THE ARTIST’S WORDS
Michael’s early writings show the consistency of his vision from start to finish. The idea that art ought to be accessible and empathetic to the viewer, the quest for a language of iconographic symbols, the wish to strip away nonessentials and to avoid the constraints of Modernism— these themes are always there. The overriding resolve to explore and celebrate humankind’s place in the world, in nature, and our most basic kinship with animals became primary as his work matured.
MFA Thesis, 1978: My primary concern in sculpture for the past six years has been to develop a style which, while utilizing certain traditional aspects of sculpture such as form, scale, and integrity of material, would also, by using recognizable symbolic imagery “read” in a way that would further establish an empathetic relationship with the viewer of the piece.
The first series of work completed at East Texas State University consisted of seven large steel pieces. The titles (Binder, Spanner, Redeemer, Self-Portrait, Venus, Samram and Equestrian) were utilized to describe the works, sometimes in form (as in Equestrian) but most often as a clue to their conceptual connotations or representation.
Wings (or feathers in my smaller pieces) are used as metaphorical symbols connoting the principal of idea to space in their more obvious representation of Earth to Air. The “hearts” represent both love and life; the clouds are used to signify transition. The pieces were constructed in a human-like compositional manner, thus returning, in an abstract manner, to the human anatomy as compositional form.
The monolithic forms were also used as a compositional factor, as in Samram, to utilize the concept of inspiration and aspiration inherent in the vertical.
The symbolism expanded in vocabulary with the three small bronze pieces (Esum, Mesum, and Musem) to include imagery relative to the sculptural or artistic process. The titles themselves are based on constructural variations of the words me and muse, and the composition of the pieces relate to the plumb bob, scale, and caliper, which are measuring and decision-making implements.
Up until this point my work had been predominantly symmetrical and almost two dimensional, though in a sculptural sense. This, I felt, presented the work in an obviously more straight-forward manner, eliminating areas that would be hidden or lost from certain angles of viewing, and would be hidden or lost from certain angles of viewing, and would therefore, present the piece in a more objective, truthful manner.
During my third semester, however, I completed a series of drawings which, while based on an underlying symmetrical pattern, developed in stages within the rendering of the drawing to a final, spontaneous and asymmetrical application of line or form. This work led to a series of sculpture utilizing bamboo and cast bronze components. With this work I developed a more three dimensional, asymmetrical and flowing style, allowing the form or structure of the works to be determined by the way in which the piece would balance within itself. By loosely draping wire around and through the piece, a more spontaneous and personal working process and relationship to the sculpture was developed.
This past year I have concentrated on the exploration of basic modern sculptural concepts: form following function, the relationship of form and space, the integrity of materials, the development of form through the interaction of material components, the balance of symmetrical and gestural forms, and the elimination of nonessential elements. At the same time, I have sought to develop individuality as an artist, avoiding the safety of past conventions. Unlike many other contemporary artists, I do not believe that all the possibilities in traditional sculptural media and concepts have been exhausted; I feel that these media and concepts still hold a great reservoir of untapped possibilities for personal expression. Through their re-examination I hope to create a new iconography.
These recent concerns first entered my work in a series of sculpture done over the past year. I began by reducing the number of material components in a piece to the three that are necessary to construct it and hold it together. The work consisted of an internal structure or armature; with wire wrapped around the armature; and supporting rods running through the armature at right angles. The shape of the inner structure is determined by the need to direct the rods into positions that will provide support. The form of the sculpture, then, is wholly determined by the interaction of the material components of the piece. In this series of works, the inner structure at times takes on a biomorphic skeletal shape, which in the most recent works has developed into other recognizable forms such as vessels and pods.
My interest in form, structure, and gesture developed three-dimensionally as sculptural concern. Recently, however, I have translated these ideas into two-dimensions in a series of drawings inspired by the working drawings for sculpture, and by certain aspects of the welding process. These drawings are essentially of an overall symmetrical, geometric background pattern, over which loose, gestural forms have been worked. Unlike my sculpture, which is a very slow and deliberate process with preliminary drawings, welding, and wire wrapping, my drawing is direct, unobstructed, improvisational, and expressionistic. Forms and compositional relationships developed through the immediacy of the drawing process would be impossible through the laborious sculptural process. As a result of my increasing interest in gesture and expression, my sculpture is becoming more and more related to my drawing, both conceptually and visually.