OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mikey Kelly

Be Love Now v1.0 17.084. Acrylic on linen. 60" diameter x 1-1/2" depth. 2017.

MIKEY KELLY (@mikeykellystudio) explores the spiritual undertones of abstract painting. Line is his primary mark, and his meticulous methods yield surprising, vibrating networks of color. Mikey earned his BFA at University of Oregon and his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art. His work is included in the permanent collections at the Cranbrook Museum of Art, the Frankl Foundation for Art and the Neiman Marcus Corporate Collection, and he has been an Artist-in-Residence at Kala Art Institute (Berkeley) and at Lucid Art Foundation (Inverness, CA). He's represented by Chandra Cerrito Contemporary(Oakland), where he has had two solo shows. His work is on view until May 20, 2018 in the Lucid Art Foundation Annual Artist Show at GRO in Point Reyes, California and in Proto_Pop at Dab Art in Ventura, California. Mikey lives and works in Napa, California, where he recently completed the Painted Poem Mural

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you say, “The paintings truly need to be seen in person to fully experience them.” What am I missing as a viewer who’s only seen your work online?

Mikey Kelly: Changing tonalities and perspectives can’t be caught by the single image capture of a camera and need an advanced brain and the higher resolution of the human eye to truly experience these effects. When one gets closer to the paintings colors begin to separate and what you may have thought was a blue was actuality your eye mixing two or even three different colors to make that blue. There are also times when the canvases seem to bow or stretch visually as one moves around the pieces. These paintings test the viewer’s visual, neural and perceptual plasticity.

Embattlements 13.218.1. Mild steel, powder coat. 26"H x 21"W x 4"D. 2013

OPP: You used to work in powder-coated steel (2011-2014). I see a formal connection between your current systems-based paintings and the line variations in the steel sculpture. Are the processes at all similar despite the difference in media?

MK: All my work starts with a line. Formally they begin at the same place, but the sculpture work is much older than the drawings and paintings. The sculptures did dramatically inform the drawing and painting from their beginning, as I was familiar with playing with lines and the patterns that overlaying subsequent lines create. The process of making work changed dramatically a few years ago when I moved from the sculptural realm to the two-dimensional.

Mantra (Om Namah Shivaya) 17.016. Acrylic on linen. 24"H x 24"W x 1-1/2"D. 2017.

OPP: Can you describe your algorithmic process for making paintings? 

MK: My process starts with an analog program using encryption methods developed for secretly passing information that can convert language into numbers. This is a generative way of designing paintings that leaves the outcome unknown. I start with a base 26 variation of a Vigenere cipher that allows me to convert language into numbers. The result is a string of numbers that I then use to calculate the angle of each series of lines. I end up with an algorithm that directs the line spacing, angle, line width and color in a predetermined sequence before I ever start painting. This means that I work with no preconceived idea of what the final piece will look like. Each series of lines results in color shifting and new interference patterns each step of the way.

Buddha 16.264. Acrylic on Linen. 11"H x 11"W x 1-1/2"D. 2016

OPP: How do you get such straight lines?

MK: The painting process starts with the construction of a scale outside the boundaries of the canvas. This allows me to use a straight edge to maintain the same angle across the canvas as each line is painted. I use a pin striping tool that was developed in the early 1900s—it is essentially a syringe with a wheel at the end. This tool allows me to paint consistent straight lines of the same width without variation.

OPP: What can the paintings do that the sculptures could not? And vice versa? 

MK: While both are quite formal, the paintings feel more like true expression of myself. Sculptures on the one hand allow space, distance, volume, light and shadow into play. This creates a lot of variables that a two-dimensional painting can never encompass. But the paintings have allowed me to incorporate outside interests into the design and underlying structure of the work. This is why I have been exploring ways of combining the two so I can incorporate what I love in both into one piece.

P.O.S., Acrylic on goatskin, wood and deer lacing, 62”H x 42”W x 1-1/2D.” 2018.

OPP: Recently, you’ve shifted away from the conventional rectangle to the circle and even stretched goat skin. What’s led you to this format change? Are these anomalies or an entirely new direction?

MK: This is definitely a new direction that the work is heading in. Working the way I do, I find that using a shape other than a square or rectangle allows for more freedom and a less confined feeling to the painting. This came about from working on a few murals and installations that I completed in the past year.

I have been working towards the goal of making more dimensional paintings that incorporate many different techniques and materials. I plan on incorporating more leather, steel and neon into my work in the near future. I find the flat surface of a painting to be confining and would like to see how warping or stretching the canvas or leather over other shapes will influence the viewing of the work.

The Happiness Project, 2018. StARTup Art Fair LA, Acrylic on Cardboard, 96”H x 192”W x 192”D.

OPP: Tell us about the Happiness Project.

MK: The idea was to make an installation that felt like the positive energy that was in the paintings. The Happiness Project started while I was preparing for StARTup Art Fair LA and was trying to figure out how I could transform a hotel room into a full immersive experience. I decided the way to accomplish this would be to fill the entire room by lining every square inch of the walls with painted cardboard panels. I began by taking two word positive affirmations, running them through my analog program and then painting the resulting angles on cardboard shipping pads. Over 30 panels were cut and fit around all the furniture, light switches and outlets.

After the initial installation, I had the opportunity to install the panels again this time at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary. For this iteration I decided to further cut the panels down and to also rotate them creating more complexity to the installation as the lines now ran both vertically and horizontally and the joints became more complex and varied.

The third iteration was as a Special Project Artist at StARTup Art Fair SF.  This installation became the backdrop for their panel discussion series and broadcast on Facebook live. This most recent version included much smaller pieces while still playing with the complexity of the previous version.

16.058. Acrylic on Paper. 40"H x 26"W. 2016

OPP: What does the phrase “spirituality hacking” mean to you?

MK: I started looking at different forms of religion and certain religious movements during a time I attended a series of events at the Rubin Museum in New York City. Most religious belief systems seem to have a short cut to attaining enlightenment or a closeness with God. Saying a certain prayer, doing a certain form of meditation or the spinning of a prayer wheel are all ways to cheating the system in a sense.

So this Idea of “spirituality hacking” became an element that I started incorporating in my work. I began by using the analog program I developed, which enabled me to take a prayer or mantra and to use it as the input. This then gave me a series of numbers that I could use as direction to paint from. This also led to incorporating rotations of the canvas during the painting process to create a painting as a representation of a spinning prayer wheel.

Mantra (Om Ami Dewa Hrih) 17.040. Acrylic on linen. 12"H x 12"W x 1-1/2"D. 2017.

OPP: But it sounds like the precise complexity of your process isn’t really a short cut at all. Perhaps the focus and flow of the studio is the direct path to enlightenment. . .

MK:  Although there are elements of my work that have a very spiritual jump off point, I feel like the work truly needs to be viewed as an abstract piece of art first and foremost. Throughout art history spirituality has played a very specific role. When abstraction began in painting, that role did not diminish; it just went unspoken. I have chosen to be vocal about the influences of spirituality in my practice. But if I am not there or if the wall label doesn’t tell you, then the work simply becomes a painting to be judged on its formal qualities.

Many people think that making this work must be meditational. Making these paintings means making the same type of mark thousands and thousands of times. Muscle memory aside, if I just leave the present for a moment while painting, I will make a mistake. It can be very stressful and physical. I endure the struggle because the end result contains such an amazing vibratory power. I hope the work brings joy and physical beauty into the lives of others and maybe helps them find a direct path to enlightenment.

