Cameron Michel is an artist living and working in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I visited him in the studio that he shares with Raul De Nieves in the Monster Island building last month.
Q & A
C & P: You share a studio with Raul De Nieves, do you ever collaborate on pieces? Do you feel that working in such close proximity to one another (and in a somewhat small space) influences each other at all? Even though your work is quite different I do feel that there is (maybe) a similarity in the the process of making your work– obsessiveness, layering, accumulation.
Cameron: Raul and I haven’t really collaborated on any individual pieces, but I would say that we collaborate more or less on ideas that involve our processes. We’ve been sharing a studio for around 3 years, so we’ve seen each other just about every day within that time and anyone that you communicate with on a regular basis is going to be an influence on you. He is an inspiring person in my life and is someone that I feel I can relate to when approaching art. We might be a little crazy.
C & P: Do you ever feel that working on a piece is therapeutic for you?
Cameron: Definitely. I don’t really understand what I’m doing, but I do know that it makes me feel better and much happier. It teaches me that you don’t have to know how to do anything, but if you just do something a positive outcome will occur. Action seeks good fortune.
C & P: As far as process goes could you describe a typical experience of making a collage piece? Do you sketch an idea (either on the computer or by hand) before you start building the collage? Do you curate the elements that you want to collage first or do you continue to add random things as the piece progresses? Or is it a bit of both?
Cameron: Usually I’ll find random images from my camera, found photos, books, etc and work with what I’ve got. I used to print all my material in the darkroom when I worked at a University in Manhattan. That was great, but I’m switching it up now. I’ve always made the collages by looking at a blank canvas in front of me and just putting one piece on at a time until it is covered. There isn’t really a game plan. I like to kinda just shut off and let myself go on auto-pilot. I’m not really concerned with what photos I’m working with because the photos are just color and texture to me.
C & P: Do you usually work in a large scale or do you also make smaller mixed media pieces?
Cameron: I’ll work on various sizes.
C & P: Do you utilize a copy machine (or laser printer) when creating the elements of the collage, to create the mirror-images that so many of your pieces feature?
Cameron: I haven’t used any copy machines yet, but have some fun things coming up in the future that will involve large scale photo copies. I’ll get multiple images usually by printing them in the darkroom. The mirror thing is in the past for me now. I can’t stand it when people make mirror images in photoshop. It seems really cheap and easy. I like mirror images that are constructed like the the anatomy of living species. When each side appears the same, but is totally different.
C & P: Do you usually work on board? Is each collage a stand alone piece or are they generally created to work together more like an installation?
Cameron: Sometimes they stand alone and sometimes they are part of a bigger world.
C & P: Your collages have a highly reflective surface quality. Do you paint onto the collages? Use resin? Is the shiny surface a result of whatever substance you use to hold the collaged elements together or are you consciously creating this plastic-y surface texture?
Cameron: There will be paint, taxidermy, glitter and resins added to the works usually. I’m not a big fan of glass on pieces, but anything goes.
C & P: Your work also frequently includes found objects. How does an object find its way onto the canvas? Again, is it planned or at some moment does it just occur to you to add a pearl necklace or a resin coated leaf to the work?
Cameron: I guess anything that goes into the pieces just finds their way there because it makes sense to me for it to be there. If I had a million dollars there would be much more interesting things floating around on them. I’ve been leaning towards science lately and soon will be working with a few scientists using really different materials. Materials that are truly mutating.
C & P: What are your favorite materials to work with?
Cameron: I’ve basically worked mostly with hardware / art store type materials, but I would say that my most favoriate materials to work with are living species. That is something that I could possibly be able to talk about down the road.
C & P: Collage enables one to create juxtapositions that do not occur in the natural world, is this what attracted you to the medium?
Cameron: Ya, that is part of it. The photograph as art has always been tough for me to accept. I’ve always looked at the photograph like it is just a push of a button and what ever is in front of that lens you get. When I took photos when I was younger I would always try to paint with light and shoot about 16 shots per negative. It has always failed for me. I need to investigate what I’m doing for more than a second of time. Who needs to paint if you can make a better image with a camera? So I look at photos as if it is paint.
C & P: Where/when do your ideas for a piece take form? In dreams? Are they psychedelically-induced? Are these places conjured in your subconscious? Are the places that you create in your collages places where you would like to exist? Places where you might like to escape to?
