For Artspeak’s Artist Survey, our publishing director Atesh M. Gundogdu emailed some of his favorite artists few questions. He asked them about their exhibitions, their thoughts and some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Michelle Doll for the upcoming exhibition “"As Above, So Below"
Atesh M. Gundogdu: To begin, can you describe your studio space?
Michelle Doll: I’m grateful to have an awesome 1100 ft square space located in an old Leather Factory in Hoboken, NJ. It’s a typical bare bone NYC style artist studio space with high ceilings, concrete floors, frosted chicken wired factory windows with a door that opens onto a fire escape with an amazing view of downtown Manhattan. I leave the door open in the warmer weather and feel connected to the NYC vibe. I’ll look out and see cruise ships floating across the Hudson River, or, like a couple days ago witness a full blown thunderstorm turn into a sunny day with a full double rainbow cast over the NYC skyline. It’s been very inspiring to paint with this visual energy connection going on.
AMG: Why painting?
MD: Hmm, yes, I ask myself this question when I’m feeling the existential angst of life. A life dedicated to painting seems illogical to me at times it’s not always the easiest path, but it feels so right to me and has always been the context to express myself with substance. I’ve felt drawn to it, literally and figuratively to the substance of paint since a young age. I’m also attracted to the feeling of loosing myself in the experience of painting. The ritual of painting has taught me so much about being present and the power of focus. It’s similar to a Zen Garden. It’s a place to immerse myself in ideas and contemplate life. I’ve always felt compelled to interpret my surroundings through the acts of both drawing and painting. It has always felt like my safe space. And a space to escape and create and render a life for myself that always felt good and safe.
AMG: What was the impetus for "As Above, So Below”?
MD: When I initially began painting this series my intent was to create a vision of what I wanted to experience in my own life. In one sense, the new work was intended as a series of meditations on the energy of love and human connection.
In the literal sense, when I am structuring my compositions, I am situated above my models whom I observe below me either in some embrace or acting out some authentic moment. From above I observe these moments until I feel a connection and then I take a snapshot.
When I was painting I would think about my connection to those moments and those ideas grew into ideas about the microcosmic individual and the macrocosmic universal whole. There is a divine reflection in those cosmic scales. There have been many esoteric philosophers over the eons who have illustrated this concept through stories about divine connections between the heavens and the Earth and the relationship between spiritual and material worlds. They knew that the micro world affects the macro because these are not separate things but two perspectives of the one whole. For example, I work with couples and families that I personally know. They are real couples in real relationships. Working with couples and families takes an extraordinary amount of trust and vulnerability- sharing their intimate lives with me and allowing it to be viewed. I’m affected by the experiences and grateful and I try and to bring that beautiful positive energy into both the paintings and my life. I’m capturing these powerful moments and meditating on them and visualizing my own desires for love and harmony, which, through the process of this series has come to manifest in my life in so many ways. I felt like “As Above, So Below” pretty accurately encapsulates all of those thoughts.
AMG: What is the relationship in your work between meaning and aesthetics?
MD: I feel that the more I understand about myself, my desires and the world around me the more I want to paint about the beauty and energy of life. This isn’t to escape the ugly or turn my eyes from the troubles of the world. Like many artists I have a propensity towards depression and can find myself easily skipping down rabbit holes of dark thoughts when I feel overwhelmed by destructive energies.
Therefore my paintings can be thought of as intentional meditations on feelings of love and celebrations of the creative force. It feels important to render those ideas in a real and honest way. To be authentic I think the concept needs to be reflected in the rendering style and the aesthetic into the meaning. When I work in the sometimes meticulous way I do, I ask myself, “What does it feel like to be in a healthy loving, intimate moment?”. But I also wonder, “What does the fabric feel like?” Or, “How would the warmth of a breath feel across the skin of a neck or how the weight of the flesh would feel folded or laying across another body? These are the intimate details of the sacred and beautiful moments of our lives. I sometimes imagine that in the final moments of my life, I will recall all these intimate, loving moments and there find a comfortable peace. These intimate feelings will be what mattered most. They require a certain attention and respect in regard to the message.
AMG: What do you think is more important in life: Self-actualization or making art?
MD: I definitely feel like self-actualization is most important but art has played such a major part in helping me to become the person I am today that, at least in my experience, one can self-actualize through the practice of creating art.
AMG: What images keep you company in the space where you work?
MD: Currently I’m surrounded by the paintings on my studio walls that I’ve created over this past year for my show that is about to open at Lyons Wier Gallery on September 5. My taboret, coffee table, desk and floor are littered with the opened art books of Mary Cassatt, Lucien Freud, DaVinci, Rembrandt and a book called “From Van Eyck to Bruegel” which has some masterfully inspiring Mother and Child paintings.
AMG: What songs/albums are on your playlist nowadays?
MD: The Best of the Pretenders has been a go to lately and Paul Simon’s Graceland is a summertime vibe favorite. I’m incredibly embarrassed to say… Remixes Classics: from old to new (LOL) has been getting me through the dog days and late night deadline hours. Crank it up and I can get into a rhythm!
AMG: Any advice or lessons you’ve learned?
MD: The mind chatter can be overwhelming for an artist while creating alone in a studio for hours everyday. Meditation plays a huge part in my life. When I feel tired, emotionally overwhelmed or stressed, I sit for at least 20 mins, clear my mind and center on gratitude. It’s been one of the greatest gifts. And the meditation rolls over into the process of creating a painting. I think of painting as a meditation and do my best to be fully conscious and present in the moment. Some days, I might need to step away many times and meditate to re-center.
AMG: Questions i cant answer.?
MD: So many questions, of course. Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? But the mystery is what makes this human experience so beautiful and precious. The downs make the ups even more beautiful. So, maybe we are here to experience those glimmers of beauty and create more of it?