The Artwork of Michael Divine

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Posts from January, 2018

The Artist as Storyteller

To be an artist is to be a storyteller. Artists are, in one form or another, telling a story with their creations. Even the artist who vehemently denies any story at all – I’m just making art for art’s sake! – is still a story teller since that, too, is just another story.

The purpose of the storyteller in our world has always been, I think, to reflect back to us some aspect of our humanity so that we can better understand ourselves. We tell each other stories of grief, joy, pain, heartache, and connection. Perhaps the sharing of these experiences is comforting. Reading the journeys of others, seeing the visual expression of another’s personal journey helps us feel less alone. Or, perhaps, it jars us towards a solution in our own lives to issues we ourselves face.

I think about these things as I create. What’s the story behind a line or a curve. How is it feeling? What’s it doing there, really? What’s it saying or singing or screaming? It’s not necessarily part of some complex narrative. It’s not like eveyr moment is so richly symbolic that the barest line has a novel attached to it. Maybe it’s just deflecting the momentum of another line or it’s breaking a shade of blue like a sudden pause in the visual flow. The line is always just a line but it’s a line in relationship to all the other lines and gradients on the canvas and, at that, it’s in relationship to the driving momentum of the piece as a whole.

For me, the main thrust of any story I build a painting upon is the emotional impact. I do my best to cut out the wordiness of my own personal story of what might symbolize what and instead work with the gut feeling of the piece. How that connects with where I’m at and what I’m doing or seeing in the world is what I want to draw from. That viscerality and the archetypal narrative that it’s joined with is at the heart of all our human experiences and it’s from that place, I think, that we often find our most honest expressions.

Sometimes though, I want to put down the brush and the painterliness and the seriousness of my work and play elsewhere. Which brings us to last week when I was planning to show some art at the Edwardian Ball in San Francisco. Violet suggested I make some drawings special for the event that fit with the Edwardian/Steampunk motif of the evening.

Here is where my own personal storyteller comes to the forefront and I can give it an extra bit of space to go ahead and make a story up. How about a hot air balloon over a raging ocean? Maybe a lady at a bar inside a dirigible saying “Charmed, I’m sure” to someone off-paper. In each of these drawings I wanted to create a little visual vignette of a story. What is the movement? Where are they going? What are they doing when the abstract becomes form? And what does it feel like at that moment?

These too are a part of my story as an artist. Enjoy.
 

“Compass Rose” (Pen/Ink – 10″ x 8″)


 
A Sleight Fix

“A Sleight Fix” (Pen/Ink – 10″ x 8″)


 

“The Real We Invented” (Pen/Ink – 10″ x 8″)


 

“The Life We Lead” (10″ x 8″ – Pen/Ink)


 

“Charmed, I’m Sure” (Pen/Ink – 10″ x 8″)


 

“Keep Moving Forwards” (Pen/Ink – 10″ x 8″)

You’ve Got to Carry That Weight (or that flame) a Long Time

“Sometimes when I don’t post enough progress shots, people begin to say I’ve lost it– Maura is washed up. This is never the case. I work diligently, every day, motherf***ers.”

Maura Holden

Some time back, I came to a pivot point in my work and my understanding of the well from which I draw my inspiration.

I look back at the artist who I was, 24, 26, 21 and I wonder: where was that work drawn from? How much is it the hubris of youth, the hedonism of my 20s, brain chemistry and music and movement pushed to the most nth degree I could perceive? Where did it come from? How much was the ego saying I AM.

This is true, I think, for so much great art. There is an excitement in the artistic youth that drives the discovery of the new and the exploration of this creative drive. It is a force that unlocks door after door of creative fires within.

Yet, as we get older and we have ten thousand burning flames within us, a deeper knowledge of our possibilities but also a distinct understanding of our limitations, we either pull back, stick to safe and solid ground or we push ahead and say ‘OK. What’s next?’

A few years back, I had a distinct moment of coming into my very present age (as in: I’m not 24) and truly understanding that the person who paints now is coming from a different place and a different perspective. While my patience has increased, my attention to detail refined, and so on, my awareness of the world around me has also grown. My awareness of my place in the world has expanded as well as my awareness of who I am and what I’m doing with my time here.

