The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Thursday, December 2, 2021

Mike Cloud: Painting outside the safe space
Mike Cloud’s 2013 painting “Removed Individual” at a White Columns exhibition in New York in 2015. Sheltering at home, the Chicago artist is attending to works in progress. Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times.

by Will Heinrich

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- As the lockdown stretches into another month, we’ve checked in on artists to ask how quarantining is affecting their studio practice. For some, the present emergency has spurred unlikely new ways of working. For others, it’s grinding work to a halt, whether for logistical reasons or just for emotional ones.

Mike Cloud, an abstract painter with a Yale MFA who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, falls somewhere in the middle. Cloud is known for applying bold colors to unusually shaped canvases, as well as for discreetly provocative gestures, like his “Hanging” paintings, a series of triangular constructions draped with small nooses. He spoke to me by FaceTime from the Chicago home he shares with his wife, the artist Nyeema Morgan, and their two children.

These are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Q: What inspires you to paint during a pandemic?

A: Painting right now feels like the most important thing I can do aside from taking care of myself and keeping my family healthy. Even the greatest paintings in history must have seemed trivial in comparison to the workaday struggles surrounding their creation. On the day Rembrandt was painting “The Night Watch,” or Hokusai was painting “The Great Wave of Kanagawa,” there must have been some contract being signed in a wool guild that would impact the livelihoods of hundreds of people, or some trial going on in a courthouse where someone’s life hung in the balance. But from our perspective, 200 years later, those lives and livelihoods are lost no matter what. Painting is a way to make things keep mattering beyond the immediate.

Q: So what are you painting now?

A: Well, the way that I make paintings is, I make them in small groups of four or five, maybe six — and each painting is different. I start with the Star of David painting and they kind of get more complex in shape.

Q: Why a Star of David?

A: You know, I went to a show, and there was this big painting, maybe it was 20 feet long and 10 feet tall or something, and it was an ocean. But it doesn’t even matter what it was a painting of, because it was just about how awesome painting is. At that scale, that’s all a painting can be about.

I was curious about how to get past a “victory of abstraction” as a kind of narrative in the way we understand painting. I thought of going back to World War II, and the idea of survival — that survival is actually a synthesis between winning and losing. So I made this painting that’s 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide, and it’s two Stars of David. It’s called “Removed Individual.” And maybe somebody liked it, or they didn’t like it, but nobody ever thought it was about how awesome painting was.

Q: You’re referring to the badge Jews were made to wear in Nazi Germany, and you’ve talked about how the yellow star, pink triangle and other symbols used in Nazi concentration camps resonate with the simple geometries of modern art. What is it about that comparison that strikes you?

A: Well, the way I was taught abstraction was that it was kind of a safe space for painters, it was a retreat from meaning. You know, Freud called abstraction “uncontentious.” But when I went into that space and picked up those tools, it was obvious that they had a history as weapons.

Q: How do you feel about picking up those weapons of abstraction?

A: There’s nothing else to pick up!

Q: So you start with a Star of David painting …

A: The first thing I do is I build them, to be some shape or form, and then I paint them to be a [single] color, and then I presumably paint image or text or some such thing on them. But right now I don’t really feel like painting yet, so they’re remaining monochromes longer than they usually do. I have no idea what they’ll be as paintings, but … you know, I’m in more of an emotional flux, I suppose.

Q: Because of quarantine?

A: I’m realizing how much of our civilization is based on child care.

Q: You and your wife are at home with two kids?

A: They’re about to be 3 and 5.

Q: So how do you get any work done? You take turns?

A: We both teach. I teach on Monday and Tuesday, she teaches Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. When the weather permits we go outside and play in the dirt.

Q: When something frightening is happening, I find it hard to focus on art. Is there anything you’re doing to help you concentrate?

A: Nothing really helps me to concentrate on painting. It’s the other way around: Painting helps me concentrate on the other aspects of life. It emotionally organizes my thoughts and allows me to externalize and reflect on my emotional engagements. Sometimes artists confess that they have trouble making art when they’re in difficult emotional places, but in my experience, they’re going about it the wrong way. Painting isn’t something I only do when I feel good and focused, it’s what I need to do in order to feel good and focused.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

Today's News

May 8, 2020

New technologies virtually reconstruct the pre-hispanic city of Tingambato

Phillips unveils two rare masterpieces by Zao Wou-Ki from the artist's Hurricane Period

Banksy tribute to UK health service displayed in hospital

Greece to reopen museums mid-June: minister

Mike Cloud: Painting outside the safe space

Christie's Andy Warhol: Better Days totals $272,125

Natural History Museum slashing staff with layoffs and furloughs

Christie's and China Guardian to jointly present first collaboration this September

Macron pledges to help France's paralysed arts sector

Stamps mark centennial of influential Canadian art school

Rodney Graham unveils a new series of paintings in Lisson Gallery online-only exhibition

Brooklyn Bridge, star of the city: Here's a tour

Small clubs are where rock history is made. How many will survive?

Stanley Moser, virtuoso encyclopedia marketer, dies at 88

Why 'Do the Right Thing' is still a great movie

The Sheldon Mayer Estate featuring Sugar and Spike & many of his earliest works sells for $284,452

11-year old London girl scoops inaugural Bourlet Young Masters Art Prize with still life painting

Rosalind Elias, a popular American mezzo-soprano, dies at 90

Lockdown movie strikes eerie note at German virtual film festival

How will European tourism survive the virus?

Bridge Ahead Initiative supports Art Bridges partners during COVID-19 pandemic

Coins from thousands of years ago being auctioned

New public artwork at London's Wembley Park raising awareness about mental health

Single owner collection of English coins fetches almost £70,000 at Dix Noonan Webb

Café Jacquemart-André: A Parisian Tea Room as an Ode To Belle Époque

How to file an injury claim after an accident

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful