The Living Art and Sounds of Michael Alan
For New York artist Michael Alan, art is catharsis; “a combination of harmonious opposites, a means of communication and a radical juxtaposition of dimensional elements”. He explores the relationship between destruction and creation, through his visual art, his installations, performances and music. Alan is the founder and director of the Living Installation in New York.
Lynn Maliszewski interviews Michael Alan for .Crudo.
Lynn Maliszewski: I ﬁrst discovered you after you started posting your Halloween subway joyride drawings on Facebook, which I slowly became obsessed with for their energy, their pure aura of people. Do you ﬁnd yourself attracted more to people, individually, or situations where people exist?
Michael Alan: I see everything in general as a part of art/ life in process. I ﬁnd most things funny or twisted; It’s a big dream. Nothing is average, even the basic human levels where we fulfill our animal needs and the supernatural desires of a seahorse.
LM: What’s your favorite people watching spot?
MA: Anywhere I show up at when I’m invited. It can be the worst place, the best place; it’s all what you turn it into. I do like Halloween A LOT because people appear as all they really want to be. I met one of my new friends when I was doing the Halloween drawings. His name is Andre and now he helps me out at my live shows. I believe in meeting people through creating art when it’s not expected.
LM: What was the ﬁrst drawing you remember making?
MA: I remember turning Slick Rick into a baseball player for the Mets. He had super long skinny legs, a mitten and his batting average was 5000. Then I made a whole team of playing cards, including Squiglies, Raindrop, my dad, Axl Rose and a bunch of junkie rock band dudes. This was before I put dicks everywhere.
LM: Where do you ﬁnd memory interacting with your visual recordings?
MA: I try to clean the slate of human needs or my temporary feelings and go to the other side, to a place you enter and leave your ﬂesh behind. Forgetting everything, but being open to what may come. Being deliberate with your marks even if they seem haphazard or wild. I feel like I live my life like every day could be my last and that allows me to take some chances and push the image.
LM: Oftentimes images emerge over time in your work. How conscious are you of the multiple layers of composition in your work? Do they all appear in one sitting or do the works develop, more often, over time?
MA: Most detailed works take six months to years. Most of the works are altered over and over. I have a large studio and storage where I have things set in motion. I use no assistance, and let time do its magic. I am conscious and unconscious at the same time. I work every day at building my skills by working with layers of different textures and pigments. I’ve devoted my life to this practice.
LM: What is the most recent surprise or discovery you’ve made in your practice?
MA: That I can sing! I am not just silly but the wild energy on stage!
LM: What are you attracted to?
MA: Good honest people who actually wanna be friends. Stopping violence, books, Cd’s, records, memories of those who have passed.
LM: The beauty of many of your images is the conglomeration of the macro and micro, and how various degrees of investigation of the piece reveal eternally new things. Do you think on more macro or micro terms in your own life?
MA: I try to look at the big picture and try be happy, or at least Be. I am optimistic about nothing. Things are always going to fade, move, or change, which helps me not get too attached to one thing. I care about those I love and the rest, I hope, will all find peace. I love my work and respect myself. Deep inside my chest are a million spinning atoms.
LM: Talk to me about your alternate universe persona, Michael Alien. How does he inﬂuence your music? Your ﬂat artwork?
MA: I don’t know if I have an alternate personality. Michael Alan Alien is a band including Raindrop, my mom, and Woof Woof, my dad. It is more of a public art piece in comparison to my ﬁne art paintings. At first, I was just composing the music or bringing in a band to play. Recently I’ve reached out to musicians I knew, or didn’t know, and have been pushing it to the limit. I wanted to create these six to seven-hour long music videos. My music project, which I like to call the Living Project or Sound Drawing, has been the best rediscovery for all my work. It has allowed me to take breaks from the visual art and work on some precision editing in the musical process. It makes me even more attuned to editing in my own work. I also made friends with like-minded people like Jeff and Jane Hudson, Vas Deferens Organization, Renaldo from Renaldo and the Loaf, Noah Becker, Japanther, Tim “Love” Lee, Geneva Jacuzzi, and more and more. Some collaborations are just a swap, but some are new friendships. It’s hard to ﬁnd real friends in the art world.
LM: In your Living Installations, your 2D work provides a loose choreography for actions. Do you think these installations inﬂuence your ﬂat work? How? Do they just get you into an overall more invigorated mode?
MA: Yes but it’s not about the mood. It’s about understanding the body more. For example, a student would go and draw a corpse. I’d rather work with people that are living and change them into elements of my work. Learn how to work on people and work with myself as a performance artist. You really learn motion and what that means. Without living it, you won’t be able to experience it and without experiencing it, you won’t be able to paint it.
LM: Do you create ﬂat work and music like you do your Living Installations, in extremely long breaths of activity? Is this always the way it’s been?
