might look at what you're doing Michael and say, “Well, heck! I can pour paint on canvas and watch what it does!” What's the difference between what they might say and what you actually do?
MICHAEL F: Yes I am painting. My paintings have formal, compositional aspects to them. I am not randomly throwing paint on a canvas. I am carefully building layers of colors and shapes that come from choice - from my brain.
MICHAEL C: Do different colors have different functions in your work? How do you use color to express yourself?
MICHAEL F: One of my strengths as a painter is in my choice of color. Color will help create spatial planes in the work. The choices of colors for a painting are not planned out. I allow them to happen. They do reflect mood and energy. The strongest element of my paintings is color.
MICHAEL C: How do your works on canvas differ from your works on paper? Does the paint react differently? What's the difference between the two mediums for you?
MICHAEL F: Usually the works on paper begin their lives as prints and then I paint over the printed surface and that directs the painting. The canvas works begin from a white surface. This demands guts and conviction to begin a painting.
MICHAEL C: Guts and conviction? Now we're talking. Why do canvas works demand guts and conviction? After all, isn't it “just a painting?” It's not like going into military battle overseas. Smile.
MICHAEL F: First of all, there’s a presumption of talent, skill, intellectual curiosity and desire to communicate all wrapped up in the action of putting the first mark on the canvas .If a painter thinks too much about that white vast space in front of them, they freeze; you never really know what’s coming out.
Will your gifts leave you? Will your passion dissipate? It takes guts especially for the artist who is not famous to continue to create despite whether or not you sell your work or the galleries come calling.
MICHAEL C: And so, how do you deal with this uncertainty each time you step up to the canvas? I mean, you must be doing something right because you're still painting.
MICHAEL F: It feels exhilarating and it feels self-affirming that I'm doing what I'm supposed to do in the world. No one else has a say-so in it, so it’s pure Mike Filan freedom. It’s a wonderful, silent conversation with myself and it’s full of mystery, surprise and newness. The idea of not knowing what will be coming out is so cool. Will I revert to old work? When will a break through happen?
MICHAEL C: Somehow, I can see your work translating to 3D sculptures or perhaps working in some ethereal, conceptual way on video. Have you thought about that?
MICHAEL F: Yes, I have thought of translating my process into video. What I’ve wanted to do is videotape while painting from beginning to end and then do a deconstruction of the process. There is also a wonderful photographic process that films movement in a very lush manner. I think this would be a great way to film my work in both color and black and white.
MICHAEL C: Where are you exactly? Does your environment affect your creative process at all? Are you part of a strong art community?
MICHAEL F: What a great question! I'm in New York where I have lived all my life. I was born and raised in Brooklyn and have lived in Manhattan from the age of 21.
My first studio was in the South Bronx - a tale of two cities with the riches of Manhattan and then the poverty and chaos of the South Bronx. I have always been self-referential in my approach to my art-making, but I do believe your environment effects your work.
My work has always had speed, energy and loud, bold colors. I left that first studio because bullets came flying through my window one day while I was painting, so I decided to move and I have moved my studio several times this past week.
I have taken on a new studio on the LES in a large, beautiful space housed in Kenkeleba House, an institution that has seen all and has survived gentrification. My current rent was about to go to $700 per month - a silent epidemic of artists losing their spaces and scrambling for new spaces. What a sham in a city like New York that this is happening.
MICHAEL C: I totally understand.
MICHAEL F: I'm excited to be going to a new space in a new neighborhood - a neighborhood rich in art history and I do expect it to change my work. How I don't know, but artists do need change. A good friend said to me that the universe conspired to kick me up to a new and bigger space. Being that I'm a Gemini, we don't move that easy.
MICHAEL C: Do you think we'll ever get to the point where there just won't be any more artists in New York? Even well-heeled galleries are struggling to make rent. It's crazy. What do you think should be done to address this issue?
MICHAEL F: Great question. We are in a very interesting time. I work at The School of Visual Arts and I see young artists coming to art school with a social mission. How do they use their wonderful artist brains as a means for positive change for society?
This already gives new context for being an artist in these times. I'm not sure that our culture needs art in their lives as it once did. Our technology creates great amount of narcissism. Once our culture fully realizes that it needs the creativity of artists to get us through the problems of the future, we might see a shift.
We are also in a culture of ephemeral experiences that replace the art experience … in our culture, galleries cannot compete with this desire for the ephemeral experience. I’m not sure that people use art for comfort or reflection as they once did. Everything seems to be up for grabs.
MICHAEL C: It certainly seems that way.
MICHAEL F: If New York was really interested in keeping our arts community healthy, they could do so. You cannot only give grants to artists and galleries with no money. You have to support the arts across the whole spectrum. What a sad day that would be with no artists in NYC and no galleries. Sounds like the end of times to me.
MICHAEL C: Do you teach at SVA? Can you really teach someone to be an artist? So many people think art school is a waste and that students should get an MBA or learn computer code writing instead. What do you think?
MICHAEL F: I think for some students, art school is great. It gives them an opportunity to be with others like themselves who look at the world in a very different way. For the first time in their lives, they fit in and they flourish. You can’t teach someone to be an artist. You have to create an environment that leads the young artist to establish their own voice. You can teach skills and you can present problems and questions that grow intellect.
MICHAEL C: Finally Michael, When you're gone and your work remains, what do you want people to take away from your work? What's your legacy?
MICHAEL F: Another great question. I have experienced all kinds of responses to my art. The one that touches me the most was when my sister- in-law saw one of my prints and burst into tears. She was so moved by the work. She had experienced such joy from that work. What more could I ask for? So my legacy is to touch souls with my art work.
MICHAEL C: Thanks Michael. What a cool chat!
MICHAEL F: Thank you Michael. I’m excited to have the interview posted.
Check out Michael Filan at http://www.filanmichael.com/.