Capturing Domestic Life: Interview with Mychaelyn Michalec
Born in 1977, Michalec is an artist who lives and works in Dayton, OH.
My work focuses on domestic life in a convergence of abstract and the figure. The dichotomy of the family is emotional closeness yet frequently, missed connections. My paintings often show members of my family staring at their devices, huddling together but watching TV, eating dinner around a table but involved in thought. Painting for me is a way of both embracing and resisting domestic life. Motherhood is like a love affair. We fall in love, we fantasize, and it is all so perfect. Then we see the reality, and feel guilty.
Abstraction and the figure compete for attention in my work just as being an artist and a mother compete for attention in real life. Waiting at the Verizon store, watching TV, eating dinner—what is lasting among seemingly mundane experiences? The memories are intimate yet universal, influential yet forgotten.
When did you first begin exploring domestic spaces and modern relationships in your work?
I stepped back from my studio practice for about 12 years to focus on raising a family. When I started to make work again, I thought about how I filled that creative void. That is when I started exploring the ideals of home and family life in my work. For me, there has always been a conflict between not having a career and being a parent, because our society is so fixated on what you do as a reflection of your worth. Painting for me is a way of both embracing and resisting domestic life. Motherhood is like a love affair. We fall in love, we fantasize, and it is all so perfect. Then we see the reality, and feel guilty.
There is something poetic and sentimental about finding beauty in the mundane moments through art. What do you hope the viewer takes away from your current paintings?
I don’t think that family dynamics have changed that much, but I do think the way that they are portrayed has changed. In an era of curated Facebook feeds highlighting the best in family life, I hope to show a more realistic depiction of domesticity - though what I do show is still warped and twisted through my own filter and shaky-handed sketches. There is more of a need for the real in this life and less #liveauthentic. The importance of the mundane and the seemingly uninteresting is that - it is wherein most of our life experiences come from. Narrative work is so open to interpretation. Standing back and listening to others' interpretation is often an interesting way to analyze the observer.
How has your studio practice challenged the way you think about our homes, relationships and the introduction of technology in your own life?
I think the cell phone is the television of my parent's generation. My parent's generation fretted over access to it, time spent in front of it, and the content of what was being shown. They thought it would be the ruin of my generation. While it was not, I don't want to be either dismissive or alarmist about technology in our own lives. I think screens are pervasive, an unstoppable force, and yet there has always been a sort of disconnect between families or relationships in general. That is nothing new, nor was it new as I was growing up, though the scapegoat has changed.
What do you love to do when you are not in the studio?
I am a normal person; I do normal things. I run out to pick up a 12 pack of root beer for the boy's student council meeting due this afternoon, or a container of air-dry clay for the girl's landforms projects due in a week. I shop on the internet and take the dog for a walk. I make at least three trips to the grocery store a week. Sometimes I meet friends for coffee.
Where does the imagery and references for your paintings come from?
The images come from my own life. I frequently sneak out my phone and try to covertly capture what is going on in our own lives. It is important to me that most of these moments are captured without my family being aware. With the advent of the digital camera, it is so easy to edit our lives. Photos can be disregarded without a second thought; I try to capture what most people would disregard or not even bother to take.
What are a few of your favorite artists and influences?
Three artists whose work I am most interested in are Honoré Sharrer, David Humphrey, and Brian Harte. I love Sharrer's use of color and her complex narratives. I recently fell in love with her paintings, and her color schemes have influenced my work. I find David Humphrey's work interesting. He has a lot to say about the human condition and society. His use of humor and drawing is very engaging. I love the work of Irish artist Brian Harte. He also captures domestic life. I find his male perspective of the subject especially interesting. Another big influence for me is the short stories of Raymond Carver and Lydia Davis. Their narratives and the dialogues of their characters are a big influence on my work and how I title things.
Share a favorite quote or piece of advice.
"Love is paying attention"- Fairfield Porter
"We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relationship between things and ourselves" -John Berger