The Artwork of Michael Divine

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On the Graphical Nature of My Work

November 29th, 2008

I have heard people comment on the "graphical" nature of my work. This, I believe, refers to the use of flat spaces of color, a kind of layering effect that happens, and a sort of montage-like layout. I tend to look at nature, art, and architecture, with a sense of looking at it’s base structure and interaction of lines – it’s iconographic quality. An icon is a visual representation of an idea in a simplified form so that it’s most relevant points are amplified and it evokes a feeling or sensation that is more broadly felt than the feeling or sensation that is evoked by a detailed drawing of a thing. The danger of a detailed drawing is that we all begin to have different relations to the idea of that thing, the more detailed it gets. There is a great book about by artist Scott Mccloud in which he talks about this phenomenon of breaking down ideas into an abstract simplified format in order to speak of a deeper, broader sense of it. That book is Understanding Comics – The Invisible Art and I will leave it to him to dive into that realm.

In any case, when I am looking, say, the art of the Ancient Egyptians or Mayans or Romans, I am looking at the visual language used to explain their ideas and their relationship to the world around themselves, through their iconography. This language took shape in their structures, sculpture, and artwork and, when I am digesting it, I’m not necessarily looking at the thing itself- the stone look, the shading of the sun, the moss in the cracks (although these things are certainly taken into account). Instead, I’m breaking down at the visual language the artist was using – the squarish spiral of the Maya or angle of conjunction of a pyramid. This is, to me, the most interesting part of looking at artwork – ancient or modern. Not how the paint fell on the canvas but the shape and form the artist was using to convey their ideas.

Similarly, I look at the natural world in the same way. The clouds, trees, leaves, and birds all speak the same visual language in their inter-relatedness and share in a sort of dialogue of shapes. When I experience them, I experience a whole sort of iconic language – a living dialogue of ideas. In the same way, my memories and thoughts all communicate through the same use of interrelated ideas of things and not the things themselves. For example – the memory of this event or that event becomes an abstract idea in our minds represented by something – a color, a shape, a series of lines – and that idea becomes a signpost for our identity to trace itself around. Our entire sense of self is made up of these icons – like symbols in a book – but instead of letters and numbers it is sort of a pictoral multi-sensory language that is used to speak around and contribute to our sense of identity. Out of that we say – I am this person or that person.

Returning to my artwork, I tend towards exploring these ideas of things rather than the things themselves with a liberal sense of shading and realism/fabulism. Through the use of a sort of realist iconography I speak through a language, a visual representation, of abstract ideas, concepts and actions. I can create, in that blending of concepts, an alchemical transmutation of one set of abstract ideas – broken down to their barest symbols – a line, a spiral – a new idea or concept of something. And I hope, my intention in that creation, is that the new vision is healthier, more sustaining and more solid than anything that has come before it.

The Artwork of Michael Divine

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