Cameron: I’m not really sure where the ideas come from, but when I look around things look like them. They are symbols to me.
C & P: Do the pieces tell a story? Is there a narrative?
Cameron: Definitely. Every element feels like a symbol that references something else. They are not literal, but sometimes they tell me stuff that I didn’t know at the time. It makes more sense to me much later. Nobody could possibly know what they mean unless I went through the piece with them. Since they are made up with my own symbols then it must look like gibberish.
C & P: Did you go to art school? If yes, for photography? Painting? Illustration? None of the above? How long have you been making collages? Has your artwork always looked similar to how it looks presently?
Cameron: I didn’t go to any art school, but I took a photo class in High School and a few art history classes at a school in Atlanta. I worked mixing chemicals at Parsons University for a few years. I wouldn’t say that Parson’s photo department could be considered an art school though. I would go to lectures at Yale and SIARC (Los Angeles) because anybody could sit in. You could walk around and see whats going on in their studios when nobody was around.
C & P: Who would you say your influences are? Artistic and otherwise? What inspires you on a daily basis?
Cameron: My biggest influences are my friends. I’ve always thought that If the people around me are truly inspiring, interesting and capable of love then I’ll be ok. I get really inspired when I meet someone that is a true badass on their own terms, who can understand that the things we do can be beautiful and important to culture and not for the self.
C & P: I know that you and Vashti collaborated on the cloud installation at Glasslands Gallery last year (which is still up) do you often work together on artistic endeavors (in addition to making music together and running the gallery Live With Animals*)?
Cameron: Yep, we usually work on everything together.
C & P: Have you produced any other large scale installations like the one that you did at Glasslands? Is this sort of work something that you might be interested in doing more of in the future?
Cameron: We’ve done some pretty large installations outside of that one. We have some large scale stuff in the works for later this year.
C & P: Are there other artistes in the Monster Island building that you work with? You showed me a mask that you had made that was used in a Micki Pellerano performance piece. How often do you two collaborate? Do you also work on music for Micki’s performance pieces?
Cameron: Running a space in Monster Island you find yourself working with a lot of other artist in the building and artists visiting the building. It is great and creates a healthy dialogue. I met Micki when I was 18 in Florida and he is a very inspiring friend of mine. I’ve worked on various films, performances and art shows of Micki’s.
C & P: What can you imagine doing if you were not an artiste/musician? How long have you been making music and creating art? Do you feel that your music influences your art and your art influences your music? Any thoughts on this musician/artist connection?
Cameron: I think I’d be a scientist or a mental patient. I’ve been the patient, so if the art thing goes away I’ll try the science.
No, I don’t think that my music influences my art and I don’t think that my art influences my music. Different pants.
C & P: I read in another interview (online) that Crass album art collages influenced you to begin making art… is this true? Do you still listen to Crass? Do you see them as an influence on both your art and music? lifestyle?
Cameron: I got into the idea of Crass when I was fifteen and I romanticized that idea of making art and music in a collaborative way with a message that means a little more than personal gain in a misinformed society. The week I started making collages the Crass art came to NYC and in person it is full of color and beautiful. It looks all punk because they had to photo-copy that stuff to get it out cheap and fast. Even though I don’t consciously prescribe to what they had going on I’m sure it is somewhere walking around in my body.
C & P: Tell me one thing about Cameron and Vashti that not many people know!
Cameron: Cameron is a girl and Vashti is a boy.
*Article on Live With Animals Gallery here.
This interview appears in issue 8 of Cheap & Plastique, available here.
RAUL DE NIEVES is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He creates installations, sculptural objects, paintings, performance pieces and is the founder of a band/performance troupe called try cry try. As the frontman, Raul comes off as a cross between crispin glover (at his most strange) and a more handsome, less nasty, gg allin. Raul’s try cry try performances themselves remind me of what a technicolor, glitter-filled, re-interpretation of a vienna actionist “action” might look like.
One of the first times I ever noticed Raul was when I was locking up my bicycle outside
of Glasslands Gallery before a Golden Triangle show, he was covered in red body paint
from head to toe, wearing a monochromatic red outfit, also dismounting his bike. At this
precise moment I decided that I needed to know more about this man! Over the years every
time I have seen Raul out on the town he has amazed me with crazy get ups and intense performances.
