Visiting an artist’s studio is so much more than just viewing a creative workspace. A studio, for many, is another home. It’s where creativity flows the freest, where frustration grows the most intense, and where we, as artists, can fully be submerged in our emotional and physical processes. A studio can be a very private and intimate space. So, being invited into another’s creative world is an honor.
It is with great excitement that I continue my “Inside The Studio” interview series. As The Art Is Not Dead primarily focuses on Philadelphia’s creative landscape, so will these interviews. Inside The Studio will take a glimpse behind the doors of creative spaces and give a little insight on some of the work you see around this city. I am thrilled to introduce you to Michael Weaver.
The Art Is Not Dead: Please tell our readers a little bit about you.
Michael Weaver: “I grew up not too far from Philly in Pottstown. I was always an art kid throughout school. I took home a bunch of art awards during that time thanks to an awesome network of art teachers including Beth Yoder who was my elementary art teacher. She really made art interesting and gave me the drive that I have today.”
What brought you to the Philadelphia area?
“Honestly, it was all work that brought me here. I was working as a substitute teacher in my hometown for almost four years until I got a job just outside the city limits working for a tech support company. I went to a few of the art opening early on but never went beyond that. I never truly got involved in the Philly art scene until I found a random Facebook event for something called Drawnk East hosted by some guy named Steve Cleff at one of my favorite bars. I took a chance and drove down to South Street, paid $20 to park (this was before I knew the benefit of mass transit), and went to meet a few strangers at a bar.”
Do you have any favorite spaces (exhibition, shops, coffee, food, etc)?
I am a donut fiend when it comes to the city. I love Federal Donuts, but I’ve been really singing the praises of Dottie’s. And out in Springfield, you got Sweet Taco. Gotta love a place where you can get a beer, a margarita, tacos and donuts. Whenever I get a free day to just roam the city I’m normally down at Reading Terminal Market. I generally hit up Hershel’s or Meltkraft when I’m there but it’s great to know that you could go there and get something different every time you’re there.
Tattooed Moms is a staple, not only for Drawnk East but just for the awesome atmosphere and those perogies. Food and this city are a big thing for me.
Repo Records and Main Street Music are my other staples to pick up some new vinyl or troll through the $1 record bins.”
Favorite parts of the city?
“Old City, South Street, Manayunk, and my now neighborhood of Overbrook.
There are so many great areas of the city. I honestly just love getting days when I can hop the train in to a different area and just roam.”
What does your artistic background look like?
“I took that artistic inspiration from Beth Yoder and my other art teachers to Kutztown University, where all my art teachers graduated from, and enrolled in their Art Education program. It never occurred to me to be an artist as a profession. I always wanted to apply it to teaching. During my time at Kutztown, my Introduction to 3D Design professor, Rick Salafia, challenged our class with the question of why has no one in the class of educators, communication designers, and others ever considered just the practice of making art as a career. Not for advertisement, not for education purposes, but just making art for the sake of making art. It dawned on me there that he was right, there was no good reason to not just make art for the enjoyment of making art.
I not only finished my Art Education degree but I picked up a second degree in Crafts with a concentration in Fibers. Barbara Schulman was the professor that introduced me to traditional weaving and eventually the art of embroidery. It was there that I applied that traditional craft of embroidery to an early print I created which started the long trip to where I am now.”
Why have you chosen to pursue being an artist?
“Art has always been a constant presence in my life. It was inevitable that art would play a part in my career at some point. Either through the education path or the creation path. I was lucky enough to have some amazing teachers and a family that wanted to see me succeed at whatever I decided.”
Explain a bit about your work (past present future or all) and the processes you use to create them with.
“Two constants that I’ve always utilized are embroidery and bones. A lot of the drawing and painting of skulls came from the love of a lot of high school punks just doodling them on their notebooks. But really, Beth Yoder introduced me to Georgia O’Keefe at a young age and her skull pieces really got me into using skulls in my art.
A lot of my early stuff included anatomy studies in a lot of my pieces and for a brief stint I got really into the Day of the Dead sugar skull motif and portraiture. Neither of those lasted very long. I revisited animal skulls about five years ago and really got into the morphology of the different species and I hit the ground running with that.
The mushrooms came in after as a new layer on top of the skulls to push them even further. I always loved the amazing floral bouquets that some artists use, but painting flowers felt too cliché for me. I began looking more into mushrooms and the different types that are out there. There are so many different types that are just a beautiful as flowers.
As far as the embroidery goes, I always wanted to incorporate something different into my paintings. I wanted something that would stand out. Embroidery felt so natural for the pieces with my fibers background and it clicked fully when I took one of my first embroidered pieces on wood to a Drawnk event and proceeded to see the collective faces of shock and awe as I pulled out my needle and thread as everyone else was painting and drawing. Everybody’s reaction was awesome, but I think Buddy Nestor’s reaction was the best. I could see his brain physically attempt to process what he was seeing and it was fun as hell to witness.”
What are some of your favorite artists?
