A life-long artist, Michael’s goal is taking the unseen and neglected to elevate into our consciousness
Michael DesRosiers has been interested in nature and art since he was a young boy in Texas. He has been a lifelong vegetarian and his world view is about empathy and understanding the feelings and interconnectivity that runs between humans, nature and animals. He believes that if you understand, you elevate. This philosophy is at play in his studio practice where no art goes to waste.
Since Michael’s paintings are done horizontally rather than vertically, paint often spills off the sides. Seeing the beauty in these residuals, he has since innovated a technique that repurposes this paint run-off by using plastic sheets to catch the falling paint. Once the paint is dry, he peels the paint off and can affix this harvested material onto paper, canvas, or mdf panels. Michael also creates sheets of essentially clear paint, a material made of liquid paint medium without pigments, by applying multiple layers of this material onto hard plastic panels. Prior to peeling off this manufactured paint film, he applies a digital medium which makes the essentially clear paint receptive to printing, so that he can print photographic images on it. Micheal then can apply paint from behind in the intermittent clear areas, thereby creating a hybrid image of paint and photography. This unique technique stemmed from repurposing and conserving. Each and every part of Michael’s studio process is recycled, with the fallout from large paintings creating additional works, thus no art or art material goes to waste.
Michael believes that ultimately, paint can’t ever capture nature, “a narrative iconography is a seduction and you do get caught up in a well crafted metaphor. But paint is the communicative medium, and for me the question is how do you create something as fascinating as nature while maintaining an honest relationship with paint?”
As a project focus Michael recently asked “what is the “language of soil?” Living in Lyme, CT where there is a conservation trust of protected forests, Michael is fascinated by the interesting leaf litter, fungal growth, blossoming of mushrooms, lichens and how the mitochondrial fungi and trees communicate. From this idea, he is working to delineate the quiet language of soil and leaf litter, something that has not been discussed visually. “People look at or up, but not down,” he says. “As an artist – I want to take the unseen and neglected and elevate into your consciousness- once aware of it– you will respect it more. Once you are enlightened, you can’t go back. I think once you identify and see it you have to recognize it and have to respect it. That is my philosophy.”
We couldn’t agree more since we believe that our artists inspire change through the lens of their art.
An in depth Q&A:
How did you first become inspired by the Amazon?
I have always lived alongside a river…essentially all of my life since I was born in St. Louis Missouri along the great Mississippi…then on to Washington D.C. and the Potomac…then to the Colorado flowing through the heart of Austin Texas…then to the East River and the Hudson bounding Manhattan in NYC…and finally to the Connecticut River town of Lyme Connecticut where I have spent the majority of my adult life. So throughout my existence I have been and continue to be under the spell of a river.
For me as an artist a river is an inescapable influence. It is a fluid edge that defines your movement…it is something that creates a boundary…and so it is something to cross…but just as easily it is something that can connect distant otherwise inaccessible points along its path. Seen from above it is a line of demarcation that cuts through the adjacent terrain, and if observed from a great altitude you can perceive its true structure. Beginning as rivulets that connect to streams, tributaries form that empty into great arterial rivers. The similarity in structure to our cardiovascular system has always amazed me. It is your position, your point of view that defines your perception of a river, at least geographically. That compound experience, that simultaneity of edge versus line has perpetually captured my attention. I cannot draw a line in my work without remembering my experience living with rivers. The expressivity of a river…its ability to cut a line in the Earth, and in so doing refashioning the very nature of its existence, is both an inspiring and humbling force.
My personal interest in the Amazon began indirectly in my childhood when my mother took me to the nature and science center in Austin Texas. For a curious child the Science Center was an amazing place to spend a Saturday…connecting to nature through their exhibits, collections and classes. Situated in the state capital, the center focused primarily on the flora and fauna of the Texan Hill Country specifically the Edwards Plateau, an elevated highland that eventually dissipates into the coastal plain abutting the Gulf of Mexico. On constant display were the mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects native to our home landscape. Seeing the interconnection of the local wildlife to their Texan environment profoundly impacted me. I well remember seeing the resident armadillos roll up into armored balls, holding the center’s tarantula with its hairy legs tickling my skin, or the horned lizards eating ants from their sand bed. For a child these were exotic encounters and cemented a lifelong respect and curiosity for the natural world and its incredibly diverse inhabitants.
One particular field trip to Hamilton Pool Preserve, a massive limestone sinkhole featuring exposed stratified limestone walls overcast with a dramatic waterfall, was a magical immersion into a world transformed by water. Delicate ferns and moss found refuge from the intense southern sun under what remained of the cantilevered limestone ceiling. This precious self-sustaining ecosystem was kept permanently moist from the continual splash of the cascading water. Standing there completely wet and surrounded by emerald green, I realized in that moment the vitality of the living Earth. Within the confines of that sequestered pool the cocktail of life was on full display…that unmistakable and particular interplay of light, water, and ground overwhelmed my impressionable sensibility.
