A man’s life is nothing but an extended trek through the detours of art to recapture those one or two moments when his heart first opened.Albert Camus
I’ve always been amazed at how humanity throughout history has tried to capture or express ideas, share beauty or spirituality, and strive to make permanent some concept through building, craft or art. Whether it is a carved wooden totem pole or giant pyramid, an assembly of 20-ton stones in a circle, a coliseum or temple, or a cathedral filled with frescoes, I stand in awe and bow in appreciation of the effort. For me, a way to get closer to all this is by participation to the extent I can. It’s kind of like music which I love in the same way. I play flute, and have been playing for decades. It’s my way of participating, attempting bits and pieces of classical works, learning pop and show tunes, but I’d never call myself a musician. So in this way, I don’t think of myself as an artist and I’m sharing here my journey of participation in the arts.
This is an offshoot of my foray into watercolors. I had signed up for a drawing course with Matthias Adolfsson, and he introduced me to the necessity of a sketchbook. In another course, by Alicia Aradilla, she introduced me to concept of the watercolor travel journal. In two more courses by Felix Scheinberger and by Lapin, the concepts were reinforced and the idea of urban sketching took hold of me.
All of these influential teachers gave me a sense of direction in watercolors. I did not have to create large masterpieces with commercial aims, but I was given permission to create miniature watercolor paintings for my own joy, I was taught a way to go more deeply into my travel experiences, and I could continue to challenge myself in developing skills in this new medium.
Working in watercolor is a very recent endeavor for me (started Oct 22, 2020), which I’m sharing just to show my evolution in the medium. Why did I start doing watercolors? I had to create some science based illustrations for a course I was designing, and using watercolor seemed the best way to add color to my drawings. But I so much enjoyed the process that I forayed into other subjects, and realized I could actually take great joy in drawing and painting.
The learning curve in watercolors is loaded with progress in every painting. Some of the subjects are copied from my own photos, some from stock photos, others from online art course assignments, and a few from online video tutorials. I’m still learning how to use watercolors, struggling not to approach each work like I’m using acrylics or oils, forbidding myself to use white paint. I have yet to get the real sense of watercolor, and my goal is to progress towards that loose and flowing style which implies rather than delineates. I don’t know how long it will take to get there as I continue to learn about the medium itself.
Puzzle Pieces of Art
In a dream, I saw the image of a city where children were holding up a giant puzzle piece. This piece was missing from the cityscape scene and the children were trying to put it back in place. I knew I had to paint giant puzzle pieces. I began with a games piece, where the puzzle piece was part of a game in itself. Then I realized that the puzzle piece could be a “piece of art,” so I used impressionist paintings as my puzzles from which I would choose a single piece to paint in large size. The idea was to show how one small piece of Impressionist art can convey the sense of whole. This acts as a bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Impressionism.
Once I began creating “pieces of art” as puzzle pieces, I obtained a patent for this unique type of art. It’s not a design patent, but a utility patent. This type of patent protects not a single design idea, but the entire concept of “a piece of art” where a work has a piece missing and it is displayed enlarged beside the work.
In my creative process, I also used the missing piece concept to make statements about contemporary life, science, technology, politics, and conservation. In one piece I returned again to the magic theme, this time Houdini escapes from the puzzle in a missing piece. That piece, publicized in several trade magazines, sold at an auction. I returned to a religious themed piece in my “Genesis” piece. It depicts the earth, moon, and sun at the time of creation, in photo-negative colors. When you stare at the piece for 30 seconds and then look at a white wall, you see it as the blackness of space with heavenly bodies correctly colored. This Genesis piece was purchased by a transportation company of the same name for their front office. I did several medical pieces using ultrasound, photographs, and X-Ray images, and sold one of these to a dentist. I created about 30 pieces over a 10 year period from 1979 to 1989.
Misc Works on canvas and masonite in oil, acrylic, or gesso
The first oil on canvas painting I ever did was a magic-themed piece, showing the classic elements used in this form of popular entertainment. I juxtaposed and exaggerated angles and shapes to represent the confusion on which magicians rely to create their effects. The butterfly paintings were all attempts to create a 3-D effect by using complementary colors in background and butterfly, with a shadow to enhance the pop-out illusion of the butterfly floating above the canvas.
The kite piece was my take on spirituality through my own version of Pop-Art. Instead of a canvas stretched on a traditional rectangular frame, I cut and sewed a canvas in the shape of a paper kite, and stretched it on a cross-bar kite-frame. The painting represents human striving towards higher consciousness and includes symbols of the cross (the wood frame itself) and trinity, Yin/Yang symbol, Star of David, Ra the Sun God, Heaven, clouds of thought passing through the mind in meditation, and the form of the work itself in its function as a kite. It’s in a private collection.
The long horizontal piece reflects where I am at spiritually. This piece depicts a series of famous woodcuts of “The Ten Bulls.” It is a story of the journey towards awakening. For color, I added Hokusai’s “Wave,” which for me represents unified consciousness as the ocean and each of us individual droplets or waves. This piece is in the private collection of a friend.
The reproduction of a cave painting was the first major painting I did which was not on canvas. I used Masonite, and textured it heavily with gesso and plaster, then chipped and cracked it for an authentic aged look. I leaned heavily on imagery from the caves at Lascaux, France, and added my own symbolism. One prominent example of this is the shadow in the shape of Africa, inspired by my recent return from that continent after a year living in the wild working at a chimpanzee rescue project. This primitive painting sold at a gallery show, and that took me in a new direction in art, large mixed media pieces, aged and textured to authentically capture ancient history.
Fascinated with the Egyptian style of art, I began simply by painting an Egyptian interior wall mural. This which was featured in 1001 Decorating Ideas Magazine. Coincidentally, the exhibition of The Treasures of Tutankhamen exhibit was about to tour the USA, so I saw that as a good opportunity to do much more Egyptian art.
I contacted the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and asked if they would be interested in lifelike reproductions for their gift shop- to tie in with the exhibit. When they said yes, and were excited about the idea, I contacted the major department store in Chicago and asked if they would be interested in a life-size reproduction of the north wall of King Tut’s tomb. They loved the idea, so I contacted the director of Egyptology at The Field Museum in Chicago and borrowed a negative of the photo taken by photographer Harry Burton for Howard Carter who discovered the tomb in 1922. I made a print from the negative, and created a series of reproductions, large and small.
I then created a line of Egyptian themed designer stationery which I sold to the museum gift shops and department stores nationwide. I was contacted by a large commercial art wholesaler who then commissioned me to do a series of stylized Egyptian images which were sold as gold framed prints nationwide in upscale department stores, and titled The Treasures of Michael Shaw. Due to the publicity, I was also privately commissioned to do a large piece, which I loaded with symbolism documenting the political events of the current time. After the exhibition, my life size reproduction of the north wall was taken by the museum at the University of Pennsylvania.