“I am the guy in a café,” he says, “noticing a beautiful, warm, orange-violetlight chipping on people’sfaces across the room, and immediately thinking of ways to combine color andcapture that moment in my next painting.” Sometimes he is with penciland notebook, sometimes a camera. Observation is everything to him—whether seen, heard, or read, “it is all connected to thatwhich can be processed into a visual.”
“I can tell different feelings and attitudes you get from people—from their faces and conversations—and I blend their figures and gestures.”
Nightlife in cafés mirrors the social status quo, he observes. “You get a lot of views on what is going on in the world, hearing what people are saying. A man earning a million dollars sits next to someone who can barely afford the beer they are drinking—so many different worlds come together in a bar or café.”
To some extent, Michael paints rather than writes his social commentary. “I am not the best writer,” he admits. “I have these great thoughts and they come out better on canvas than as the written word on paper.” His broad, square, brushstrokes, creating almost a mosaic effect, obscure the figures inhis paintings, leaving an illusion of the characters depicted to tell the story in vivid, pure pigmented colors through their gestures and subtleties. At a young age it was found he suffered from dyslexia, and by second grade had fallen behind in school. As a result, his parents arranged tutoring, consisting of math, reading, and, best of all, art classes, where he excelled.
His father David, owner of anauto repair business, and his mother Sandy, who works in the family business, encouraged him in the arts. In fact, he says his mother is his best critic. Nurtured in a happy, fun home, Michael and his younger sister Kristine grew up in the small dusty town of Lakeside in San Diego County, a place he describes as “nice and safe.” Fishing trips on the nearby lakes with his father were a highlight of his youth. And everywhere Michael went, he took a notebook and drew.
“In high school, my Dad got me a bass fishing boat, so instead of going went out on the lake, and while they fish ed, I drew. It kept me out of a lot of trouble,” he jokes. Later, he entered the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. Encouraging him in his pursuit, his grandfather promised to pay half the college loans upon his graduation. “It showed me he believed in me.”
At the Academy Michael experimented with all types of media and artistic styles. “We had such intense drawing classes,” he admits. He was one of the few who elected, after a six-hour class, to take a three-hour optional workshop. “Covered in paint...I was always painting,” he recalls, adding, “I wasn’t much into girls.I thought I would be this lonely artist, always single. ”At the time he lived in a one room studio apartment on Nob Hill, where he stacked his paintings under the bed and around the room.
Michael’s living conditions may have been cramped, but his career was blossoming. In his final year at the Academy, he was accepted into New York’s Society of Illustrators. The following year, the Society awarded him the prestigious Herman Lambert scholarship. On graduating in 2000 from the Academy, he was honored with “Best of Show” at its spring exhibition for his painting, “Irish Coffee.” That piece, together with two others, was later selected for exhibition at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.
After graduation, Michael toured Europe, peaking his interest in European culture. It was this experience that led him to pursue his desire to capture the nuances of social interaction, city nightlife and cityscapes in his artwork. “Seeing strangers intermingle in unfamiliar places is an inspiration to me,” he says. There he can be found, in cafés and bars, with friends or, more often, his wife of just a few months, Melissa, whom he describes as his inspiration. She is to be seen in many of of is paintings—a figure in a red dress in the 1920s style that she favors, recognizable only by her shadow and mannerisms. He likens this effect to squinting your eyes in a crowd. The details blur and become simplified down to the bone structure.
“I am the guy in a café,” he says, “noticing a beautiful, warm, orange-violet light chipping on people’sfaces across the room, and immediately thinking of ways to combine color and capture that moment in my next painting.” Sometimes he is with pencil and notebook, sometimes a camera. Observation is everything to him—whether seen, heard, or read, “it is all connected to that which can be processed into a visual.”
He sketches the “moment” as a scene unfolds, often in charcoal. Many times, these sketches become works of art in themselves. Back at his studio, the front room of the new home he shares with Melissa, he works in oil like the Impressionist artists through history that have inspired him, enjoying the richness it brings to the canvas. Often, he paints late into the night, listening to jazz and blues, kept company by Cosmo, an orange kitten, and Charlie, their dog of indeterminate breed.
