AN INTERVIEW WITH GARRY MCMICHAEL
How long have you been an artist?
Since the day I could scribble with a pencil or a crayon. I have photos of myself with a Kodak Brownie hanging around my neck when I was nine. I took my camera everywhere. When I was in high school I illustrated a student literary book, VIGNETTES, with my drawings. I really liked being a student photographer; it gave me the opportunity to get out of class to take photos of other students and activities for the yearbook. I discovered a camera in my hands was like wearing a protective coat of armor. Photography helped me to overcome my shyness, approach other students, especially girls, and develop relationship skills that many students don’t learn until later in life.
Photography also helped me to develop a life-long love for the outdoors, nature and the Missouri/Arkansas Ozarks in particular. Today the Ozark landscape is an integral part of my art. Our clear running streams and green-forested hills are a treasure to behold and a challenge to paint.
What is your day job?
I have been an editorial and commercial photographer all of my life. I have worked as a freelancer for numerous national publications such as NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, TIME, NEWSWEEK, FORBES, BICYCLING, and dozens of others. Today most of my work is for commercial clients creating annual report photography, brochures and catalogs. Computers and digital photography has flipped the commercial photography business on its head. Instead of just doing photography I find myself taking a commercial project from concept through the graphic design stage, directly to the printer and delivering the completed project to the client. Today, I find myself developing websites and e-mail marketing for clients. Commercial photographers starting out today must have full range of computer skills, need to know how to do graphic design, create a website and work with commercial printers.
What kind of art do you make?
I create fine art photography, drawings and paintings in oil, acrylic and pastels. I find my fine art today is really a counter balance to my high tech day work, and oil and acrylic have become my medium of choice. Applying a rich pigment of paint across a gessoed board is such a different emotion from the tedium of working all day behind a camera or on a computer. As an editorial and commercial photographer my vision has always been grounded in reality and fine detail. Painting allows me release a lot of pent up emotions and work more from my imagination. I would like my art to become more painterly but I love my contemporary, photorealistic art.
Where do you get your inspiration?
When I was young, my artistic inspiration came from nature and living in the heart of the Ozarks. But now, much of my inspiration comes from my family, friends and fellow artists. I’m coming to realize there is as much beauty in my back yard, my grandfathers barn, and the local farmer's market as there is in a thousand acres of hill-covered forests.
What is your proudest artistic accomplishment?
My next one, of course. I don’t live in the past. I want to keep learning, experimenting, playing and pushing my art and myself. For three years now I have been painting a body of work called “Mystic Cairns” and it is interesting to see how this series keeps evolving.
Why do you make art?
I often tell friends I make art because it’s cheaper than seeing a psychiatrist. There is lot of truth in that statement. All day I run a professional commercial photography studio and can I feel my stress level rise throughout the day. Every evening I go into my studio, turn on the music and start painting. The next thing I know, three, four or more hours have passed and my stress disappears.
Who are your greatest artistic influences?
When I was a young photographer I was greatly influenced by the nature photography of Eliot Porter. I would spend hours studying his work in a series of Sierra Club books, In Wilderness is The Preservation of the World and Summer Island. The Hudson River School artists heavily influence my painting. I would dearly love to have experienced the forested Ozarks back in the early to mid-1800’s like the Hudson School Painters experienced New England and upper New York. The works of George Innness and Asher B. Durand especially impress me. When it comes to capturing the color of the American West few artists surpass Thomas Moran. I’ll never forget the first time I saw one of his original western sunsets at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. I was stunned by its beauty. I couldn’t make myself leave the gallery. I stared at it for hours. Among contemporary painters I’m particularly influenced by the highly original pastel techniques of Bill Creevy and I greatly admire the originality of Richard McKinley. The way McKinley allows the underpainting to influence the mood of his pastel and oil landscapes is magic.
An interesting article about Garry McMichael and the development of his art appeared on the Artsyshark Blog. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE BLOG.