MA: Yes, Lynn, it’s always been that way; since grammar school. The “long breaths” just mean I really don’t stop. I don’t believe in taking a break, I just don’t. Even if I go out, I draw or at least bring a tape recorder with me. Otherwise, I’d really be bored out of my mind. I may take a day off once a month but I still end up doing something in the house. I feel like my studio is not just the room I rent as my studio but it’s also the world around me. I don’t believe that the place for me to create art is only within this space.
LM: Your work is extremely centered, working through images of the past, present and future melding together in a continuous moment that fuses chaos, evolution, love, and deceit. What is your spiritual foundation?
MA: That’s a good question. I was lucky to be raised by two loving parents in a not so loving time in New York so my foundation is silliness and love, compassion and forgiveness. My aunt was a nun so I spent a lot of time in a nun factory where people were very nice to me as a child. I also grew up around some really hard criminals in my neighborhood that thankfully gave me some backbone that you need in the art world. Spiritually, I’ve always been right on the line, meaning that time in your life when you’re young or you’re old and you realize there is something else beyond you. I’ve always stayed in that space of accepting there is something else and it’s greater than me. I’m here to make work about going to that place.
LM: What are your thoughts about New York’s current state of evolution?
MA: I feel that we have lost a major part of this great city. Its soul, what makes New York “New York”, is fading. It’s clean and it’s safe. That’s great and I appreciate that as an adult. But the rawness and the spaces that attracted the wayward traveler are gone, going… It seems confusing that the happenings, the art movements of the 80s and 90s, innovative artworks on trains, innovative people dancing in the street, beat-boxing, punk shows at CBGBs are all gone, but things change. New York was raw and now it’s just…not. It just seems like some of the reasons people came to New York are now a crime. Such chaotic beautiful energy is penalized with a ticket. It has transformed into chaotic business energy or chaotic “iPhone-what-do-I-do” energy. I want to keep what’s New York, New York. I’ve been here my whole life. That’s part of why I do the Living Installation project.
LM: How do you maintain your energy during those twelve-hour studio days?
MA: Easy, I have no child or wife. I learned the key to mixing it up: music, painting, writing, drawing, reading. It is all I want to do so it duplicates. It’s not all high-energy either. A lot of it is tedious cutting and pasting, and you can do a lot of it lying down. Sometimes I lie down for six hours and work on one thing, stitching it up, cutting it up. I get so involved I have dragged myself across the room for a cup of water.
LM: You started with the Draw-a-thon and moved into Living Installations, both of which engage the community while developing your own process and stressing your practice to mutate it. What might be your next move in the live sphere?
MA: The Living President Project where I dress up like the president and do dance moves on TV, pointing at weather patterns and what to buy next with girls in bikinis in the back dancing, drinking Lamborghinis. Sign up now and you can get a free scarf! Don’t you just love global warming?
LM: I read a bit about your early performances, which discuss you performing in a Freddy Kruger outﬁt and doing remixes to “Ice Ice Baby”. What direction is your current music going in, considering the slew of new collaborations?
MA: Well, luckily, I’m not dressed up like Freddy Kruger anymore. I definitely exert myself and push and turn myself inside out during the show with different material. I can joke and act out the music and scenes with the talented models (those freaks love it).
LM: You just signed a record deal and are expanding the music practice you started over seventeen years ago. You’ve utilized a number of collaborations for your Living Installations, but how might the music’s separation from performance alter it?
MA: I’ll never perform live without making art with my hands. You won’t see me singing in a chair unless I can tie a person to the chair and turn them into a toy. I’m working a record deal/split album and maybe more with Vas Deferens Organization. I believe they’re the future of sound and people should really pay attention to them. It’s why I’m doing this record thing. I never had any intention of a record deal. It’s a limited edition and going to be coming out on vinyl or CD soon. I believe what they’re doing is really high art and the sounds…oh boy, I just had to join them. I don’t believe in much art today, but they are doing it!
LM: What are you listening to right NOW?
LM: Your most current tracks from the Living Installations revolve around hip-hop, techno, screaming metal, and even some reggae. What are some of your musical favorites? Is anything in particular, musical or not, inﬂuencing your direction on the audio front?
LM: What is a day in the life of Michael Alan like?
MA: Wake up, visit my parents, make music with them, go back to studio, make works, make tracks, gym, music, paint, paint, answer emails, avoid phone. Go to some function or avoid it, piss in an alley. Do at least one act of random kindness. Send stupid text messages about skeletons to my friends, research music, read, laugh at things, eat cookies, sleep. Repeat.
MA: I want to say thank you to Kenny Scharf, Jello Biafra, Kingdom Scum, The Krays, Ramsey Jones (ODB’s family), Turn to Crime, Japanther, Jeff and Jane Hudson, Mutz, and so many others that were part of the Living Project!