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Art & Life with Mike Whiting

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike Whiting.

Mike, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
Drawing and making objects is just something that I have always done. In third grade I would trade drawings of horses for erasers and scratch and sniff stickers. I was always building things too. In high school I worked construction during the summers. I went to college to study painting. When I took my first sculpture class it all came together- the art and the building things. In some ways my sculptures are still paintings. They are like shaped canvases. They always have one side that is completely flat. That shape is extruded into the depth of the object it represents. And they are all painted with automotive paint.

Like most kids, cartoons and video games were my first aesthetic experiences followed later by modern art and minimalism. Out of chronological order but that’s how I experienced it. While I was in grad school at Pratt I came across a painting in the MoMA that I was sure was about pixels and 80s video games. The painting turned out to be Mondrian’s ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’ painted in 1943 and it was definitely not about pixels. That misreading of the painting got me thinking about the visual connection between reductive art, minimalism, and 80s pixilated images. My work explores that visual overlap.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
My sculptures are somewhere between 60s minimalist sculpture and 80s pixelated video game images. They are usually based on nature or everyday objects. I draw them out first in Microsoft Paint- Zooming in 800 percent and using the fewest squares possible to represent the object. For the most part they are made of steel and automotive paint. They are cut from plates of steel and I box form them into these extruded forms. The automotive paint is distressed giving them the feel of an old pick-up truck, something that’s been around for a while. It gives them a sense of history, a visual clue of the movements and ideas that came before them.

The sculptures function on different levels. Some people really get into the 8bit pixelated thing. Some just appreciate the craftsmanship and connections to modernist and minimalist sculpture. For me the interesting thing is the intersection of these ideas- The visual similarities between the pixelated image and the use of the square in minimalist art. The way the pixel creates an image between representation and abstraction. The physicality of the materials, materials traditionally used in modern sculpture, to make these digital images real.

I work a lot doing public art. It’s a bit of a different process than my normal studio work. I’m constantly applying for these projects. I’ve learned a lot working with planners, contractors, architects, and engineers. To build and install public sculpture there is a lot of collaboration that goes on. The thing that really appeals to me about the public work is once it’s installed it’s out there and available to everyone. They are not these precious objects that no one can touch. They get climbed on, tagged, weathered, repainted and the process starts over. They get to be used by everyone and get these really great patinas.

Any advice for aspiring or new artists?
I had a professor in undergraduate school who gave me the advice “if you can think of any other profession you can do…. do that” Art is a tough gig and there is really no one roadmap to follow. Help each other out. Art is not a competitive thing. There is a lot that comes from supporting and collaborating with others. It can sharpen your focus or help you find a new road to follow. Don’t wait around. Make your own scene. I wanted to make public work so I started making larger works and installing them in spaces myself. If you want to have a show of your work, make the work and hang it up somewhere. Keep at it. Work and persistence pay off.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
You can see my work online of course, my website, Instagram, etc. I have a big show of outdoor work at the Denver Botanic Gardens through September if you happen to be out that way. There are 13 sculptures installed throughout the gardens. It’s pretty amazing. I have a pixelated cactus installed right in the middle of the desert gardens, a deer in the oak grove, a garden gnome, etc.

You can see my permanent public sculptures in Long Beach, Denver, Seattle, Salt Lake, Albuquerque and Lansing, MI. Close by, I have 2 sculptures hanging out at ‘A Ship in the Woods’ in Escondido. They are down a little path near the stream there. And there are always a few projects going on in my studio in San Marcos.

The best way to support my work is the best way to support the arts in general- get involved in your local art scene. Go to openings, buy work from local artists. Support public art on the national and local level. Many cities have amazing percent for the art programs that help realize projects in public spaces. We need more of that.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Scott Dressel-Martin, Wes Magyar, Stephanie Whiting, Mike Whiting.

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