Growing up with a direct exposure to nature in Texas, I became aware of other places in the world where nature was even more complex and concentrated. A direct familiarity with my local environment allowed my imagination to consider the world’s other intriguing realms…the African Serengeti, the ice locked northern and southern poles, and of course the most vital terrestrial ecosystem of all the Amazon. Albeit primarily through film and photography, the allure of the Amazon with its exotic array of plants and animals was and remains to this day a source of wonder and inspiration.
How does the Amazon Rainforest and environmentalism manifest in your work?
As an artist, especially a nonobjective or abstract one, the issue of environmentalism is one of suggestion…by creating art based on the use of interlocked colors and interdependent patterns I am suggesting through metaphor the fragility of nature’s interconnections. In my work, disturbing a single color or passage of pattern interrupts or dislocates the entire effect of the composition. As I create images of interdependency, I hope to encourage the establishment of boundaries necessary to restrict our interference with nature on both a local and global basis. In making one of a kind works, I urge an understanding of uniqueness, that nature’s value is what is presented, not what it can be converted to. By presenting images of integrated color, pattern, shape, and texture hopefully a transfer of the imagination takes place…a certain epiphany occurs where the intricacy of my art is seen as an echo of that found in nature. One would never consider cutting out a section of a painting or breaking off a piece of sculpture…but we easily dismember nature for our personal advantage. In some small way I hope my work arrests that possessive impulse to own nature for personal advantage, and instead establishes a more restrained view where the natural world is admired and shared respectfully for its intrinsic character and being.
Working non-objectively, I see the interaction of my process and materials as a mirror for that similarly found in nature…and nowhere is that interactivity more apparent than in the oceans or great tropical rainforests of our planet. In those two particular realms nature is magnified, its complexity is on full view, and its subsequent vulnerability is never more apparent. In my assembled grid Overview Of An Ocean, I have used twelve discrete mixed media pieces to articulate a water world. Each panel has a similarity of color, of shape, and line, but each has its own unique identity. This approach acknowledges the planet’s various oceans and seas,while all sharing a surface similarity, each has particular characteristics specific to its geographic location on the globe. In this way the white ice of the Arctic Sea can be juxtaposed to the cerulean blue green of a Caribbean sandbar, or the midnight blue of the deep Atlantic. My aim is to create a blue based assembly delineating the capacity of a single hue to evoke a sense of power built from fragility…a recognition that to disturb is to destroy…that the view is the prize not the conversion of the irreplaceable to something of immediate material use. I think to be an environmentalist one only has to recognize that something is unique, that it has its own particular definition, and that to convert that identity to something of perceived alternative value, is to destroy the predication of that destructive impulse. Putting those terms into an effective visual metaphor is what drives my work as an artist.
Your work is a veritable study in color – do you go in phases of the colors you are drawn to? Do you like working in monochromatics?
I use color as a writer uses words…to define my visual poetry dressed in a full spectrum of possibilities. We live in a chromatically charged world where our daily reality is illuminated by color, so on an operative level as an artist, I am constantly immersed in an array of ever changing hues. In reaction to the pervasive influence of color when working in the studio, I engage the particular hue or hues I am working with in any given work as if I were in a conversational equivalency, speaking directly as I paint in a chromatically defined pictorial language. It is a fruitful engagement, with each hue having a distinct personality, an individual alignment of characteristics that determine the discourse while making a painting. Sometimes I prefer a quiet exchange with a single hue…a monochrome vocalizing by itself, acting like a soprano or a tenor in an opera, commanding the pictorial stage with the singularity of an individual voice. That particular power can be seen in Nocturnal Containment Of Cadmium Silage where red oscillates against the background of a neutral black. In Orange Overreach, a monochromatic essay in orange, a single secondary hue is pushed to the limits of its expressive capacity.
In other moments of creative inspiration, I prefer to engage several colors at once, with each hue defining their own position as they push through or against the articulation of others. Primarily Speaking is a work where the three primary hues, blue, red, and yellow are stood side by side in an almost equal exchange producing a vivid result, one that perhaps recalls the flash of Scarlet macaws flying freely in the Amazon.
Can you explain further your idea that experiencing a forest and art is like perceiving a constructed truth? Does your work deconstruct that truth?
Standing in a great forest surrounded by its totality, the sensation of its completeness, its unified presence comes not from any single element but rather from a wavefront created by all that is a forest…its topography, its armature of trees and plants, the animation of its animals and insects all conjoin to form a living testimony to the truth of its composite construction. While the constructive elements are individually critical to the gestalt of the whole, the ultimate truth of its being lies in the symbiotic interaction of each and every ingredient that constitutes a forest. Realizing that something that is as majestically interconnected as the Amazon resists an attempt to describe or replicate it in any terms other than its own particular physical manifestation, I think that in searching for a way to reflect that constructed truth, one looks to art. Comparing the truth of a forest to that found in art, a gothic cathedral looming above the French horizon comes to mind, one constructed of innumerable stones that are particularly crafted to maintain an eternal equilibrium with gravity, can when considered with the imagination, illustrate the fragility of a forest dependent on all of its component parts to survive and thrive.