And, as time passes, the value of that time increases. With every painting, I examine ever deeper what I want to say, how I want to say it, and, most importantly, why. I’m fine with painting simply another beautiful painting but even that has to have a sense of purpose to it.

So I bend myself back to my work and toil onwards as I ever have. As I did when I was 21. As I do now that I’m 41. There is still music. There is still a pot of tea. There’s a cat now. A studio I can call my own. But the place I’m going hasn’t changed, only the sense of ‘going’. I found a spark when I was young that ignited a flame of inspiration that will burn for as long as I keep fanning it. And probably longer still: even when I feel ‘done’ it makes me rise again to keep working.

Sometimes tho, I release a new painting that is met with… meh. Just meh. O, it’s another painting, people say. As Maura said, people begin to think I’ve lost it, that I’m washed up. These thoughts are what every artist deals with all the time. And as I’ve gotten older, the desire to spend more time on each piece increases while the attention span of the masses seems to decrease and our multimedia extravaganzas are consumed in smaller and smaller bites – each moment seeming to bleed into the next ever quicker while my paintings take ever longer to create and, like a nice wine, ever so slightly longer to open up.

See, the older you get, as an artist, the more you realize you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. It is a dance, a conversation, a lineage, that has gone on long before you showed up on the scene and will continue long after you’ve signed your name to your last piece.

At some point, you realize you have a whole lifetime of actual work ahead of you. So, now, what’s the next painting going to be? And why. And what of the next? Or the next? And so on. How will you stay inspired?

It is up to you, up to me, up to ever artist to figure out how they will carry that precious flame of inspiration through it all so that, ten years from now, twenty, it burns ever brighter, ever stronger, ever more luminous.

The Beauty of Original Art

Work in progress in my studio

Work in progress in my studio

To own an original painting is to have the original playing – the live perfect performance – of a song. I’ve met many a musician who has, in a painting I’ve made, seen a visual representation of a song, much as I’ve heard many a song and, in that song, heard an auditory journey of a particular image.

Imagine if you could own Jimi Hendrix’s “Axis”. Or Beethoven’s 5th. Or Miles Davis’ “Agartha”. And so on. Each canvas print of a painting is like the perfect and pristine vinyl recording. The paper prints and posters are good quality CDs and, finally, you have your variable-kbps mp3s floating around on the web.

So just imagine: each guitar lick and hi-hat and cymbal crash, each thrum of bass or plunk of a piano by a human hand is each of those brushstrokes.

A great painting is like a symphony. There’s entire cavalcades of sound – entire violin sections roaring across the yellow sky over a horizon of great bassoon and oboes resounding through the purples. A penny whistle sparkles across the crystalline golden whites and, for a moment, that lead violin is the sinewy line drawing it all together. And the artist crafts each of those violins. Each oboe and oboe player. Each note has to be played in a final perfect harmony.

This is why original art – that final finished piece – that one and perfect singular canvas – ends up with so much value. Like the recorded song, we can replay it a thousand or million times through countless means of recreation but there’s only one original moment where careful little nuances were breathed into each brushstroke to make the painting.

People say ‘why get the painting when the print is so much cheaper.’ This is a true fact. Just as the mp3 version is much cheaper than having the band play at your house where you can experience the raw entirety of the sensation of that SONG, so is the painting. So is the painting. If you decide to take part in that relationship, consider this: you’re helping to bring these songs, these performances of art, into the world. By supporting the arts you are enriching the cultural experiences of others as well as yourself.

This immediacy and connection to the moment is what gives art – and especially great art – its value. It is the intangible NOWNESS of it. The greatest art echoes our human archetypal experiences and mixes them with the constant exploration of our perception of the experience coupled with all the set and setting of the moment – the politics and world views and financial considerations and environmental conditions and so on. It’s all wrapped into that vision. And out of it… out if it arises “what it looks like.” Or feels like or sounds like in that now.

It is my task to offer you, as least from my own perspective, what it looks like. This is why, to me, an artist is really just a scribe. I’m here to take notes. To be open. To be a channel. To see what comes through me. It’s terrifying and tragic. It’s blissfully beautiful. It’s heart breaking and mystifying. It’s mystically enthralling. And, like the musician, I have to choose a note, a color, a line. I do my best to find the right note, the perfect color, that precise line, and that feeling. The feeling and the reason and the intention and the moment that I, Michael Divine, want to sign my name to.

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