“Georgia O’Keefe, Conor Harrington, Supakitch, Cryptek, Caitlin Hackett, Nychos, Alex Pardee, Kelly McKernan, Aryz, Tiffany Bozic, Mary Iverson, Sage Vaughn, Jenny Morgan, Swoon, Skinner, Odd Nerdrum, Low Bros, Greg Simkins, Casey Weldon, John Dyer Baizley, and Audrey Kawasaki.
Just to name a few.”
Favorite local artists?
“Paul Romano, Maria Teicher, Joka, Robert Kraiza, Darla Jackson, Buddy Nestor, Rachael Bridge, Jeremy Hush, Michelle Avery Konczyk, Fred Grabosky, Steve Cleff, Caitlin McCormack, Kat Gun, Alex Eckman-Lawn, and Gina Altadonna.
This is a weird one, because most of them I no longer really see as favorite artists, but as friends and colleagues now from things like Drawnk, going to shows, engaging in critiques. Case in point, Maria’s solo show opening I was there with my girlfriend and we were both enjoying the show and then we realize that she was there. I wanted to say hi but was super anxious about introducing myself because she was constantly surrounded by people and was this artistic enigma to me. Nikita gave me the push to approach her and we got to chatting and low and behold… she was a normal human being like me. There was nothing to be anxious about all along.”
How important is your studio space to your creative practice?
“I need the space to be able to escape the day and really dial in on my work. Its even more important that I have my home studio. I can still enjoy all my home creature comforts, but I can escape everything else…except the cats. They go where they please.”
Are you organized or messy?
“I like to think of is as an organized mess.”
Do you have any studio routines or rituals?
“I’ll generally grab a cup of tea (or coffee if it’s a morning studio session), turn on some music and get to work. Nothing fancy, just nose to the grindstone.
It will be an almost guarantee that one of my cats, Eris or Freya, will come in to bother me for about an hour and then crash on the studio sofa.”
Do you listen to the radio or music while creating? If so, what are your favorites?
“Always. The type of music really depends on what stage of the process I’m working on piece. When I’m laying down the initial blocks of color on the panel I like to keep it a lot more high energy. When I’m really focusing in on the rendered details, I’ll keep it low key.
The current rotation includes: Baroness, Aesop Rock, Alabama Shakes, Mastodon, Gaslight Anthem, Trampled by Turtles, Evergreen Terrace, Watsky, Torche, Wolfmother, ZZ Ward, Death Cab for Cutie.
My music tastes tend to be all over the place.”
Is there anything you keep in your studio for luck or inspiration?
“My growing skull collection which tends to grow by two or three after every Punk Rock Flea Market I go to in the city. My current favorite out of those is my barracuda skull. It’s the most different from the rest and the structure of it is amazing.
I got my small library of reference books, art books and magazines.
One thing that has been with me since college is a shamrock hex sign I picked up at the Kutztown Folk Festival. It was in my old apartment right above the door of my studio and it moved with me and is in the same place here in the studio. I don’t know if I’d say it was there for luck, but its one of those things that I need in my studio to make it feel like my own.”
Do you work on several projects at a time or just one?
“Several. I like to jump between pieces so if I ever get the feeling of stagnation on a piece I can step away from it and work on something else for a bit.”
How long does a piece take you to complete?
“Could take a few months or a few weeks. Really comes down to how much I’m enjoying the current piece and how elaborate of a piece I’m working on.”
Any favorite tools or tricks of the trade that have helped move your work forward?
“A handheld drill I got from my father. A lot of my work was originally done on paper or canvas due the ease of how they can be embroidered. No extra tools, just the worry of the occasional rip in the paper which was generally fixed by some tape on the back of the piece to reinforce the ripped area.
I picked up a wood panel one day just on a whim to see how it would accept the paint and then I realized I wanted the embroider it as well. Couldn’t have done that without my tracing paper and drill. From that point forward, all my pieces have exclusively been done on wood panels.
I like to keep the wood grain visible because it just adds another layer to the piece and I love the way it plays against the paint and embroidery.”
Any advice for young artists?
“When you come across an invite to meet a bunch of strangers/artists at a bar to drink and draw together…do it. I can’t even begin to describe the friendships and colleagues I’ve made since taking that dive.
Also, introduce yourself to the artists at gallery openings and talk to them. They are normal human beings and they want to talk to you about art, life, and anything else. You never know who you’ll meet there that will become a good friend in the future.”
What do you have on the table coming up?
“I’m currently working on a piece for Statix Gallery in Seattle. The show is organized by Casey Weldon and its part of the Drawnk collective out there on the west coast. I’ve also got a few concepts I’m working on for small works for La Luz de Jesus Coaster show and two shows at Gristle Gallery later this year.”
Where can we see your work in person? Online?
I currently have a few pieces on display at the Saloon Gallery in Seattle. My next show is Floriography at Gristle Gallery in Brooklyn. This is going to be my first showing with them and I’m excited to join up with Gristle and the other amazing artists I’ll be showing with. The show opens March 10th and runs until May 5th.
all photos copyright Maria Teicher at The Art Is Not Dead.