If you happen to pop into our Soho store in July, you might notice the excellent artwork of Michael Maskell adorning the walls. Michael is a painter who works on small canvases to create stunning unrehearsed mindscapes informed by his queer experience. We caught up with him to discuss his work, his process, the role art plays in society, and more.
Can you share a little about your background Michael and how you became interested in art?
Genetically, it’s hard to say where my interest in art comes from. I flunked it at GCSE and if you were to ask my mum what an abstract painting depicts, her curve ball comment is guaranteed to make us both laugh. In some ways, I needed art; I grew up in a single parent, working-class home and at points times were tough. I was incredibly fortunate that when I went to college, I found my place amongst friends who also needed that space to unfix and reshape the things around us. It was in discovering that the world was malleable that I became interested in art.
Could you describe your artistic style or approach, and how your queer experience informs your work?
It has taken me some time to get here: the comfortability of my own queerness and aesthetic. I originally trained as a sculptor/ welder and let’s just say my exploration of minimalism and objectivity was a total guise for not outing myself. I didn’t come out for some time. Fast forward eight years: a whole lot of Vauxhall, a whole lot of hedonism, and even more time on the therapist's couch, I eventually felt ready to make again. Not wanting to go back, I picked up a paintbrush and enjoyed how difficult it was. It felt authentic as my awfulness didn't have anywhere to hide. I fell in with colour, the careful balance between abstraction and narrative and how all could be wiped away with white spirit. Painting gave me the ability to delve deep into my own colourful soup of experiences, so now I just paint what comes through. Unrehearsed, without sketches, just comfortably me.
What role do you believe art plays in society, and how does your work contribute to that conversation?
Art is society. Whether that is scientists who interpret infrared heterodyne spectroscopy data to know the atmosphere of a planet or the Arabic mathematicians of the 9th and10th centuries who paved the foundations so that such complexities can live in our lifetime. Hegel writes about this in the phenomenology of spirit. So in relation to my art, I have to think of my time: a ‘90s kid sandwiched in-between a transition of death to liberation, who owes so much to queer activism which laid those foundations. Sadly, there is still a hangover in my community, I lived it. Some residual shame, the coming out late and needing to be smashed to feel love or the hypervigilance to surroundings. Somewhere, somehow it still gets in. I think that's where I want my work to converse. A landscape of two worlds, two histories which interchange.
Are there any specific artists or movements that have influenced your work?
I am a huge fan of metaphysics/ Giorgio De Chirico's work and his ability to remind us of our internal strangeness. I love smoggy impressionism - Monet's time in London and like all painters, Munch. In the soup of those three is where I would like to sit.
Do you have a preferred medium to work with, or do you enjoy experimenting with different materials and techniques?
I am pretty flexible when it comes to medium. A few years back I taught myself ‘scagliola' which is a 17th century faux marbling technique. If I had the space and money, maybe I would go big with that. For now, me in my shed painting works well.
How do you see the relationship between art and technology evolving
I hope digitalism/ AI facilitates socialism, as I am so tired of hearing politicians berate productivity whilst they amass passive income. Let the robots do all the work, so I have more time to paint.