Michael is a realism artist from Kansas City. He always seemed like an incredibly, deep and interesting person from what I could see on facebook, which made me curious to find out how an interview with him would develop. Even when he agreed to do it – being his really friendly and warm-hearted self, as usual – I still wasn’t sure what to expect. All he said to me was, “The more intelligent and well thought out the questions are, the better my answers will be, so you dictate the direction of the interview with your questions.” Well… I hope I did a good job on this and you’ll enjoy reading this interview as much as I did, when Michael shares what it means to be an artist and, most importantly, what it means to be human.
1. What got you started as an artist? Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that’s what you want to do – all of a sudden realizing it – or did it slowly dawn on you?
What got me started as an artist? I was born into art! I have ten brothers and sisters – I’m second to the baby in the family. The majority of my brothers and sisters are artists. They created their own toys, paper dolls and comic books while I was growing up, and I was fascinated and in awe of their talents and creativity. So, as far back as I can remember, I was an artist because I grew up in a family full of artists. I knew I wanted to do this as a career, when I entered a trade school in high school for commercial arts as a junior. There I learned how to market my craft as a job and not just a hobby. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was running a business out of my classroom for credit – I was bitten with the entrepreneur bug early. I graduated top of the class with full intentions of being a full time artist but fate stepped in and derailed that dream for fifteen years! I had to work as soon as I graduated because I was kicked out of the house. I found a quick job as a dishwasher and stayed with that for a number of years to survive, while doing art on the side for extra money. Once my mother died, the place I lived at for ten years was changing and the job market changed as far as quality pay in the restaurant business was concerned. I decided to leave my comfortable but boring life in St. Louis to try my hand at being a full time artist in Kansas City. Now, I’ve been living here as a full time artist for over eight years. It has not been an easy transition from working for someone else for half of my life with an expected pay check to working for myself with no steady income or guarantees that I was gonna eat, but well worth all that followed: numerous apartment/house evictions, homelessness, and three times over bankruptcy and life-long hard earned credit score down the toilet, to living in a homeless shelter for a year to sleeping under a bridge with a bunch of addicts for eight months to living in an abandoned house with no gas, electricity, or water for over two years. All worth it to do art full time on my own terms, though.
2. Why realism?
Why realism as a form of ART… because it is the most interesting to me. The human form and situations we get ourselves into – we are transformed by our personal choices – fascinate me and are, I feel, well worth talking about in art. Fantasy is not nearly as compelling as REAL LIFE.
3. Do you draw from photographs only or ‘living’ models as well?
I always draw from photos. Photographs are paramount to my creative process! Live modeling is not very interesting to me because the person is just sitting or standing there. I love stories, so I look for the story in a drawing – thus photographs, where a moment can be frozen and captured.
4. What does it look like when you work on a piece of art? How long does it usually take you to finish one drawing?
If I’m inspired by a picture or an idea, it doesn’t take long to complete – depends on the size of the art piece, but I’ve been known to churn out a piece in three hours! On the average, it takes four to six hours, spaced out in a day or two. After that, I get bored and want to move on to something else. My inspiration is definitely on a time clock – I’m always racing against my attention span on a project – so the faster I can complete a drawing, the better!
5. What is the best compliment you have ever received about your art?
The best compliment or emotional response I got was years ago, when I was living in St. Louis. A family commissioned me to do a series of changing faces of their father that he used to make as the character he was – a continuous drawing of changing faces. The photos weren’t very good, but I was so inspired by that family’s story about their father – what he meant to them, the tragic fight he lost with cancer, and how the mother missed him so much…
The family surprised the mother with the portrait of her late husband – their father – and she was so moved by the portrait, she made everyone leave the room so she could weep. She sent me a lovely card thanking me for the portrait of her husband and how much it meant to her that I was able to capture her husband’s spirit in the art piece. MEANT THE WORLD TO ME to get that card and have that kind of recognition for a job well done. Mission accomplished.
