The Visit

An Interview with Michael Powell

Michael PowellDuring Miami’s Art Week, Tropicult announced the latest digital takeover project

The Visit  — a universal collaborative canvas, inspired by the luminarie works of Pablo Picasso.  

Meet the man behind the canvas, Michael Powell.

Why do you do what you do?

It made me do it.

How do you work?

I do a lot of work in my head. Then I iterate until I find a nugget of something interesting that becomes the project. Once the motivations, trajectory and internal history of the project become clear the work flows from there.

What’s integral to the work you do? Did you learn to code to animate your art or was it programming that inspired you to create interactive digital artwork?

At best I am interested in code or at least curious enough to play and ignorant enough to not know the rules. Sometimes that works out, and in other cases I have to find people who know what they are doing. I collaborate a lot in my work and projects like this would not happen without help from programmers. Interaction and collaboration are major components of many of my projects.

How has your practice change over time? Have you always been a digital artist?

I have been doing basic digital design to pay the bills since college, but I was initially trained in painting and in Book Arts (artist books, printmaking, paper making). Later my work was focused on essay films and video art. But nothing is separate. Most of my projects are materially diverse–but that materiality is always in service of an economy of form–the right tool for the job.

What/who inspired you to create this artwork?

I grew up watching The Mystery of Picasso, a documentary that was made famous for it’s use of Picasso painting in front of the camera on glass, and I love the experience of him painting right on the other side of the screen. The screen becomes a portal in so many ways. It turns out that the film completely steals this conceit from an earlier documentary called A Visit with Picasso, which ultimately became my source. 

What research to you do? How did you begin the project?

I immediately wanted to make my relationship with Picasso active rather than passive–more like a conversation – and then it occurred to me that viewers should be able to share that experience as well. Then it was about doing research into what code was out there in the public domain that I could use, alter, etc.

How would you like see the project this develop?

It already has. Omg. After this project was underway a whole new body of work began developing around the painting/video relationship. I don’t want to say more quite yet-I’m still very much in the selfish phase of the work.

Professionally, what’s your ultimate goal?

I was giving a small lecture at a university recently and I was talking a lot about my belief that art-making has to involve transformation of some kind, and that maybe the goal of art is to return contemporary experience to a state of magic or of the poetic. A colleague of mine who was in the audience remarked that he thought any medium, taken to its ultimate or logical extreme may be indistinguishable from magic. I like that.

What advice / lesson would you give yourself if you could go back and time and talk to your teenage self?

I would probably tell myself that “participation is always optional”, which is something I still tell myself as both a mantra and a challenge.

Created by Michael Powell, artist and cultural instigator based in St. Louis, MO. He received his BA from UC Santa Barbara, MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. His work, described by St. Louis Public Radio as a “captivating soup of cosmic dreaming and reality testing,” incorporates video, artist books, installation, performance and the web. Powell is also the founding director of a number of arts initiatives throughout the country, including the peer-review online publication, Uncompromising Tang, The Transversal Project, and The International Artserve (Spring 2016). Computer Science Advisors: Emma Powell, Sunny Rajan. CS Collaborator: Jess Peterson.