See more of Mikey's work at mikeykelly.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center. Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Eric Valosin

Hyalo 2 (Rose)
Acrylic Paint and Digital Projection Installation
50" x 50"

ERIC VALOSIN merges the digital and the analog, conflating cyber space and sacred space, in his exploration of the techno-sublime. He navigates the tenacious, long-historied relationship between mystical experience and art in his performances/meditations on the impossible pursuit of the perfect circle, in virtual stained glass windows that require the viewer's body to reveal themselves and in hand-drawn mandalas with QR codes at their center. Eric received his BA from Drew University and his MFA from Montclair State University in New Jersey. He recently exhibited work in See the Light at the Attleboro Arts Museum in Massachusetts (July 2014) and created a commissioned piece, As Above, So Below, at Trinity United Church in Warren, New Jersey. The installation was accompanied by an artist talk, a discussion forum and a contemplative service. His upcoming solo exhibition at Andover Newton Theological School's Sarly Gallery opens this fall (exact date TBA). In November 2014, Eric will be teaching a graduate continuing education seminar on worship and the arts at Drew Theological School in New Jersey. Eric lives and works in Montville, New Jersey.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Explain the term techno-sublime for our readers.

Eric Valosin: It’s something to which I aspire in my work, and it threads together my interests in mystical experience and its application to contemporary life. The term originally comes from the critic Hal Foster, who used it to describe the intensely-mediated spiritual immediacy he saw in Bill Viola’s video installations. Typically, traditional mystics spoke of the “unmediated immediacy” of their encounters with God. The techno-sublime asks if there can be a space for that immediacy in an era in which, allegedly, everything is mediated. It’s a meeting point between the 14th Century and the 21st, where old and new media collide and world-views come to a head, coalescing into something complex and truly ineffable.
In my art, I strive to co-opt traditional mystical strategies and push them through these heavy layers of mediation in an attempt to open new spaces for a sublime experience. According to Immanuel Kant, the sublime confounds—even overpowers—the viewer and yet is somehow recollected as a net gain rather than a loss. So experiences of the sublime are in line with descriptions of mystical experiences. I think the sublime is what gives all of the most powerful art that extra something on which you can’t quite put a finger. The techno-sublime is perhaps what happened to the sublime after it met Marshall McLuhan.

Performance and Installation using cyclical rear projection table, chair, digital projection, and charcoal and erasure on vellum

OPP: Circle (2013) is a "ritualized performance" in which you attempt to draw a perfect circle over and over again. The ritual is performed publicly during exhibitions and also practiced privately in your studio. How is the experience different for you when you are alone in your studio versus when there is an audience?
EV: I originally intended it solely to be a conventional performance, but as I started practicing, it began to feel disingenuous of me to put on airs and carry out this “meditative spiritual act” solely for show. So, I began documenting my practice and treating every run-through as a full performance, a dialogue between me and the medium itself. An audience became incidental. In many ways this helped me to grow more comfortable with the piece and connect with it, getting out of it something beyond the initial logistical anxiety and determination.
The entire project turns out to be a constant exercise in acceptance. As I attempt to draw the perfect circle, everything that happens on the paper is recorded, delayed 20 seconds, and then projected back onto that same paper. When my hand reaches the top of the first lap around the circle, I then begin trying to match my hand to the projected hand from the prior laps, synchronizing the physical and digital self. But a perfect circle is far too Platonic to be practical, and the looping synchronization ends up rehearsing, compiling and accentuating every inevitable flaw and eccentricity. Yet, eventually even these flaws amount to something really optically beautiful.

Furthermore, I decided that I wouldn’t discard any run-through as a failure. I learned to accept broken charcoal, technological glitches, and the like as just part of the performance. Once an audience member even interrupted the performance to ask me a question, I guess not knowing it had started. I decided to oblige her question and then continue on. I didn’t want to consider the performance so holy that I became inaccessible, nor those imperfections so unholy that they didn’t merit inclusion in the performance. It simply is what it is. Theologically this was very important to me, that my art acknowledge that our beautiful, ideal reality is comprised of messy, complex imperfections and interactions. That’s one of the big differences between the neoplatonic idealism of classical metaphysics and the relational way contemporary thought tends to see the world since postmodernism. My work ultimately seeks some sort of marriage of the two, a sort of relational metaphysics.