C & P: A lot of your work seems to not only be about creating paintings or objects but also about creating specific environments in which to view them. Are these two aspects of the work developed interdependently or does one idea come to you first, therefore influencing the latter? How important are the objects and the surrounding environment to one another in your installation work? Or, do you even make a distinction between the two?
Raul: The work comes first of and grows into the form of installation, allowing the viewer to become part of the work and experience.
C & P: There also seems to be a distinct interplay between geometric and organic elements in your work. Often times the linear geometric patterns seem to lead into or frame the organic forms before the two become intermingled. Can you talk a bit about the role or interplay of these two aesthetics and how you hope they function together in the work?
Raul: I find geometric forms organic, lines and circles are a play on one another.
C & P: Is an element of absurdity or non-functionality important in the sculptural objects and installations you create? For instance, creating an object in the form of a shoe that cannot actually be worn as a shoe.
Raul: Absurdity is a way of looking at life. A shoe is a simple design turned into aesthetics. Most of my shoes come from obsessing over their design, allowing myself to make unwearable shoes helps me overcome the fear of finding the best shoes, not in my size. Allowing myself to make wearable shoes give me the pleasure of desire fulfilled.
C & P: How long have you been incorporating found shoes into your work? And how did the platform shoe, in particular, end up finding its way into your work?
Raul: The first time I incorporated shoes was when I walked out the door, height is everything!
C & P: How about beads? When did you start using them? Are the beads in your sculptures special beads or do you buy them at the bead store down the road?
Raul: I first started taking suitcases of beads back from New Orleans and incorporating those into my work. Now, if the need arises, I do buy beads from bead stores online.
C & P: What attracts you to beads as a sculptural material?
Raul: When using beads to build an object, the object slowly transforms into a huge piece of plastic and this appeals to me.
C & P: How much of a role, if any, does fashion play in your object-based work or performances? How about in your daily life?
Raul: Fashion is a way of life and I love living a fashionable one.
C & P: As I mentioned above I have always been intrigued by your dressing to impress (or perhaps dressing to frighten small children) on nights that I have seen you around town. One outfit that sticks in my mind consisted of a leopard print leotard, purple tights, with the amazing (and pretty damn original) accessory of a pregnant belly, somehow, ingeniously tucked into your very form-fitting clothing. When you wear these “creative” outfits do you feel like you are performing? Do you often dress like this, even when not going to art-related events? Do you consider dressing up (in extreme outfits) to just be part of who you are?
Raul: To me its a daily form of self expression.
C & P: Do you feel that art = life?
Raul: Outside of the box, yes.
C & P: As far as influences go, which artistes, living or dead, do you feel a kinship/bond with?
Raul: JOY (aka Jason Fritz Michael) & Friend Ship, best ever!
C & P: Your work reminds me a bit of Yayoi Kusama’s art, with the obsessive patterning and accumulation of objects. Has she influenced you at all? Are you a fan of her work?
Raul: I love her! Woman power!
C & P: Does your Mexican heritage influence the style of your work?
Raul: Yes, my work is a life experience and my heritage is one to be treasured.
C & P: I have seen you performing in a Ryan Trecartin video piece. How did this collaboration come about? Are you friends? What other artists do you collaborate with?
Raul: I met Ryan on Friendster long ago, we were pen pals. We met once when I came to New York and since then we have collaborated on several works, he is one to be amazed by.
C & P: Does working in the Monster Island building influence you? Is it inspirational to be around so many young and creative people on a daily basis? How did you end up in this space? Were you friends with Cameron and Vashti before they established the Live With Animals Gallery*?
Raul: Moster island is a pool full of amazement, it breaches music, art, and life. Vasthi, Cameron, and I met in San Francisco, at the Painted Bird, on that same visit I met Micki Pellerano and they invited me to come to New York. They have since given me the best experience in life one can give.
C & P: Have you shown at other NYC galleries in addition to Live With Animals? Where else have you shown in the U.S and abroad?
Raul: I show with Newman Popiashvili New York and have had shows around Europe, Mexico and the U.S.A.
C & P: Is making art therapeutic for you?
