words Zarah Cheng
All works are by Michael Reeder.
Where are you from?
I’m from Dallas, TX but I’ve lived on all three coasts.
There is a recurrent “anonymous” face, unknown even to you, throughout your paintings. Who is this meant to be or represent?
This anonymous individual is meant to represent the general self, or the viewer. A few years ago I felt the need to make a drastic shift in what I was focusing my work around, although I didn’t exactly know what that new focus was going to be. Instead of sitting around and waiting for “it” to come to me I decided I needed to go in search of my new focus. I stripped the subject matter down to a single portrait, a portrait that I personally had no connection to. This gave me the freedom to paint without getting caught up in what I was painting. It essentially allowed for the mediums themselves to take on more of a significant role in the content. It was just me, the paint and a weird face. I quickly developed a loose structure for the process of the creation of these paintings. This process started to ignite ideas and questions of identity and how that could be represented.
The eyes of the individuals in your portraits are rarely present – they are hollow or unoccupied in the majority of the images. Why do you choose to vacate the eyes?
I see most of the figures as being in a state of contemplation. This has been a long reoccurring theme in my work for many years now. I feel that rendering out the eyes of the figure gives more of a solid presence, whereas deleting the eyes of the portrait gives a sense of detachment - as if they’re mentally somewhere other than where their body sits in the physical realm, i.e. in a state of deep contemplation.
The discussion of identity in your works is fascinating. What do you, personally, believe makes a person who he/she is?
Identity is a collection of distinctive characteristics that make up one’s individualism. We all have different elements, or characteristics that define who we are. An individual’s upbringing, of course, plays a major role in the development of the self. The area or areas of the world you are raised in almost always make up the moral and ethical standards you will follow for the majority of your life, i.e. culture and religion.
Referring to the last question, how do you translate this in your work?
Although I am fascinated with the specifics of what creates a person’s identity, my work is more directly focused around the broader concept, the range of elements that make up one’s self in a more visually tactile manner. For instance, a painting could be comprised of many separate passes of realistic portraiture painting where I disrupt, or agitate the crispness of each layer during the process. The final layer would be a heavy oil based enamel hit where I graphically carve out the form of the portrait, giving the seemingly lost person some actual definition, and purpose. Through this process, the “unknown” man is born again, with a new identity, with each new piece.
You have said that you prefer to leave your figurative works open-ended. Where do you see this narrative progressing in your future paintings?
I have always believed that a work of art that doesn’t directly spell out the narrative gives space for viewers to fully immerse themselves and to construct their own narratives. There are tons of themes, motifs, and symbolism riddled throughout my work, but I choose to represent those elements a bit more vaguely than historical symbols are usually represented, a bit more personal to me. However, I would like to add that the themes, concepts and processes are merely the parts that make up the final product. It’s my job to coordinate the free flowing dance just enough to successfully build an interesting and unique image, but also remain just enough removed in order for the magic to reveal itself.
Some of the figures in your work are a little unsettling. Are there any darker themes that run under the overarching motifs of identity, ambiguity, and revival?
Yes, I guess you can say I am more interested in portraying a figure that is in the throes of a struggle, or internal fight. The ego has also been a recurring motif in my work for a while now. It actually gets credit for the weird fat neck shape my figures currently have. I used to paint the ego as a shadowy being, and that shape or form evolved directly into the figure because I was drawn to its simplicity. I have hopes of revisiting the shadow in future works.
Tim Maclean for WOWxWOW created a beautiful and very insightful description of your work. When people see your works for the first time, what kind of impact do you want to have on the viewer?
I don’t know exactly. Obviously I want them to like my work, but I very much want them to at least find a way to relate to the work and maybe even be able to take something away from the experience. This relates back to the question of openness in my work. I really enjoy it when a viewer expresses how they feel like one of the figures in my paintings.
What do you like listening to while you paint?
It of course depends, but usually I listen to something without vocals, like some weird ambient or droney stuff. I jam a lot of Barn Owl while I’m working because the compositions are so dynamic and dark. Other than that I listen to Pallbearer, YOB, Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats, Black Sabbath…what can I say? I dig heavy distortion.
What’s next for you?
Who knows! Right now I am just trying to focus on getting some killer work completed for my first solo exhibition at Svper Ordinary Gallery in Denver, Colorado this October.
Would Dracula or Voldemort win in a fight?
No question, Voldemort.
What creeps you out the most?
I know it sounds cliché but snakes! However, I am as equally fascinated by them as I am creeped out.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE