We had the good fortune of connecting with Michelle Thomas Richardson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michelle, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
The work/life balance is a constant struggle for me and something I am always adjusting. In art school, the motto was studio over everything. And in a lot of ways, that’s what art school is for – focused time to develop your work and your critical thinking. However, that level of intensity is generally unsustainable beyond school as other responsibilities come into play. During school I developed many bad habits which I am still breaking, one of the most problematic being not sleeping. While in the thick of it, my husband once reminded me I was more than my work, which at the time I was annoyed by because I had dedicated so much of myself to my practice. Though I still hold onto that same motivation and drive, I’ve become more strategic. I reassessed how my studio practice fit in after a pivotal year full of life changes including my acceptance of a full-time job as a public art project manager. I began adding up how many “open” hours I had maximum per week and then looking at how many I could reasonably expect to actually spend in the studio. Doing this every week has helped me to see available time when it feels like there is none, has reminded me to stay flexible, and has allowed me to set short term goals toward longer term achievements. Now a proud mom of twin boys (just weeks old!) I’ll be reorganizing my time again to best fit who I am today.
I think my best advice for the work/life balance is to recognize that things are always in flux – if time is not on your side now, remember that it will come around again. And, in the meantime, carve out a few minutes a day to keep active or stay engaged with your practice in other ways whether through reading, writing, watching a movie, or listening to podcasts or lectures by other artists. During a particularly busy time where I was feeling guilty about my lack of work, one of my former professors Annette Lawrence told me that my studio would be waiting for me whenever I was ready for it. I often feel the best art comes from artists who have other experiences and interests outside of their practice; it’s the moments out in the world that inspire new directions in the studio and work that is truly authentic.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
My work is centered around the presence and plasticity of space. This has developed into a deep interest in in how our physical reality can be perceived and how our internal reality can be affected. Explored primarily through installation, my latest work incorporates time as an element of space, which ultimately highlights the connections between individual space, our current space in time, and space in history. Recent works incorporate current events in relationship to [architectural] space as a means of understanding our lived environment(s).
My studio practice is always evolving. At first, I actually studied architecture; it wasn’t until graduate school that I pulled from that experience and my background in painting and drawing to build what I now consider to be the foundation of my work today. In school, the pieces I created were much more philosophical with abstract ideas about spatial connections. Moved by current events over the last several years, and in combination with my position in the public art field, what emerges from my studio today has increasingly been infused with these larger topics that are also of personal significance. I think the most valuable lesson I’ve learned along the way is that vulnerability is an important part of making art. Taking risks in the studio with heart, mind, concepts, materials, and otherwise has led me to my most authentic works yet.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would definitely take a friend around the various art areas of the city – the Design District galleries and the Art District museums. Other places like 500X Gallery in West Dallas, Terrain Dallas, the Oak Cliff Cultural Center, Sweet Pass Sculpture Park, etc. would be on my list to introduce more of the local art community. We would definitely need to go to Meddlesome Moth for a meal at some point!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am lucky to have support from many family, friends, and colleagues, but no one more than my husband, Michael Richardson, who I dedicate this shoutout to. Michael has supported me in my artistic endeavors since the very beginning; from the moment I chose this career path, through 7 years of art school and more he has been my rock. Since earning my MFA, Michael has ensured I always have a place to call a studio (though he never complains when the work spills throughout the house). He has helped me find solutions for new work I wish to make and has spent countless hours helping me install exhibition after exhibition. Above all, his genuine support of my ambitions keeps me focused and fearless. Thank you, Michael, for being my partner in art and life!