Artist Interviews 2022
By Johnny Otto
When I first saw your work I thought that your portraits belonged in some sort of epic graphic novel. Are you influenced by graphic novels or what would you say are your primary influences?
Haha, thank you. I suppose my work does have an artistic resemblance to graphic novel-styled art. When I was in high school I did get into reading and collecting certain comics. I started as an illustrator and would sit for hours on end drawing comic book-styled characters and scenes. Character development was something I sort of enjoyed and had initially envisioned myself working for an animation studio. I led a sort of an ironic lifestyle because I was a skater and surfer wearing dayglo, however, I was kind of into dark artwork and played Dungeons & Dragons. I really liked the works of artists like Todd McFarlane and of course Frank Franzetta.
Can you tell us about Artists For Trauma and how you got involved with them?
I was first introduced to Laura Sharpe and Artists For Trauma through my agent Eddie Donaldson at an art show in Malibu California earlier this year. Right away I could tell that Laura was an extraordinary person who genuinely had a passion for the healing process that art can provide for victims of trauma. After meeting some of the artists, who had themselves been victims of trauma at the show, I could tell that Laura's organization was a powerful one in order to help bring about awareness for a people truly in need. Needless to say, I was hooked instantly to the organization and Laura's enthusiasm. It didn't hurt that she genuinely liked my artwork as well.
How has family, children changed you as an artist?
Family is everything to me. This year I celebrate 20 years of marriage and I know that I've changed a lot over that time. Having kids for me was one of the most powerful things to ever happen to me. There are so many different experiences you gain through your children over the years as they grow. It allows me as an artist to not only rely on my own life experience to influence my art but that of my children as well. At the end of the day, it's still me staring at a blank canvas with an idea to create magic. I think in many respects, the experience I've had as a husband and father influences that process to some degree.
We love hearing about the process? Can you please give us some details about how you create your work? What mediums do you use? Special techniques you’ve mastered over the years?
Ahh, the process. For me, it always starts with thinking about an image. I like painting portraits with an emphasis on eyes and facial expressions. People tend to relate to faces and see familiarity in one way or another with a face. Usually, I have an idea for work I want to produce and then the piece undergoes many changes through layering and different ideas I have as the work progresses. It starts with a general composition of the subject which I usually will project from a photo onto the canvas. Sometimes I work directly on a photographic print on canvas and add my signature style of using both brushstrokes and various palette knives. I work primarily with acrylics and paint mostly on stretched canvas but have done pieces on wood panels. As far as techniques, I don't know that I've necessarily mastered any one technique, rather, I will forever be a student of the craft, hopefully gaining wisdom to improve as I continue to produce art. One thing I do to most of my paintings is to add a single word or sometimes a phrase. I don't necessarily have a direct message, rather, I want to encourage the viewer to come up with their own idea and personal meaning for the work. Ultimately, the artwork will hang in a home where it must speak to them.
Any artists that you’d like to collaborate with? Why?
I'm always open to the idea of collaborating with other artists. I think there's always an opportunity to explore creativity with other artists. I've been so busy lately that I haven't really given much thought to who I would specifically like to collaborate with. I can say that I will be doing some collaborative work with artist Rafael McMaster soon so stay tuned for that. Rafael is a wonderful human and founded Resin Gallery in Hermosa Beach, California along with Indivisible Arts which is an art collective that I am a member of. I wouldn't mind doing something with Risk. He does so many different types of art and I think it would make for an interesting juxtaposition. I'm also a fan of Silvio Porzianato in Italy and would love to do collaborative work with him at some point.
Any shows coming up or what’s your focus right now?
Next up for me is the Louder Than Life Festival in Louisville Kentucky, September 22-25. I will be at the Artists For Trauma, Love Louisville Style booth. Meanwhile, I have been busy in the studio creating new art. You can always follow me on Instagram (@michaelkirst_art) or check my website (michaelkirst.com) for upcoming events and shows.
Do you have any other hobbies or passions? Cooking? Flying an airplane?
Yes I do! I enjoy camping and off-roading although I haven't had a lot of time to pursue this lately with my current schedule. I enjoy food, music, family, and spending time with friends. My wife is a fabulous and creative cook so I don't do much cooking but I sure love eating!
How does music affect your creative process? Who inspires you musically?
Music is a huge part of my creative process. I've always loved and been moved by music and listen to music every time I paint. I listen to many different types of music depending on the state of mind I'm in. I could be listening to EDM one minute and Pink Floyd the next. It all just depends on the moment. I tend to like deep music like Coldplay, Pink Floyd, Iron maiden, Nine Inch Nails, and The Cranberries to name just a few. Sometimes I just jam out to old-school hits from Supertramp, Gerry Rafferty, or Gordon Lightfoot. That kind of music has a comforting familiarity that takes me back to my childhood. Music is life.