Michael Reedy will be bringing his psychedelic exploration of anatomy and geometry to the Empty Kingdom Summer Show! His art is at once expansive, exploring life, death and all experience in between, and finite, teasing at confidence and addressing body image. Check out his interview:
How would you describe yourself?
I would describe myself as a glutton for punishment. I split my time and attention between too many things, and take on too many responsibilities (that frankly I am ill equipped to manage – why people trust me I don’t know, ha)…when really; I would rather just be drawing. I am overly stressed, somewhat conflicted, and always looking for an excuse to quit for the day and drink a beer. I am romantic.
How would you describe your work?
My newest work in particular is rather tongue in cheek. It is beautiful, ugly, absurd, comical, dark, painful, and romantic (at least about death). It is about the beauty of human frailty and absurdity of everyday angst. It is an attempt to connect with people at the most base level about our collective fears of disease, reproduction, and death – and our general simplemindedness – which thankfully permits endless distraction from those fears. It is pretty – it has glitter on it. Glitter is 8th
How do these two descriptions overlap and how do they diverge and what do you think that says about yourself and your art?
They are one in the same in many ways. Things wouldn’t be beautiful if they lasted forever. That is the conflict and the romance wrapped in one. Realizing it wont last forever taps in to those fundamental fears. Poking a stick at those fears, covering them in glitter, that is distraction. So is having a beer. I think the work I am making now speaks more truthfully about who I am and how I navigate the world in this body – fragile, beautiful, and full of death. There is more celebration in that awareness than sadness for me…at least that is what I tell myself, but honestly it is all just a foil. I recently watched “City Lights” by Charlie Chaplin. His movies are always a mixture of funny, painful, silly, cruel, and sad…even thought they are largely considered comedies. Their ability to hit such a broad range of notes is beyond compare. Well anyway – too the point – City Lights had the most perfect ending – so beautiful and so sad. I was choking back tears like a grown man baby when “The End” hit the screen. I wish I could make drawings like Charlie Chaplin movies. It is not just about feeling one thing – it is about feeling everything.
In the description for Recent Works you mention that you have psoriasis and contrasted the condition to the smoothness of baby skin, how has your condition and any other injuries you have had throughout life affected your work, your expression?
While my father has psoriasis, and I too had it (in a much more limited way) when I was a teenager – my affliction was far more comical…it was essentially face dandruff! Yep, a good percentage of men in their mid to late 30’s get face dandruff (so watch out)! I was told they could “treat” it, but that there is no cure for it. So when it flares up I have to apply a prescription cream on my face for a few days. Not the end of the world – but it was one of those things that made me acutely aware of my changing appearance, my aging skin, and my increasing frailty. I think as you push 40 and beyond you really start to see time in the mirror – in your skin. Until then, you are perpetually young it seems! It made me want to draw skin more. Skin in general is beautiful, and I saw no reason this couldn’t be either (a marker of age – a hint of death).
You discuss the moment of contrast as a moment of pain and grace, how has the condition affected your mind space and your take on the world? Where did the grace come from?
Having to live a life a pain is by no means unique to me. We all, ultimately, lead painful lives on many fronts. It is simply a byproduct of being alive, and caring for other people that are alive. Physical pain, emotional pain… these are all requirements of happiness in the end. Sadly we do not all posses grace. Grace is the ability to be happy in spite of pain. To see beauty in a facial rash requires grace. We all move through this world and wear its marks. You can either wear it well… or not.
There is so much going on your work, does this reflect what’s going on in your mind?
Haha, I wish! Really, I am a notch above a simpleton. I just like drawing. The ideas that motivate my work are pretty simple. Classic themes. They are easy ideas to play with. Ultimately, it is just about finding new ways to draw it all…and as noted, thankfully, I really like drawing, so it works out!
Where do you go for source material regarding medical illustration?
Largely, I am drawing the skeletons and organs form anatomical models I have. I possess two (plastic!) skeletons – one with an entire set of organs, a skeleton spine and torso, two additional adult skulls, a toddler teething skull, and an infant skull. Not to mention a random brain here and there. For the muscle work and/or veins and arteries I reference a range of things including medial texts and imaging software. In the end, I prefer the models the most, because I can lamp/light them and rotate them anyway I want…so drawing them is pretty direct. When drawing from static images I always have to turn and light everything in my mind before drawing it, which is more time consuming and/or difficult.
What kind of research have you done for your work?