C & P: Can you tell me a little about your performance art in the band try cry try?
Raul: We put on shows themed around various topics such Hollywood, reading a letter written to a friend, etc…. We are dramatic. We also make a mess and could possibly get an audience member dirty.
C & P: What can you imagine doing if you were not an artist?
Raul: Being an artist.
*Article on Live With Animals Gallery here.
Paintings in the background of the 2nd, 4th, and 5th images by Cameron Michel.
Cameron Michel studio visit coming soon.
This interview appears in issue 8 of Cheap & Plastique, available here.
footage from the MOMA screening
BROOKLYN DIY, Marcin Ramocki (2009, 75 Minutes, Video)
NEW FILMMAKERS FEATURE PRESENTATION
8:15 PM, Wed. March 9th, at Anthology Film Archives
Brooklyn DIY is a long overdue examination of the creative renaissance in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Home to underground warehouse parties, anarchistic street creativity, and artist-run galleries and performance spaces, Williamsburg gave birth to one of the most vibrant and rebellious artistic communities to arise in the 1980s, permanently changing the city’s cultural landscape. Featuring interviews with a host of artists and neighborhood characters, Ramocki’s film captures life in a utopian universe made by artists, for artists alone with its inevitable decline in the face of real estate development, gentrification, and the post September 11 market collapse.
Official trailer here.
Official website here.
HOT OFF THE PRESSES!
CHEAP & PLASTIQUE 8!
Been busily prepping for the Fountain Art Fair, which begins this Thursday, you should totally come! In the meantime to get your dose of le cheap & plastique, ORDER issue #8!
PAYPAL me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and you will receive one of these beautiful zineroos in your mailbox! Please specify which cover you would like, Miss Morgan’s (left) or Mister Wasserbauer’s (right)! Zine is $10, shipping $5. Both are printed on various fancy papers (kraft, silver, vellum- ooh la la!), zine is 60 pages.
By far cheap & plastique‘s most fanciest edition yet!
This issue features:
Paintings by Paul Wackers
Photographs by Joël Tettamanti
Photographs by Anne Lass
Studio Visits and interviews with the folk of Monster Island, including:
Live With Animals Gallery
Raul De Nieves
A special Fountain Art Fair Feature including:
Paintings by Heather Morgan
Photographs by Kelsey Bennett
Paintings and prints by Nathan Wasserbauer
Photographs by Christine Navin
Issue 8 also includes interviews with London musicians:
An article featuring the Londoners:
The Melting Ice Caps
New Royal Family
And photography and an interview with NYC’s very own Twin Guns.
Cameron, Tania, and Vashti in the gallery space
Cheap & Plastique visits with the folks at Live With Animals Gallery
C & P: How long have you run Live With Animals Gallery?
Tania: Live With Animals was started in 2004 by Vashti Windish, Cameron Michel, Bonnie Pipkin and Tania Ryalls. We had several shows in 2004/2005, before closing our doors to create a communal studio space. We emerged as a gallery again in 2006, and have been a venue for artists ever since.
C & P: Who is involved in the administration of the gallery? And what are each of your duties?
Tania: In the early days, we all worked together to physically build out the space (Cameron can build just about anything), and develop the gallery into the space we envisioned. Several years ago, Bonnie left the gallery to dedicate her time to ‘Step Right Up’, a not-for-profit that provides free arts workshops in New York City’s public schools. These days, Cameron and Vashti are the presence of the gallery, dealing with all day to day matters. It is not only the gallery that they run, but also the home of the studios where they work, not to mention a place where our friends and colleagues enjoy spending time. Cameron, Vashti and Tania work collaboratively to select artists, prepare for shows and run the gallery while shows are in progress.
C & P: Tell me a bit about the history of your name. I have had many arguments with friends over the pronunciation over the years—and now I know the truth!
Tania: Choosing a name was tough. We went with Live with Animals (pronounced liv with animals). It is from a Walt Whitman poem—
I think I could turn and live with
the animals, they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about
They do not lie awake in the dark and
weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing
their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied-not one is
demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor his
kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is responsible or industrious
over the whole earth.”
I think it represents what we wanted from the gallery. We did not want to get wrapped up in the sort of mania that is sometimes associated with galleries that have a profit motive. We wanted artists to have the freedom to get back to sort of a pure state, without any pressures from us or from society. We wanted to be a venue for free expression.
