29 Aug Curatorial Conversation with Miami artist Michelle Weinberg
MICHELLE WEINBERG creates worlds. Worlds that exist on an alternate two-dimensional plane, but at the same time seem familiar, desirable, exciting. They are worlds where diving into hypnotic colour, fictitious architectures, purposeful pattern and elastic geometry seems not just possible but necessary in order to fully absorb what these new dimensions mean to their creator. In our interview with the Miami-based artist, we find out what makes this incredible artist tick, and discover that Michelle Weinberg is inspired by almost every inanimate colourful object known to humankind, considers it a privilege that she is able to put beauty out into a world that isn’t always so, and wouldn’t mind creating her own décor and design empire. We met with her in her Miami studio where the vibrancy and colour of her city are clearly reflected. Photographer Paul Stoppi captured the artist in her space.
Where do you live? What is your favourite thing to do in your city?
Miami Beach, Florida, USA. My favourite thing is to swim in the ocean, eat a delicious breakfast, and then head into the studio to work. The thing I love about my Miami Beach space is that it’s right on the water, on the bay, and there are leafy plants with giant palm fronds and hibiscus flowers right outside my door. It’s that combo of urban and tropical that Miami is known for.
Who or what inspires you?
Many many things – architecture, fashion, graphic design, typography, textures, patterns, set design, calligraphy, needlework, ceramics, comics and cartoons, folkloric crafts, markets, window displays, street signs, trash flattened on the ground, and sometimes even art!
Where do you go to find inspiration?
Here in Miami it’s a car culture, and I miss the inspiration that comes from walking everywhere, so I head to a strip mall that has three or four gigantic thrift shops. It’s an anthropological expedition, a massive jumble of colour, texture, pattern, and I research and re-charge there.
Describe your studio in three words.
Rich, multi-layered, colourful.
What do you love about being an artist?
Being an artist allows me to prioritise making lovely aesthetic decisions over the course of a day. It is a luxury, a great privilege, when life can be full of suffering. I am grateful for the opportunity to do my work on that sublime, sheltered fringe of human possibility, contributing in some small way to the health and expression of beauty and the human spirit.
What are its challenges?
An artist must be inventive endlessly. In my art and in my life, I am fully responsible for all the motion that happens. Nothing is pre-fabricated.
What do you hope people feel/think/see when they see you work?
I hope people feel transported to my virtual world, and that they are stimulated, delighted, that strange new thoughts are provoked, and that they feel even a tinge of joy.
Describe your morning routine.
Coffee or tea – I go both ways – and reading…. A slow start to the day is best for me. That being said, I’ve been keeping up with 7am yoga for quite a while now. Not the easiest on my natural body clock, but it feels good!
What do you love doing in your downtime?
I’m an avid reader, both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve always got multiple books underway in book form, on Kindle app, reference books about art or technology folded open on various worktables and counters, plus a regular flurry of magazines.
How would you describe your work?
I describe my work as personalised geometry. Shapes, planes and spaces divided up and coated with colour.
Did you always want to be an artist?
Definitely. Since I was a kid, nothing was more amazing than art – or music, dance, theatre – which I experimented in. But visual art always won out because I could do it totally on my own at any time, any location, any age, with any materials, and I could be completely in charge of that expression.
I am grateful for the opportunity to do my work on that sublime, sheltered fringe of human possibility, contributing in some small way to the health and expression of beauty and the human spirit.
Describe a real-life situation that inspired you.
As a child, seeing the extraordinary Persian miniature paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. Each time I got into that Near East Asian collection, I sat at the chairs provided and pored over those incredible paintings of stacked and patterned spaces arranged in glass cases.
What jobs have you done other than creating art?
I’ve done many jobs, mostly all art-related, that have enriched my life and my work. The engine of having to earn a living has enabled me to cultivate new skills and interact with amazing people. Teaching art is a huge pleasure – sharing what I love best. Creating and facilitating opportunities for other artists runs a close second. Writing about art and assisting non-profit organisations to make art more accessible to the public is also rewarding. I’ve been lucky to avoid serving food or cleaning up after people!
Do you have a favourite song?
Too many to name, but I’m a huge fan of many female singers and female-fronted bands – Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro are the giants, but others are: Joan as Police Woman, Jenny Wilson, TuneYards, Alice Russell, Aimee Mann, Marisa Monte, Los Aterciopelados, Marilyn McCoo, Sia, Buika, Camille, Cassandra Wilson, Tys Tys, Susana Baca, Janelle Monae, Stereolab, Miriam Makeba, the list goes on and on…!
Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
This is truly corny, but in fifth grade one of my favourite teachers wrote to me: On the road of life, remember to do good and never mind to whom. That seems today still to be the single best piece of advice I’ve been given, and I try to live up to it.
Advice you’d like to pass along to new artists?
Learn how to write – most important thing after your work in the studio. I believe having some confidence to express yourself in writing is crucial to any artist. Unless you can afford someone else to do it for you! To be able to identify what your interests are, write statements, propose projects, ask for money. It’s invaluable to be able to write.
Future dream project?
I have a few dream projects. Design and build my own live/work space would have to be the first. But perhaps at the same time I can create the art and decor for a restaurant, bar or cafe – murals, textiles, furniture, lighting, signage, serving platters and dishes, the whole thing!
All photography by Paul Stoppi.