Circle 2.0
March 14th, 2013
Charcoal and Erasure on Vellum

OPP: What goes through your mind? What does it feel like?

EV: It offers a gradual escape from thinking or feeling anything, really. Not in a numbing way, but in an emptying way. Eventually I step back from drawing and erasing the circle over and over and begin just watching the compiling footage play out on the paper in front of me. Gradually, even the slight projection hotspot becomes so accentuated that the whole image dissolves into this odd, luminous, blue/white, watery mush of compounded footage. I get a real sense of peace as I watch it all dissolve. The act of drawing is a time to dive deeply into a meditative, repetitive focus. Stepping back and watching it dissolve is an escape away from thoughts and from anything concrete.

Latex Paint and Projection Installation
56" x 68"

OPP: In projection-based works like Hyalo 2 (Arch), Hyalo 2 (Rose), Triptych and Unknowledge, all (2013), the viewer's body is required to complete the experience of the piece. Without the body to block the projected light, the beauty of the sacred geometry is not available. What can you tell those of us who've only experienced these works online about how viewers interact with your projections?

EV: They hinge around that moment of discovery in which the viewers unwittingly walk in front of the projector and, to their surprise, reveal the imagery in their shadow instead of obscuring it. Or, in the case of the Hyalo projects, they discover that their optical experience changes dramatically depending on their position around the work. I love watching them play and exercise an almost child-like curiosity at what initially confounds their perceptual expectations. This is the moment of the techno-sublime I spoke of earlier, when the piece defies logic in a way that simultaneously stupefies and enlightens the viewing experience and causes viewers to second guess the way they see. It’s sadly true that this is something you can only fully get in person.
I used to devise ways to discourage viewers from making shadow puppets in my artwork, but soon I came to realize it was a somewhat inevitable occurrence. I went to the James Turrell retrospective at LACMA last year and watched adults give their friends bunny ears in his hallowed light-cube projection Afrum (White). Even the great Turrell is not immune to the shadow puppet! That sealed the deal for me; I decided to embrace interactivity as a valid urge within the viewer. The piece was in some way less complete if the viewer was taken out of the equation and expected to remain aloof as an observer.
All spiritual experiences are necessarily interactive, and as we enter an age of increasing technological interactivity and user-definability, the viewer’s body becomes more and more important. The philosopher Marcel Mauss—and to a certain extent Foucault as well—points out that “techne” refers not only to technology but to bodily techniques, which, Mauss says, underpin all our mystical states. It’s the reason we kneel to pray, do yoga, or practice zazen. It’s also the reason I’ve begun working more and more with interactive technologies and new media in my work. What might these mystical postures and movements look like in a hyper-connected, technological world in which the body is just as much virtual as it is physical?

Meditation 1.1 (Thusness, Elseness; Omnipresent)
Pen and Ink on Paper

OPP: Your hand-drawn Mandalas with QR codes at their center send the viewer to a different, random website every time they are scanned. I don't have a smartphone, so I haven't had the experience of "completing" this meditation, but I like the idea that you could end looking at art, merchandise, news, celebrity gossip, wikipedia or porn. It really echoes the Buddhist idea that the sacred is right here in the present moment, no matter what that moment contains. When you've scanned it, where have you ended up?
EV: Once I ended up at some photographer’s website. It was a strange experience to have my artwork catapult me to a meditation on someone else's. I’ve landed on a lot of merchandise websites and a couple very bizarre conspiracy theorist sites. I’ve also gotten my fair share of 404 Error messages. Many people at first don’t realize it’s randomized. This confusion is one of the weakest and strongest aspects of the piece. On one hand, they may end up thinking I’m intentionally supporting a given website’s agenda (which was particularly disconcerting to me the time a friend of mine ended up on a satanist website), but on the other hand it urges them to intentionally comb their destination for some spiritual content, assuming it must be “hidden in there somewhere.” In many cases, only upon rescanning and landing elsewhere a few times do the randomness and Buddhist implications you mention come to light.
Uncertainty is the only certain thing about faith. Uncertainty begins to dig into mystical “unknowing,” the apophatic “negative theology” that attempts to get at the unknowable by surpassing and negating all that’s knowable. Even the person who cannot scan the QR code is left with a similar open-endedness as the person who does scan it.

