Michael Gadlin is a brilliant artist who lives in Denver, Colorado. For me, his work approaches the greatest of Jean-Michel Basquiat. In fact, I wanted to subtitle this interview, “The New Basquiat,” but I didn’t because I don’t like comparing artists, although that is indeed a bit of what I’m doing here. Anyway, I love this guy and his work. His paintings www.michaelgadlin.com are very specifically stylized and they’re uniquely “Michael Gadlin.”
”… I try not to think too much while I initially work. I like to let the process happen … allowing the images, shapes and content to just come to me …”
MICHAEL C: Hey Michael, I absolutely love your work. First off, I hate to compare artists and your work is nothing like what Basquiat did, but your work does have an almost obsessive, visionary, allegorical busyness that also characterizes Basquiat's work. What do you think?
MICHAEL G: I don’t mind comparisons. I think it shows that viewers are really looking at art and connections to art history. It can be flattering if the artist is any good. LOL!
MICHAEL C: Ha Ha!
MICHAEL G: It’s interesting to me - and really accurate - that you see in the work, “obsessive, visionary, allegorical busyness.” I think an artist's work reflects their personality. We all have influences in one way or another, right?
With Basquiat in particular, he was always an art hero with a freedom and uninhibited nature I was drawn to. I first got the chance to see his work in New York while I was attending Pratt, this was in 92' or 93’. The Whitney was having a retrospective, I believe his first, and it was only about five years after his untimely death. I had no idea who he was prior to the exhibition
I find influence fascinating. It can hurt you or work for you. You’ve got to be yourself in everything you do or else you run the risk of really saying nothing in your work. If you have your own ideas (your own way of seeing things), good discipline and sound technique, it’ll take you far.
That said, there’s always a challenge for a working artist - to be current, relevant and yet unique - this can be a good challenge, however not falling for trends that you have no passion for.
Comparisons are a natural act of involvement for the viewer. We can’t help it. We all compare things we see and experience based on prior knowledge. Isn’t that why we create art, because of influence or inspiration and of course the need to say something that we hope is important?
MICHAEL C: Given that, your style and inspiration appear to be steeped in environment and culture. I mean, there's a lot going on in your paintings. Would you say your work is more inspired by your own imagination? Is it more of a product of your own, inner thoughts or the world out there?
MICHAEL G: Yes, I feel most of my creative process is the idea of transforming what I see and think about into a visual experiment so to speak. I consider myself somewhat of a maximalist with an eye for minimalism. There's so much I want to say in one single piece, I usually start off really expressive, rough and gestural with my ideas and approach. The process for me is to find what I want to subtract - or add again - into a given work. It's a process that takes time and discipline, yet it can be maddening, but still it's addicting.
I love the idea of a space that has nothing, then responding with a thought or idea to break that blank space up with what I call a “Raw Marks,” which is a series I began recently and continue to do, where one mark is in response to another. Robert Motherwell worked similarly as did Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning.
MICHAEL C: And so, when you paint, are you creating the world as it is or as you'd like it to be?
MICHAEL G: That's an interesting question. I've never really thought about it that way, of my work as a pathway illustrating futurism. The act of painting, for me, is more of a direct expression of being in-the-moment.
From a fundamental and interpersonal process, I look to interpret topics I feel devoted to expressing, like the narrative of our relationships concerning race and social awareness to diversity and religious narratives as well. I hope to stimulate a dialogue between differences.
MICHAEL C: I can certainly see that in your work.
MICHAEL G: I'm interested in how we communicate through art, having a visually open dialogue that reaches deeper between the viewer and the artist. I'm not talking about art that shocks just for shock sake, but rather work that depicts what we're feeling and not just what we are looking at.
MICHAEL C: Why do you think it's almost always artists of color and ethnicity who are exploring issues of race and diversity? I don't think I've ever heard a white artist say they're exploring issues of race and/or diversity. I'm not saying they don't exist, I'm just saying I haven’t heard from them.
MICHAEL G: There are some (of course) who do explore issues of race/diversity and are maybe not of the very ethnic group they're exploring. And yet, I think you paint or explore what you know.
