Briefly describe the work you do.
My work explores fascinations with the underground subcultures of heavy metal music and my personal history of growing up in the northwest suburbs of Ohio. These two disparate sources clash within my work, creating an abstract personal mythology. I use printmaking as my main medium, but I see myself more as a draftsman, using drawing as the common thread throughout my work.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
Most of my work utilizes imagery from my youth, my teenage years to be more direct. This was the period in my life (like many others) where I began to build an abstract role for myself, trying to separate from my average suburban community. I gravitated to dark subcultures found in the metal genre, which is a bizarre yet common escapism to most people interested in the music.
Despite this urge to separate as a youth, I still have a respect and fondness of my upbringing, which shows in my work. This is most visible in my “Prepare the Ground” series of lithographs, where I use the physique and attires of father figures, and mesh them together with black metal power stances from early promo photos of bands like Darkthrone, Emperor, Hellhammer, and Immortal.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio practice shifts from week to week. Generally everything I make starts up in my attic, where I’ve created a studio for general scheming and drawing. I sketch up there just about every day and post everything on the wall, checking weekly to see if anything stands out. If I come across and image that fascinates me, I usually begin the process of elevating it into a print. I’m fortunate to have access to a printmaking studio, so after an idea is worked up I spend most of my studio time there, until the print is completed.
I spend a lot of time outside of the studio environment studying metal culture as well. I frequently check out heavy metal blogs like Cvlt Nation and Metal Injection to gather inspiration. It’s sad to say, but I think I spend more of my time looking for obscure metal acts than I do artists. The culture of metal is very image focused, and has different representations in different subcultures in its community. It also has connections to paganism and other mythologies that come up in my work as well. This gives me a great deal of information that I can plug into the suburban elements, which creates the strange results I’m looking for.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
The show and group organizing I have done outside of my studio time. It’s a major part of my practice now, and something I feel that allows me to make my own opportunities, which I feel is vital for artists today. While I still teach art at universities in the Columbus area, I spend a great deal of time outside of academia with my print group titled Flood Wall Press, working as a principal contributor for a publication titled Keith Ledger, and helping to organize art events in the Columbus area. I have a lot of hats now, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I take great pride in not just getting myself exposure, but helping others out who I think are doing some cool stuff.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
It’s more difficult than it used to be, but over the past few years I’ve become much more flexible when it comes to time management. Making work is a pleasure for me, so any point and time during the week that I can put in a shift in the studio, I’m on it.
One thing that’s a bit more difficult is figuring out what’s next in my “fine art” practice. I try to sketch and research as much as possible, as I mentioned, but it sometimes can take weeks before I settle on an idea. My freelance work for bands on the other hand is a much quicker process, since it’s directly influenced by their work. I feel the commercial work helps my fine art practice evolve, plus they connect to each other with heavy music as the common thread
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
I feel it’s gotten stranger. For years I held back a lot of ideas, trying to fit an academic aesthetic I guess. This all changed once I had to create my first solo show. I began shooting from the hip, caring less about how my vision may be perceived, which I feel is the best way to create your voice. It also gave me a kind of relentless approach to what I was making, which fits right into that heavy metal aesthetic, or the true kvlt aesthetic as I like to call it.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
As far as visual artists goes, my direct influences would have to be Sue Coe, Otto Dix, Francisco Goya, William Kentridge, and Steven Shearer. These artists I feel represent my visual foundation. I’m really into work that has a visceral approach; I want the hand to be very apparent.
Obviously heavy metal is a huge influence for me both sonically and visually, but one figure from the scene that I feel is most visible in my work is Fenriz from the Norwegian black metal band Darkthrone. I find some similarities to myself within his personality, yet he’s a bit more chaotic; still, that connection I feel is what draws me. He’s also considered a tastemaker when it comes to the heavy metal genre as a whole, so I guess you could say I’m one of his disciples. I’m sure he would hate that.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
My music interests have me constantly considering starting a band. I haven’t played in a group since college, so I’m pretty removed from it, though I still play guitar and write music as a part of my studio breaks. The hardest thing for me is finding time to play with a group, or get one together much less, but honestly I don’t really push for it that much. I would on the other hand like to fit some more sonic elements into my work the future.
Michael is currently living in Columbus Ohio. He received his Bachelors of Fine Arts from Bowling Green State University in 2009, and his Master of Fine Arts from Northern Illinois University in 2013, with a focus in printmaking. His artwork studies Heavy Metal Culture and its relevance to his upbringing in the suburban Midwest. He has shown his work both nationally and internationally, and he currently organizes shows in the Columbus area and teaches fine art at the college level. He is one of the founders of the print group entitled Flood Wall Press and is a principal contributor for the artist publication, Keith Ledger.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.