We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Van and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, Let’s talk about principles and values – what matters to you most?
The value that matters most to me as an artist is self-honesty – authenticity. I believe that the best art is genuinely introspective, unencumbered by preconceptions and rules. There is so much raw beauty in the human mind already. Drawing water from that well, without contaminating it, is the exhaustive and endless exercise of an artist.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My art is figurative. I paint people and objects cast in sunlight – It’s about lighting foremost, and then about simplifying organic shapes into planar, and separating gradient values and tones into two, while maintaining a recognizable image. There are other elements – line, brush movement, opacity, in the playbook as well, that together hopefully make up a stimulating visual composition. I work from reference photos, and every photo is like a puzzle. The puzzle is how do I translate an image into simplified bits and pieces with tonal and chromatic fidelity – and so that the end product has visual depth and intrigue. My art has an unashamedly decorative purpose – I aim to create something that people want to look at.
The biggest challenge in painting is seeing. How we naturally interpret what we see – color, value, proportionality, contrast, so forth – is very memory-driven and rule-driven. Memory is empirically unreliable, and rules like “eyes are white” aren’t always true. I’ll try to explain: Our eyes are protected (from light!) under an eyelid that sits underneath the brow of our foreheads. Usually, the “whites” of our eyes are entirely in shadow, illuminated only indirectly through weak reflections off your cheek, nose, and the ground. Eyes are probably closer to a vanilla orange than to true white.
Looks truly can be deceiving, and it’s fascinating when I exercise my mind to actively see – what I learn about this beautiful visual world.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
First – i’d want to make sure my pets were looked after- and put them in the hands of DDD https://www.dogdatesdone.com/about-ddd
For unpretentious and authentic food, and in this order:
Mexican: Rafas on Lovers Lane
Asian: Mr Max Cafe Nippon in Irving
Steak (but you really want the fried catfish and salad bar) : Dunston’s
Dessert: JD’s Chippery (OMFG!)
Breakfast and Cigarettes: J’s Breakfast & Burgers
For entertainment I’d suggest Hyena’s comedy club at Mockingbird Station, the beautiful Inwood Theatre midnight showings of cult movie classics, and Cidercade for some rad throwback arcade games.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My shoutout has to go to the late Kevin O’Brien – a cavalier hotel manager and one of my first bosses. He saw in me someone with potential and talent, but entitled and lacking ambition. He told me what everyone else I knew was probably too afraid to say because it might hurt me. “Stop being a [expletive] loser, you need to get your [expletive] life together” were his simple words of wisdom. It hurt for a bit, but I needed to hear this realistic evaluation. I hadn’t yet truly earned anything in my life, and he called me out on it. Being humbled and even slightly humiliated turned out to be a huge weight lifted. I was freed from a debilitating burden – a tightly held fantasy that I could always skate by in life. My work ethic changed immediately. I never wanted to hear that again.