When you think similarly in terms of painting, Autumn Rhythm, a signature work of Jackson Pollack comes to mind. In that masterwork of mid-century American abstraction, each of Pollack’s unique sensuously calligraphic marks stand alone as momentary testaments of his creative presence. But the painting’s truth resides not in any of the almost countless idiosyncratic marks denoting a fully engaged visionary artist creating one of his greatest paintings. Instead like the truth revealed in a forest constructed by nature, the message is not carried in a single dripline of a Pollack’s artistic handwriting, rather his painterly truth lies in the intersection of his tangled lines, linearities that were albeit laid individually, but are forever locked together in the unity of their presence. In both cases, a forest made by nature, or a painting made by Pollack the universe reveals itself through a constructive truth in an unequivocal way.
When I personally consider the Amazon RainForest as an artist working in my studio, I feel its presence as an overwhelming complexity. Just the word Amazon provokes a sense of wondrous intricacy that evades any sufficient verbal or visual definition. When you acknowledge a reality where an immense fabric of uninterrupted green is composed of unique individual trees, growing in random but creating a unified melody of almost infinite life, one can be quite intimidated approaching it through individual artistry. In such a moment of contemplation, I can easily see the Amazon as if it were a forest galaxy, as a totality observed through a telescope, where each and every treetop of its canopy is both assembled and governed by the gravity of the embedded and sustaining central river. Seen that way the Amazon is a unique composition of interdependent green pulsating with perpetual life. That is my constructed truth as seen in Apex Green, an image where a monochromatic yet varying green is defined and regulated by attenuated lines and points of pictorial gravity.
As artists what can we do to help protect the Amazon?
Artists bring an unconditional approach to the conventional…what may seem obvious to some is often the opposite. Seeing an underlying reality and translating that unique viewpoint into a communicative medium is what artists do. Artists seek truth…the operative reality that governs and informs the worldview that they perceive through the filter of their own honesty. As a witness to culture, to industry, to the effect of government an artist, especially one with courage, can discern and distill the often subtle forces that regulate the established order. Regarding the natural world, at times the pronounced beauty of nature only needs an advocate…a magnification of what has been and always needs to be. At other times a clarion call to arms is necessary to arrest unrestricted violence brought to bear on every aspect of nature. When an essential truth is seen by an artist and subsequently exposed in their work, we all benefit from their testimony. Without artists expressing the unseen and the unheard components of nature we cannot move forward from our present ignorance. Both individually and collectively artists can empower our role as unique beings to embrace the beauty and sustainability of nature, while simultaneously exposing our opposing destructive impulses. By defining a personal truth in their work, artists challenge us to do the same in every aspect of our lives, including our responsibility to the natural world which is now unfortunately dependent on us all for its future existence.
Do you have any planned pieces about Amazon?
I am currently preoccupied with leaf litter, a cacophony of shapes and colors spread like a broadloom carpet on the floor of all great forests. Leaf litter is something I experience almost every day in the temperate forest which surrounds my house and studio. Looking down as I walk over the crinkle and crunch of an exhausted season…the crisp crust formed from last year’s leaves gives way to a softer subordinate cushion of layered foliage from years gone by…an echo of sun filled days suspended in the canopy now sequestered underfoot.
When considering the mosaic of neutral colors I find covering my forest floor…the angular remains of maples and oaks interlocked with attenuated ash, and punctuated by ribbed beech and birch leaves… I begin to think of the Amazon. Like the leaf litter I know, the Amazonian kaleidoscope of browns, tans, and grays similarly appears to be the graveyard of green, the fallen color of the living canopy non drained of its sisterhood with the sun, and like the leaf litter I am familiar with it is in fact as alive as any part of the forest. Its muted colors appear dead but are instead percolating with life. That contradiction is enabled by the countless microbes, insects and fungi that recycle the nutrients drained from the decaying leaves, and in so doing provide a conduit of essential nutrition back to the living green above.
White Rays, a recent mixed media work suggests the direction of this project. Surrounded by grays and browns, a luminous and striated white breaks through the constraining neutralities…much in the same way a blooming fungus enlivens the forest floor. I plan on building a multi piece grid of similarly focused pieces, one that embodies the full power of decomposition yielding to regeneration. By creating a grid and stand-alone works inspired by the tapestry of interwoven leaf litter, I plan to present browns, tans, and grays not as hues of death and decay, but rather as the filter by which life sustaining green finds its sustenance.