About a year ago, someone said "you should paint Donald Trump" and I said there is no way in hell I would do that. I considered the controversy, the comments and the backlash. This subject is so polarizing in the US and globally. I did not want to be in the middle of it.
Then in March, one of my best collectors, who owns four of my paintings, said he wanted me to paint some paintings for him and one of them was Donald Trump. So I said "yes." I thought, well I won't be making a political statement....it's just business.
This painting took three months. It is in my usual style; oil on canvas with mixed media and is three dimensional using tissue paper to create a sculpture on canvas. It is 36" x 48" and protrudes from the canvas about 5".
I wanted this painting in my typical "Michelle Larsen" style but it was imperative it looked just like Donald Trump, so I was meticulous with his features. Yet, I wanted to make him approachable, kind and happy. After all, the buyer was a fan.
My political views are neutral and I never talk politics to anyone. I am grounded and approach this subject more as an observer than a participant. So, when I was painting the Trump painting, I understood clearly that it would become the subject of extreme political controversy, and I would be praised on one hand and loathed on the other. I've always been a person who didn't want to be singled out and I liked being in the shadows of controversial subjects. But, I am at a crossroads now that the painting is completed. I decided to be all in, and commit to "putting it out there." I put the painting on a Facebook group page and the controversial comments commenced. After almost 300 comments later they had to delete the post because people were fighting among themselves about politics. It just made me laugh.
Click here to buy prints of the "Donald Trump" painting.
In 2009, I sold my business of nine years in the gift basket business. Yet, I didn’t really have a plan as to what I wanted to do at 50 years old. I was kind of lost. I had gone to art school to become a sign artist back in the early 80’s, and when sign painting became obsolete with vinyl, I had to recreate myself. I find myself having to rebuild my life once more, yet I felt more like retiring. After a few months of boredom, I signed up for an oil painting class at the local community center.
When I arrived, I noticed everyone had a story as to why they were there, and many were retired and just wanting some recreation. I guess, I was no different. I was shown what supplies to purchase, how to start a painting, what techniques to use, and so on. I really didn’t have a clue how to begin. Mostly everyone selected a landscape as there subject, but I always chose an animal or some obscure object. I never resonated with landscape paintings.
I realized quickly, that I could paint. I was in shock. I had no idea that I had any talent in art except for lettering trucks and sign painting. I went on to take the advance class which included some glazing techniques, and more one on one instruction. The classes were once a week for six weeks. I painted at home as much as I could. I couldn’t stop.
As I progressed in my newly found talent, I noticed the top of my head would pulsate. Sometimes the throbbing would be strong and disruptive. Pulsating is the best way to describe it because it felt like a heartbeat on the very top of my head, encapsulating my entire skull. This continued for about two years. Sometimes it felt stronger than other times, and usually it was more energetic while I was painting. I had a sense I was getting a download from the universe.
I was always attracted to closeups of my subject matter. Maybe it has to do with being in the sign industry and my experience with painting billboards. Landscapes were never part of the plan, I couldn’t even relate to it. Portraits were my favorite subject, but I was not satisfied with the direction I was going with it. My paintings seemed uninteresting and typical. I kept thinking I need to add another layer, something extraordinary, creating movement and a looser stroke. After two weeks of meditating on this, I came up with the tissue paper idea. One morning as I awoke, a light bulb went on… and so it began.
For two years I experimented with the technique, including burning about twelve canvases in my firepit. My earlier paintings had less dimension, and as it advanced, the paintings became sculptures adding more and more layers. Now, a typical painting can protrude about two to three inches from the canvas. I’m still perfecting my method and every painting allows me to push the envelope.
I am extremely grateful for my talent and feel connected to the angelic world since my download of inspiration and creativity. Since then, I meditate regularly and ask for guidance on how to proceed with certain art projects. I will continue to paint for many years to come and you can expect new paintings in the future inspired by the heavens.
Have you seen celebrities on TV wearing some glamorous outrageous outfit? As the viewer, we expect to see this type of dress from them. They are the celebrity and in the public eye. We want to be entertained with our visual senses. It is their obligation as a public figure to give us a dramatic wardrobe display.