Cosmos on Gray 1/0
Erasure on 18% Gray Card
10"x 8"

OPP: You have plenty of experience of bringing the spiritual into the gallery. What was it like to bring art into a religious space in your commissioned piece, As Above, So Below, at Trinity United Church in Warren, New Jersey? 
EV: It’s a really interesting challenge. I ended up creating an interactive projection piece mapped onto the slanted ceiling of the church’s chancel area. It used a hacked Microsoft Kinect sensor to integrate congregants into the video, and randomly recomposes itself every 50 minutes. I wanted to create something aesthetically pleasing, engagingly interactive and potentially meditative, but also to challenge the space’s implicit hierarchies and push people out of their artistic comfort zones. In the gallery, the struggle is to bring spiritual connotations into a traditionally secular setting without being didactic or polemicizing. In a church, however, those spiritual implications are inherent in the setting, and the challenge becomes making the art accessible without watering it down. I had to really refine the big questions driving my work in order to develop something I think is substantive enough to hold up in both arenas.

There’s a lot of historical baggage to trip over. Spirituality and art had walked hand in hand for millennia. But when Galileo came along and inadvertently told the church they might not have the market cornered on objective truth, a proud and dogmatic church shut its door on subjectivity. This was the first crack into the schism between the sacred and secular. The result was that art, which thrives on ambiguity and an earnest investigation of big questions, began shifting toward the more hospitable realm of secularity, where it had more room to breath. This was reinforced in the late Baroque by the emergence of non-religious patronage and a cultural appreciation of the real and mundane (as opposed to the ideal).
If the sacred-secular divide weren’t enough, a secondary rift developed within secularity itself. Mass media, which changed the way we process images, and the heavy hands of Clement Greenberg and others divided high art from accessible art. Throw into the mix the growing humanism in 19th/20th century philosophy, and you end up with a huge mess where almost nobody understands the “art world,” let alone the spiritual in art, least of all religious institutions, now twice removed (not to mention the argument that it’s all moot because “God is dead” anyway). There are certainly exceptions, but I have found that many religious institutions today are pretty impoverished in their use and understanding of art as a result.

As Above, So Below
Installation at Trinity United Church

OPP: Did you have an agenda related to the schism between the sacred and the secular in As Above, So Below?

EV: The events I held at Trinity United Church were about mending that rift. I wanted to afford people who may not know what to do with contemporary art a chance to really engage with it and to open a dialogue about how art really works when it’s working well. I wanted to encourage the church to embrace art as a relational tool for broaching challenging subjects and heightening the spiritual life of the church. After the contemplative service there was a time for discussion, and I was blown away. People first approached my installation with, “Great, so what does it mean?” and “What am I looking at here?” When given the dedicated time and permission to investigate it without fear of being wrong, they started to be able to read the work in real substantive ways (ways which I had to go to grad school to learn). Not only that, but they started to measure that experience against their own preconceptions and translate it into meaningful dialogue and even some spiritual epiphanies. 

It’s not about reclaiming art as a pawn in some dogmatic agenda, but about being comfortable enough—especially in churches—to trust the Spirit’s interactions amid those ambiguous, complex spaces where world-views collide and art is at its most powerful. It’s about learning how to use the artistic sublime, as it were, toward a greater church experience. It’s about urging the church to think like an artist, and even urging churches to become artists themselves. It’s about unknowing a lot of what we take for granted and reacquainting ourselves with mystery. Ultimately I believe this transcends even the religious/secular dualism and applies to the most fundamental ways in which we all experience the world and each other.

To see more of Eric's work, please visit ericvalosin.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.