6. Why do you think art and artistic expression are so powerful?
ART in its many forms is powerful, because it can make a connection to people and their lives as they see it. Just like music can transport you back to a memory, a smell to a forgotten time period or moment, it is instant and there is no particular reason why a piece of art touches a person’s spirit or soul, but it does! An art piece has the ability to draw the audience in and force them to make personal application of its contents. Plus human beings are expressive – we are made to convey and communicate our feelings through many forms. ART allows us to express what we long to say, what we desperately need to say and what we desire to understand about ourselves and the world around us. Art connects us in ways that our words and language may not.
7. What do you think most people take way too seriously and why?
I think people take themselves way too seriously. They try too hard to fit in these boxes – impossible ideals – that others and we ourselves have placed upon us to fit into. I think, the need we have to live under a label or specific way of life has squeezed all the spontaneity and elements of surprise right out of us, and all we have left is sameness and total mediocrity, and we wonder why we are lost and miserable. How we deny the things that are the most beautiful and simple about ourselves, just so we won’t be uncomfortable or stand out from the group or crowd, saddens me as an artist. I fight against such thinking and way of life, EVERYDAY!
8. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to give up and what was the reason?
The hardest thing I’ve ever had to give up was RELIGION and seeing GOD and spiritual matters from the stand point of a group of people outside of myself. I was born and raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. For 26 years of my life, my viewpoints and perspective was from that religion. As an artist you have to trust your own instincts and listen to yourself in order to paint or draw what you feel. You have to be able to filter out all the noise around you, to tap into your authentic self. RELIGION as a whole teaches us the exact opposite of that. So it had to go. All the things I was programmed to believe and feel had to go in order for me to grow as a person, an artist and – most importantly – a human being. I no longer live my life for some other man’s view points about GOD or life. I don’t believe ONE religion has the lock down on GOD or life. I believe some religions have a few things in each of them that are useful for living our lives, but I no longer follow one brand of thinking. I allow myself to pick and choose what to keep and throw away from all forms of thought, whether it’s organized or free thought. I believe more, as I have grown older, in what the Dalai Lama once said: “This is my simple religion: there is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is KINDNESS.” I think that says it all!
9. What fear do you have that you wish to overcome?
I don’t think I live in fear anymore. I think, earlier on in my life, I have tackled and danced with some of my worst demons and fears. And the things that I have feared have come to pass. For the most part, I am FEARLESS! There are some things that scare me occasionally but nothing that I can’t handle. And that’s really what fear is all about: the monster in the word is that we fear we cannot handle what’s around the corner – we fear the unexpected! I don’t live like that anymore. So, there is no more fear, only the interest in knowing certain parts about myself or not!
10. Name one thing you learned as a kid or an adult that absolutely blew your mind.
Growing up, religion and all the teachings that I was taught were such a huge part of my life, and I questioned a lot of things. And then, one day, when I was fresh in Kansas City, I went to the library and ran across the videos and books of a teacher/philosopher: Jiddu Krishnamurti. I found MYSELF in his writings. It blew my mind and changed forever the way I look at life, GOD, religion and the world I inhabit! The idea that there is no one path to go – that there are many paths to take to many experiences to life, that we can choose at anytime to change our direction and therefore change our experience at any given time – BLOWS MY MIND, STILL!
11. What is your life’s biggest question? What do you keep asking yourself that you can’t seem to find a satisfying answer to?
I don’t have one big question that I ask myself, except one that I’m constantly answering and discovering a different answer for everyday: WHO AM I?
12. What strengthens your soul – what recharges and feeds it?
What strengthens my soul and recharges me, feeds me, is this: The quest to know more! More about myself and the world around me. I discover answers in unexpected places, which really excites me: Sometimes the answer is in a quote, a book, a story, another person, a new found friendship, the beginnings of a love affair and the conclusion of it as well. There is always more to every story, everything, every person. And EVERYDAY, I get the opportunity to explore that MORE in all my relationships with self, friends, family and most passionately through MY ART.
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/117882768646140515963
Blue Canvas: http://www.bluecanvas.com/michaelfbrown
The Art Gallery: http://www.theartgallery.com.au/michaelbrown