In my opinion, as a public artist, we are also obligated to give the public what they are hunger for; a dramatic visual display! I understand some artists are traditional landscape artists, but that does not mean you have to serve up the same hum-drum "seen it before" landscape. Your audience wants "WOW", and that means turn it up a notch. Experiment with bolder color, looser brush strokes, or something that makes your art stand out and says "I am bold, interesting, and have a reason to be in the public eye."
With the visual overload we experience in the world today, it is easy to be over looked or completely invisible to the public eye even if they are standing right in-front of your work. So....BE BOLD!!!
Most buyers are amazed at the intricate detail of the sculpture using tissue paper. When I first began using this technique for my paintings, it was light and sparse. Then, I stepped it up a notch and began creating three dimensional paintings. Now they are truly one of a kind.
Many artists ask me how I create them wanting detailed information on what exactly I use (gel medium,tissue paper, gesso, paint). But, when an artist begins, they soon realize how difficult it is. You can not learn this in any book or video, and over the years I have developed certain ways of twisting and manipulating the tissue to get the result I want.
My sister Sharon, who is a very talented artist, came out to visit and I showed her my technique in person. She was astounded at the difficulty of producing a sculpted canvas. She had no idea what went into the pieces and understood that I was no longer just a painter, but a sculptor.
How long does it take to create the sculpture? This question is asked by many people. It depends on the intricacy of the sculpture and the size. The very small ones, like an 18"x18" can take a full day or longer, and a larger 30"x40" can take two weeks before the painting even begins.
I may have upset the statuesque here in Boise. The galleries in my smallish capital city are mostly co-ops or membership galleries. These galleries usually pop up because traditional galleries are not taking up-and-coming artists and mid career artists. There are a few traditional galleries, but for this size of town that isn’t very many. I have submitted my work for consideration to become a member for all the co-op galleries here in Boise. Not only did I get a NO, I’ve received pure revulsion when it came to critiquing my work. There was no mention that I use tissue paper to sculpt an intricate piece of art. And marginalizing the fact that the paintings are 3D and actually protrude from the canvas. It felt as if it was not a critique at all, but a denouncement.
So I had to ask myself why. Why would a jury for a small town new and mid career art co-op gallery be so repulsed by my art? Especially when the public loves my work with comments like; you are amazing, you have by far the best art at the show, and your work is unbelievable. I even encountered a woman crying while looking at my paintings. I asked her, “why are you crying?” She said, “because your work is so beautiful.” I have also sold art in other galleries and shows all over the nation. My work sells for top dollar and I always have to paint more to keep up with demand.
The only logical answer is I upset the statuesque here in this town. These galleries contain art in many styles, but mostly traditional art. Many of the artists have studied art and have a degree. Many certainly have an idea what art should look like, and my art is so unique it’s hard for them to wrap there head around. As if to say, I don’t acknowledge this as recognizable art, so it’s a NO from me. In most cases I have received a quiet NO. But, in a couple of different showings, I have received jaw dropping criticism. So bad, it took me back a bit. My first thought was “do they do that to everyone?” I don’t think so. I have never heard from any artist (I know many artists in this town) that this has happened to. In fact most artists tell me try it again, it took me a couple of times to get in. Well, if they had received a critique like mine, most artists would have crawled under a rock and gave up art all together. So, I really don’t think they received such a bashing. Besides, I have tried a couple of times, but the critiques get worse the better the artist I become.
My thoughts for the reason this mauling occurred and the constant NOs: My work would elevate the galleries too much and the artists would have to step up their game. If you are an insecure artist or an artist that might not be selling and you have a selling artist that comes in, I would say it might make you feel bad. It might make me feel bad. This experience is actually an acknowledgment that my work is so threatening that it would upset the statuesque, and this town is so stuck in its ways that is cannot embrace something different.
I will mosey on my way and continue what I am doing; showing in prestige’s galleries like Amsterdam Whitney International Fine Art Gallery in New York, Stephan Gallery in Anchorage, and Mountain Trails Gallery in Jackson Hole.