Vashti: We opened the gallery in hopes to provide a space for everyone, not focusing on the money making industry that is the modern art world but to house creativity in all mediums for creativity’s sake.
Last week I visited Wolfy (aka Jef Scharf) at Kayrock Screenprinting, a business that
he co-founded and runs with a partner called Kayrock (nicknamed after the business). Kayrock HQ takes up a majority of the 2nd floor of the Monster Island arts building, on the corner of Kent and Metropolitan Avenue (you know the one you see Japanese tourists with fancy cameras taking tons of photos of every weekend), in lovely Williamsburg.
Wolfy was preparing some prints of monster heads for a mural at Art Basel Miami on the night I was there (after the official business operations of the day closed down), he was also helping the nice ladies from Talk Normal screen merchandise (t-shirts, onesies, and some tote bags) with a logo/image created for them by Miss Kim Gordon, while Kid Millions was hanging out, cutting record covers, in order to print the next Oneida record cover, Man Forever.
Sarah Register & Andrya Ambro of Talk Normal
It seems that Wolfy often does favors for his friends in local bands, assisting them with their poster, packaging, merch needs. Kayrock also employs a lot of Brooklyn musicians to produce Kayrock’s commercial printing assignments during the work week. Whilst hanging around the studio space, following Wolfy around, I certainly got the impression that he really enjoys what he does and also loves being involved with the Williamsburg art and music communities. He also seems to really fucking love the art of silkscreen printing. What he and Kayrock have established as a business is damn impressive.
It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside knowing that people, at all hours of the night, are creating stuff and doing interesting things in their space… and in the Monster Island building, whilst the majority of the new neighbors are most likely robotically preparing yuppie foodstuffs, watching sports on the tele, & getting worked up about the graffiti on the block of their million dollar plus condominiums.
after being in Montreal for the week and searching to find galleries i feel extremely lucky to live in nyc… just wandering around this weekend, doing errands, i was able to pop into the below galleries and see a few good shows. j’aime new york city!
Kenny Scharf & Dearraindrop at THE HOLE
Checked out the latest show at the hole on my way to get halloween costume party supplies at pearl and canal plastics… the show is rather halloweeny and fun, a total sensory overload. Bigger images here.
Denis Castellas at PARKER’S BOX GALLERY
i have not been to parker’s box for what seemed like forever, i feel it was always closed when i walked by over the past year… but maybe i was only wandering on grand in the late hours of the night, i don’t know, glad i stopped in on sunday though cause i really liked denis castellas’ work. the above paintings are from his website (and not the show) but will give you an idea of the lovely paintings you’ll find inside the gallery. Artist’s website here. Show is up from October 29 – December 5.
Salad Days at JOURNAL GALLERY
i wish that the journal gallery was about 10 times its size since they generally show work that i appreciate. This particular show is up until December 15, if you are in le hood, check it out. a lot of good work squished into a teeny space!
Plain Air at CINDERS
i am a big fan of cinders gallery and am kind of bummed to know that the gallery will no longer be on havemeyer after january 1 (well unless they move to greenpoint, then i will be psyched!) More about them being priced out of williamsburg here.
from cinders press release: Plain Air is the second in a series of exhibitions put together by the loose-knit collective/publishing-printmaking project called Apenest. Beginning as a way to create a rad and cost-effective art book, artists Brian Willmont and Cody Hoyt started Apenest by collecting artwork from their favorite artists, selling the work to collectors themselves and then taking the proceeds to self-publish their first book featuring everyone who contributed. They have since published 2 massive, beautiful full-color books that act as a wonderful compendium of underground contemporary art and have begun exhibiting their work together in a series of thematic group shows. More on Apenest here.
Also saw these shows this weekend but the work was not really my thing.
Daniel Zeller and Ati Maier at PIEROGI
Chris Vasell at TEAM GALLERY
back home after spending the week in Montreal, listening to these are powers – terrific seasons, very loudly, in my apartment. the album is sounding pretty damn good and has made me kind of glad that i will be here this weekend, lots of bands & insane halloween costumes to see. now i need to figure out what the fuck sort of freak to dress myself as.