Artist Michael James Hawk mines our collective unconscious for imagery that’s not only primitive, but alien.
Occasionally a visual artist who’s little known, but who seems to draw from an inexhaustible supply of creativity, comes to our attention. Whatever vein he or she has tapped — or opened — its yield is not only as malleable as gold but just as beguiling.
Why, we wonder, isn’t this artist more honored and rewarded? The question, of course, applies to many artists in America. But what if an artist’s work boasts of qualities that should appeal to not only the discerning eye, but the public? That’s the case with Seattle resident Michael James Hawk.
On one hand Hawk’s work bears evidence of his influences: Praxiteles, Moore, Brancusi, Picasso, Miro, Giacometti, and Calder. Current artists whose work speaks to him include Botero, the startling Magdalena Abakanowicz, and international architect Santiago Calatrava. On the other hand, Hawk’s work exhibits an element of — for want of a better word — the fantastic.
Hawk’s affinity for the “ancients of Oceania, Africa, Mexico, the Orient, Greece, Italy [and] the British Isles,” provides a clue to how evocative his work is of a time both before and beyond history. While it may capture the attention of aficionados of fantastic artists like H.R. Geiger and Zdzislaw Beksinski, it also challenges them to venture beyond the illustrative.
Make no mistake, ranging from covertly to overtly menacing, Hawk’s work is disturbing. Much of it reminds you of prehistoric times — but one aisle over, like primordial memories from another planet. From another point of view, it suggests visions induced by the legendary hallucinogen DMT: murky, obscured, portrayals of aliens, some reptilian, as if seen through the soiled lens of history.
To find out the author’s perspective on his work, we contacted him.
Apparently you work for a marketing company, Girvin. With your talent and mastery, did you feel cheated out of the opportunity to make a full-time living as an artist?
I love the word “cheated.” It connotes so much and says so little. Let us just say a job feeds the body and buys art supplies.
To those of us unfamiliar with artistic processes, can you give us an idea of the techniques you employ and the materials you use? For example, what’s tonal underpainting?
I think we all are familiar with artistic processes, such as when we cook in the kitchen, but we don’t label them as such. We are alive to create — and destroy. But, in applied visual art, I tend to use acrylic (plastic) paints in layers, with mediums that make opaque paint transparent. The first high-contrast color layers, where shape is not detailed (only feeling expressed), is an underpainting. They are like watercolor washes, beautiful on their own.
Under each “finished” painting there may exist up to six fully completed paintings, and up to three full underpaintings. It is fun to memorialize each of these sub-paintings in photographs to remember each creation stage. For sculpture, I tend to use plastilina clay on a wire armature, and tend to go for a naked humanism that exposes our frailties. Bone — to me, fossilized, ossified skeleton — is more interesting than skin, fat and hair — accouterments to the mating game.
With its otherworldly presences, some of your work is akin to the fantastic. Is drawing aficionados from the ranks of Geiger or Beksinski admirers okay with you?
I believe surreality IS reality! That is what the cosmologists have proved. So my work will have those very surreal-real components. Those artists you mention have hyper-clarity and high shine in their vision, while I have a muddy, bloody, menstrual-spermic interpretation. If I can win over those that see in hyper-clarity to those who want to delve in the shadows, that would be fantastic! But I do love primitivism, and I never think that is derivative, like most asshole critics do.
Regarding the obvious alien images, do you believe in alien life forms?
Biology is alien. Humanity is alien. Our machine is stretched, wet, and alien. We are the alien! All hail David Bowie! And yes, statistically, there is indeed life other than ours. Period. But I do not have a fascination for what they would look like. I marvel at our own races, our sexes, our bodies, our diseases. We are ocular miracles!
That segues into the next question. You write that, to Mexican poet and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz the “reality of daily life is. . . quite surreal, very vibratory, illusory and reflective. Things sparkle and song is everywhere.” As your work receives wider exposure, it’s inevitable that some will draw the conclusion it’s inspired by the holy grail of hallucinogens, DMT. Has anyone inferred that your work is the product of drugs? Do you find that demeaning?
Yes, there is an implied segue. That is, we are the alien life forms on a universal stage. We are composited atoms on a stage that is the known universe, the sea of composited atoms. What we know is what physics allows us to know. Paz knew that the surface descriptions we employ in our normal lingo is a joke.
My work — your work — is a product of what we are, what we do. Does it matter which vitamins we ingest? As long as our nutrients are consumed in moderation, and one does not get behind the wheel of an automobile or pilot an airplane when in a brain-affected state, we should be fine evolving our species. Most of my work, however, is a result of liberal education, and suffering.
Next, an easy question: Talk a little about the influence of jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and John Coltrane on your work.
Jazz is life, a religion. It is the pidgin of humanity. It is noise that is allowed to weave into itself. Also, it is the dream of those oppressed — it is hope eternal. I need hope, in relation to the context we are borne into. Idiosyncratically, I am of a race [Indianos-Apache-Maya] that is oppressed, thus I tend to follow oppressed composers.
Finally, are you taking any steps to ensure your art receives the wide audience it deserves?
I journal everyday and share with my friends, who are very patient with me. I sketch and photograph every day. I read art theory every day. I plan and execute every day. My ambition to self-promote is low. I must grow as an artist alone. We all are born alone, live alone, and die alone.
All images used by permission of the artist.