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.