Artist draws from punk rock and shattered glass for works at Lowe Gallery

Michael David talks about finding his voice as an artist.
"Pink Moon (for Astrid)," mirror and oil on birch (detail), is one of Michael David's works on display at the Bill Lowe Gallery. (Photo by Pete Mauney)

Credit: Pete Mauney

Combined ShapeCaption
"Pink Moon (for Astrid)," mirror and oil on birch (detail), is one of Michael David's works on display at the Bill Lowe Gallery. (Photo by Pete Mauney)

Credit: Pete Mauney

Credit: Pete Mauney

In his newest collection of paintings, “The Mirror Stage” — on exhibit at the Bill Lowe Gallery through Jan. 7 — Michael David confirms his reputation as an abstract expressionist who has never worshipped at the altar of safe, mannered and decorative painting.

His technique of throwing encaustic to build a painting — which takes years in many instances — has been compared to Jackson Pollack’s action-oriented method of working on his canvases from above. But when David pushed too far physically, he wound up paying a steep price.

Credit: Astrid Dick

Credit: Astrid Dick

The encaustic process requires heating beeswax and varnishes while working with continued heat to fuse together layers of wax art.

Under proper conditions, the method is safe. David, however, was working in a poorly ventilated studio and was poisoned by toxic gasses that built up over time. He was left partially paralyzed as a result, but his focus on intention, conviction and transformation through art-making has remained steadfast.

David’s works are included in permanent public collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum and The Brooklyn Museum, but he’s not one to make a distinction between so-called high and low art.

He is an inspiration omnivore, as likely to refer to Orson Welles or Bruce Lee in a painting, as to quote David Bowie or The Beatles. And he is no stranger to music. He was a pioneer in New York’s early punk rock scene when he was a bass player for the Numbers; he describes punk rock as his church.

“I always wanted my paintings to have the immediacy, realness, danger and presence that I felt in that music,” says David, who gave up playing in a band to paint full time. “When I came off the stage . . . I wanted something that was as intense, as immediate and transformative as the experience I had on stage.”

David’s latest work delivers on all the intensity, immediacy and transformation he’s sought over a 40-year career. By the same token, there is a levity, iridescence and translucence to his newfound expression that not only encourages self-reflection but challenges the viewer to consider a different plane of existence where transcendence is a possibility.

Credit: Pete Mauney

Credit: Pete Mauney

David talked with ArtsATL about about dreams, the location that reinvigorated his imagination and his North Star for finding one’s voice as an artist.

Q: What is your philosophy as an artist?

A: When I teach, I always say you want three things from your life: freedom, the courage to pursue that freedom, and the integrity to know when you’re doing something to please somebody else [versus yourself] and to own the difference.

Q: Is it true that your mirror paintings took shape in a dream?

A: I had a dream of the base, the tar, the shattered glass — and my vision of what could be was so direct and unfiltered I was immediately locked in and driven to complete the series. Jasper Johns dreamt about the flags. Paul McCartney woke up with the melody for “Yesterday” in his head. Sometimes, when the opportunity to be a channel happens, you have to do it.

Q: You created this work in just six months. How did environment inform and inspire the work?

A: My painting partner, Astrid Dick, and I rented Judy Pfaff’s house in the village of Tivoli, New York. [Pfaff is considered by many critics to be the pioneer of installation art.] We worked in a 2,000-square-foot barn with 30-foot ceilings that was a three-minute walk from her house. Just being able to walk to the studio was a gift. And working alongside an artist who had the passion for painting that I had when I was 25 years old was a painter’s dream.

We also hosted poetry readings . . . where I discovered that poets are like painters used to be, so free and open, because there’s no high stakes in the business of writing poetry.

Q: Tell me about the piece you named for Astrid.

A: The title, “Pink Moon (For Astrid),” is based on the most beautiful love songs ever written [Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon”] . . . and is very specific to an amazing evening we shared Upstate — waking up at three in the morning, walking the grounds, seeking shelter under a tree as snow started to come down, and seeing a pink moon.

Coincidentally, I had some vintage pink glass they don’t make any more sitting around all summer. I was afraid to break it because the mirror was so beautiful. But when that night happened the painting become clear to me. I knew what I had to do, and shattering that glass was an act of faith and fate.

Q: Do you see this collection as metaphor for relationships with others?

A: More than the relationship with another person, I am inviting you, the viewer, to look at yourself and make peace with who you are . . . to slow down, reconcile the full picture — including your brokenness — and mediate that experience without having it to destroy you. We are all imperfect . . . that is what makes us human and beautiful.

My paintings also reflect the fractured times we’re in today. There’s a low-level anxiety and dislocation that’s constant, which demands a kind of compassion for oneself.

Ultimately, this collection is about the light . . . the light that is mirrored through self-reflection and self-acceptance. Hopefully, my work can serve as a reminder that the places where we have been shattered are also the places that let the light in and allow for the kind of healing that can follow self-reflection and self-acceptance.


Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

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