Who you are and what you experience has a lot to do with it, right? What are the topics and experiences closest to you? And what can you successfully and maybe convincingly talk about through art that touches real chords in others?
It’s hard to fake an experience of being in the minority. There are artists who express from the “outside looking in” point-of-view. Then, of course, there are artists who come from a personal and internal experience of race.
I don’t believe, however, the expression of racial narratives is limited to that experience and a specific expression. I find a lot of interest in exploring beauty for beauty’s sake in the practice of making art. It is an interesting subject in art nonetheless. I admire those who are true to their own experience and vision, rather than following what’s historically trendy.
MICHAEL C: Despite the fact that we live in a world with labels - sometimes positive ones - I've always viewed myself as a global citizen who can go anywhere. However, these days, I hear and see so many people who grab onto these geographic and cultural labels and won't let them go. I don't know. What do you think?
MICHAEL G: This is where expression and freedom of art comes in. I also consider myself more in line with being a “global citizen.” Is anyone who makes art or in the arts part of that global citizenship? That's the beauty of our freedom to explore, create and express creatively in any direction you see fit.
It makes the bigger picture more interesting. As far as my art is concerned, I can only hope it is looked at as an important and relevant contribution to society for some time to come. No matter where I see myself fitting in, I want my work to carry my legacy for me. Inevitably the work we make will stick around longer than we will. Art becomes the most important idea in humanity because of this revelation.
MICHAEL C: And yet, most people on the face of the earth will probably never visit an art gallery and certainly won't buy contemporary art. So what's the point?
MICHAEL G: That's a great question. Funny too, as I was recently asked philosophically on this very issue, would you still create art if you knew no one was going to look at it?
My answer was emphatically yes because I feel deeply about the idea of purpose and growth. That at a very carnal level, it is my individual outlet that makes me feel that I am useful and contributing to something greater whether someone sees my work or not. The fact that people view it is just an added bonus.
Even deeper, I enjoying listening to Allen Watts' (a spiritual guru and philosopher) teachings and when I really began to understand that everything we strive for on a secular level is in the end, just “nothing.” By ourselves, we cannot make much of an impact. There are no effective one-man-bands. This is a “together” kind of world we operate in.
MICHAEL C: Yes, it is.
MICHAEL G: When you understand that on a deeper, less selfish level, it sort of humbles you. For me, I appreciate the moments of creating memories with friends, family and getting fully-immersed in the process of creating rather than the end product.
At the same time, like most of us, I still hope that through what I do on earth in the meantime will challenge people's perceptions, engage the senses and deepen the spirit. Sounds cliche and corny- huh? I just like adding to the world’s beauty (as if it doesn't have enough stuff in it) and making something from nothing. I guess making art is a form of interacting. And those who do buy art will carry an important part of your legacy... They're part of the band!
MICHAEL C: Looking at your work, I also love the dark or raw marks, the moodiness and the faces that sometimes linger or float within the compositions. What's that all about?
MICHAEL G: I like to paint what I feel is underserved. Meaning, there is a lot of work out there that feels similar and I like to create what I don't see and am visually-inspired to make new. Mood has always been an attractive tool for me creatively. Not that I don't like or desire my work to permeate happiness and glee, but my work is about sincerity and is simply a reflection of my core being and individuality.
MICHAEL C: Yes, I can see that.
MICHAEL G: The process I developed throughout my work is finding something that viewers can visually “make out” (face or figures) and then using the process of abstracting what you can make out. The most creative freedom and joy begins when I take what is recognizable and simply merge or fuse these two visual approaches together so they more-or-less coalesce in the composition and become something interesting to look at and feel.
I like hiding things within compositions too. For me, the most interesting area of visual stimulation is when I can touch that fine edge of recognizability and abstraction, where the viewer isn't sure whether what they’re seeing is their own intuition or the artist's intention.
MICHAEL C: Do you paint with the canvas on the floor or wall? Also, are you thinking while you're painting or is your mind empty? Is the process more intellectual, emotional or spiritual?