I just purchased a bunch of weird models off of eBay and looked at a lot of books. No real corpses for me. The artificial qualities and color-coding of educational models are part of the fun for me.
What about the human body, stripped down to it’s most fundamental elements intrigues you?
The skeleton, organs, muscles, veins, etc, that make up the body – they are the great equalizers. It could be a portrait of anyone. But it can’t be a portrait of a living person. It is the reflection of death. But there it is – animated as if it were alive. It becomes uncanny, dark, and comical. The ability to see it as both living and dead is what intrigues me the most.
Who was your subject in Expulsion?
The subject in particular was a young woman named Michelle who happened to model for the University where I teach. Who she represents is simply “woman.” Maybe, “the woman.” It was always meant to be a four-panel image; two panels depicting the inside/outside of the “woman” – and two panels depicting the inside/outside of the “man.” However, I found it extremely difficult to locate a male model that matched, or complimented, the appearance of the female model. I wanted them to have the same sensibility in terms of proportion, length of limbs, etc… I just recently found a male to sit for the final two panels whose name is ironically “Adam”. If only Michelle had been named “Eve” – it would have been too perfect (or just too damn weird, ha)!
How did you decide what to do for the background images? What does the contrast mean to you? What do you seek to say contrasting the mechanical, scientific precision of blocks and spheres with the bones and veins and organs versus the chaotic organic creatures with the subject’s naked body?
The backgrounds stemmed from a pair of self-portraits I made that included a skeletal version of myself opposite a traditional portrait. In that pair of dueling portraits, I was addressing two issues I was experiencing physically at the time – one of which was the “face dandruff” (external) and the other was a deep and penetrating ache in my bones – in particular my legs (internal). It was just a matter of giving some shape to the idea of an “external” menace and an “internal” menace. They both plague the body in different ways. One we can see – the other we cannot directly see (only feel). Pairing these, along with “clinical” colors, the skeleton, the nude figure, etc… is an attempt to create something that is beautiful and painful at the same time.
Do you think posing the unclothed body beside a skeleton with veins and organs redefines the word ‘nudity’?
That was never really something I thought about when making the images. Nudity is about skin to me. Actually, nudity is about particular areas of skin. The nude is about simply being bare. While a skeletal representation does present the body in its barest form – I would not think to call them “nude.” I think seeing someone’s clavicle, shoulder blades, sternum, ribs, etc… those areas where the bones rise to the surface of the skin, are incredibly sensual. However, simply drawing a sternum and ribcage does little to evoke that same sense of intimacy or sexuality. It is the thin layer of skin between the bone and the viewer that makes all the difference.
Of the pieces you’re sending to 111 Minna, which is your favorite and why?
The Expulsion Diptych is my favorite piece selected for the show. Simply because it is the newest of the works selected, and is most aligned with the drawings I am working on at the moment. Beyond that, in the Expulsion diptych I increased the range of media being used as well as the color palette. The more complex methods employed for building the images seems more satisfying for me. When I look at images made just prior to the new series they seem so much emptier. Like they are just hitting one note instead of many.
What different things does each piece mean to you?
Cluster 2 is the most meaningful piece to me. That was drawn at a time when a close family member was going through some difficult times with respects to their health. There were even concerns that they might lose a leg (or both legs). It arose from the clinically vague and detached explanations regarding what was happening to them physically – and the reality of their physical state. It was a way of working through those discrepancies – and coming to terms with clinical distance and intimate loss. This image is what actually compelled me to start referencing anatomy and medical imagery in my work!
See Some was a more playful experiment about beauty and attraction. It is a portrait of my wife, and speaks directly to different types of attraction and desire, from the cerebral to the physical. At the time I was using anatomical references a lot to point towards general notions of pain and/or death. This was an attempt to make a more specific comment about identity and desire through an anatomical reference, and to make the anatomical reference (and the resulting drawing) beautiful. Expulsion – the meaning behind expulsion was explained at length above!
What are you working on now? How many pieces do you have going at the moment?
I have several things going. I just finished “The Fall” trilogy (man, woman, child), which is very exciting. I am now (as noted earlier) starting the male diptych that compliments the Expulsion image included in the show. I am also working on a more complex version of “Don’t Worry Baby” – in which a couple is embracing as a swarm of 7 toddler skeletons with glitter organs poke and prod them. I also have several sketches I am working through that are pointing towards a huge altarpiece with a ton of floating cherub skeletons, haha! This is what I hope to push out this summer once the other two are finished!
What is a favorite smell of yours?
My wife’s hair.