His style has been described asa cornucopia of avant-garde, abstract expressionism, and impressionism. “I love the colors of Cézanne, and try to take some of themfor my own paintings, adding a contemporary twist.” He was not afraid to use pure pigment, straight from the tube, a characteristic Michael strives to emulate. In Rome, a candlelit exhibition of Monet’s work left a lasting impressionon this young artist. He also studies the works of Manet, Pissarro, and Degas, as well as those of Toulouse-Lautrec. He admires the structure and boldness of Michelangelo, and the sculptures of Rodin.
The challenge is not to make a painting lookover done, but to synthesize a scene down to its essence, he says, likening the technique to that of John Singer Sargent’s, using the least numberof brushstrokes. “Iwant to show that a painting doesn’t have to be challenging. It can just be something that pleases your eye. It doesn’t have to have a meaning. You don’t have to dissect it. Enjoy its beauty and what it brings to you.”
Imagine a street scene at night when it has just got done raining. There’s a window above with an orange light reflected in a puddle below. Maybe this reminds you of nights you’ve been out, and where you havebeen, andwith whom. Michael captures those moments in time that bring back memories to the viewer through his paintings and prints.
Like Norman Rockwell, Seuss personally created every rough sketch, preliminary drawing, final line drawing and finished work for each page of every project he illustrated. Despite the technical and budgetary limitations of color printing during the early and mid-twentieth century, Dr. Seuss the artist was meticulous about color selection. He created specially numbered color charts and elaborate color call-outs to precisely accomplish his vision for each book. Saturated reds and blues, for example, were carefully chosen for The Cat in the Hat to attract and maintain the visual attention of a six-year-old audience. By the time Seuss’s book career took off, sharp draftsman skills were evident in drawings. His ability to move a storyline ahead via illustrations filled with tension, movement and color became a hallmark component of his work, and the surreal images that unfolded over six decades became the catalyst for a humorous and inspired learning experience.
Artist Leo Rijn, the inaugural sculptor for the Dr. Seuss Tribute Collection I, was selected to launch this project due to his prized work with some of today’s top talent in the world of film, entertainment and the visual arts (including Tim Burton, Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg). Rijn has been identified as one of today’s brightest sculpting talents because of his ability to breathe life into the written word and successfully transform two-dimensional ideas into three-dimensional works of art. Universal Studios commissioned Leo to develop and oversee the creation of numerous maquette scale models for the Monumental Dr. Seuss Sculptures at Seuss Landing in Orlando, Florida. Leo was instrumental in the art direction for many of the sculpted characters and buildings now on display at this permanent Seuss attraction. His strikingly accurate Seuss works embody a masterful and intuitive Seussian sensibility, establishing him as a leading talent in interpretive sculpting.
Seuss embarked on an ingenious project in the early 1930s as he evolved from two-dimensional artworks to three-dimensional sculptures. What was most unusual for these mixed-media sculptures was the use of real animal parts including beaks, antlers and horns from deceased Forest Park Zoo animals where Seuss’s father was superintendent. Unorthodox Collection of Taxidermy was born in a cramped New York apartment and included a menagerie of inventive creatures with names like the “Two Horned Drouberhannis,” “Andulovian Grackler,” and “Semi-Normal Green-Lidded Fawn.” Shortly after Seuss created this unique collection of artworks, Look Magazine dubbed Seuss “The World’s Most Eminent Authority on Unheard-Of Animals.” To this day, Seuss’s Unorthodox Collection of Taxidermy remains as some of the finest examples of his inventive and multi-dimensional creativity.
Illustrator by day, surrealist by night, Seuss created a body of irrepressible work that redefines this American icon as an iconographic American artist. Yet, the Secret Art often shows a side of the artist that most readers, familiar with him through his classic children’s books, have never seen. This collection, created over a period of more than 60 years, encompasses the entirety of Seuss’s multi-dimensional talent. The artistic golden thread highlighted throughout this collection is apparent in each wildly imaginative and surreal Secret Art image. The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss is an inimitable collection of artworks created at night for his own personal enjoyment. These works were rarely, if ever, exhibited during his lifetime and provide a deeper glimpse into the art and life of this celebrated American Icon.