MICHAEL G: Yes, I sometimes paint on the floor if I need my material (paint in most cases) to stay level or the area is just so big I prefer to apply it on the ground so I can work the paint more successfully. I usually paint on the wall by stapling material like canvas or paper to the wall so I have no limit to how physical I get with brushing and scraping.
I do not like painting on easels. I'm just too physical with the surface and have knocked down my canvases before when I tried an easel. I wipe off paint quite a bit to achieve the look I want. I really like to see the history of my decisions, the marks and layers to be revealed, if only just to entice the viewer with the idea of “more.”
I try not to think too much while I initially work. I like to let the process happen … allowing the images, shapes and content to just come to me. I find if I think too early on and force it, I don't get the expression and spontaneity I'm looking for, and I end up scraping (again) a lot of the time or I'll just go over the image if it seems too stiff or contrived.
MICHAEL C: Your website carries the subtitle, “France, Tokyo, Denver.” What's the significance of those places for you? Do you live in all of those places?
MICHAEL G: It's a dream of mine to live and work part-time in France. Those places I listed are the more significant places that I've been invited to exhibit my work.
Artists at varying levels want to do whatever they can to attain a certain level of credibility through not only the quality of their work, but also the level of galleries. For me, being clear and upfront where you exhibit helps viewers see the big picture. Still my goals reach much farther, museum collections to name a few. It's getting the work in front of the right situation to continue having doors open.
MICHAEL C: What do you think about the contemporary art world and art market and how they function? Do you feel part of them? Do you understand them?
MICHAEL G: It's my desire to continue to insert my work prominently into those major markets. The contemporary art world is one where you really need to be introduced and maintain a presence to have some viability. In some art circles, it's about trends. As I've stated before, that's not my thing.
Nevertheless, an artist has to be working with those who have the ear of someone with a significant place in the art market, some pull and great feel for the business. When you talk about the art market, it can be a challenging encounter to understand and get the work to really stand out in this current contemporary market landscape.
The thing I focus on is having consistency, being organized, having great quality of work (this will always be a significant factor in a lasting career) and getting as much “ink” (press) as possible. The attention of good galleries that can place your work in significant places and collections, like that of museums and institutions, is also key.
It's seems to me, it's a valuable asset to get the work in front of the right pair of eyes to help navigate. There are so many individuals who are making art and trying to have their moment in the art world and with social media changing the game entirely, it's an incredible landscape at the moment, both good and bad.
MICHAEL C: Are you concerned at all about painting remaining relevant in our digital age? I mean, most people care a lot more about their cellphones than art.
MICHAEL G: I don't know that I'm concerned per se. Instead, I think it's changed how often we see art. There are more ways now than ever to share, display and interact.
Great art that stands the test of time will always circumvent trends and conveniences that allow amateurs to get a “hit” so to speak. It does, however, create an easy venue for small sales for the amateur painter. The digital age makes for a more interesting landscape of conceptual art too.
I'm much more curious what will come out of the fluff in the near future that will actually change the art market. It still hasn't happened (yet) to the degree I think it will. Having said that, there will always (always!) be a place for applying paint to any given surface by hand!
MICHAEL C: Finally Michael, When you're no longer here and your work remains, what do you want your work to say to people? What do you want your legacy to be?
MICHAEL G: That's an interesting question, one I've thought of quite a bit lately. I’m just hope I'm remembered for doing good work that meant something significant. That my work was honest and well executed. But I cannot control that. I can only control what I do in my dedication to make relevant art.
Everyday I work on this thing, I think about the fact that it can go either way. The work will be around long past my presence and with that, I hope it leaves a mark on generations to come - about my personal journey, what it took for me to do this and who I was as an person.
The work is gonna be what it's gonna be. I would absolutely love to be a small part of a small corner in the annals of art history, even if it's simply in my own region to be written.
MICHAEL C: Excellent! Thanks Michael. This has been great.
MICHAEL G: And, thank you Mr. Michael Corbin! I appreciate your interest in me as an artist! This was fun!
Check out Michael Gadlin at www.michaelgadlin.com.