Just after his birthday, Bushwick born and bred artist known for his avant garde Living Installation, Michael Alan is having a new exhibit opening tonight at Gasser Grunert Gallery (33A Orchard Street) at the Lower East Side. The free show will be starting at 6PM and ending at 8PM.
Born at Woodhull in 1977 and raised on Halsey Street, Alan grew up in Bushwick during a time of economic neglect, arson and a staggeringly high murder rate. To escape the chaos, his family left Bushwick in the 80’s for safer spots in neighboring Bedstuy and later in Staten Island, but he has always managed to keep a toe in Bushwick. His mother, also an artist of sorts, was a “street evangelist” in the neighborhood who writes poetry, which has played a large role in his development as an artist. The evangelist influence might explain his incredible work ethic, which has him working “twelve hours a day- no matter what is going on.” Since high school, he estimates having produced somewhere around 7,000 pieces using a number of mediums.
His drawings in particular are elaborate and vibrant, requiring a deft hand and a sense of playfulness. There is also an element of chaos that manages to read incredibly well scripted, especially in the case of his nudes. In explaining his style, he describes his desire to continue the artistic tradition of creating a “visual language,” citing Picasso and Basquiat as experts in that concept. It is important to him that at least parts of his exhibitions are relatable to anybody that experiencing it, and the consistent visual language that he has worked on since 2004 is the fastest way for him to achieve that, “I’m not interested in putting a viewer in a space where they are just completely lost, where they can’t follow along. I find those exhibits do not work.”
Having grown up in Bushwick, Brooklyn culture has been a major influence on his style. It shows in his drawings. The vibrancy of his colorful, living figures against the stark black and white backdrops seem to reflect the visual context of the occasionally barren industry-heavy borough that paradoxically is also bursting with life. As he feels enormous pride in his native Brooklyn, he hopes that folks that have recently moved here take an interest in the work of the locals, “just for the information. Brooklyn is cultural, so if you are from here, or born here and lived here, then you have a different spectrum of imagery in your head.”
In February, Alan presented The Living Installation, a multi-media body of work that featured Bushwick models and artists performing after being painted and decorated by Alan. There were also musical performances from Meredith Monk and Ariel Pink. It was a sight to behold and will be recreated on August 8th at the same place and time for 20 bucks.
For this gallery opening, Alan will be presenting a new body of work on paper that will feature “fifty or so works” on the same week as his birthday. Although there will be no live nudes at this exhibition, the humble artist has a reputation for drawing quite an interesting crowd to his shows.
This might have something to do with another belief of his, that “fun is a key fucking element” of Brooklyn’s art scene. He explains what he means by invoking a scene from 1980’s Stir Crazy, “I’m doing (The Living Installation) to push people in the same way that Gene Wilder was pushing Richard Pryor, when he put an ice cream cone on his head and asked, ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen to you?’”
Opening Reception for Michael Alan: The Rise of the Artistic Tradition, at Gasser Grunert Gallery, 33A Orchard St, New York, tonight, Wednesday, July 22, 6-8PM. Free admission.