(Narcotic Disorientation by Mikey Welsh)


"You can't be too well adjusted and have anything interesting to say."

MARK: Your mother is a painter so you got to see art from the ground up so to speak. How do you think growing up in that environment affected/infused your way of working & your style?

MIKEY: Well I think as far as style is concerned, I got to watch my mom do sketches of me all the time using charcoal. When she did these pieces, she would never look down until she was finished. Her end result would amaze me. She was using a surrealist technique, automatism. That's basically how I start all of my paintings. Letting go and allowing my subconscious to guide my hand. And of course the piles of art books everywhere just fueled my growing obsession.

MARK: You began painting while institutionalized for mental illness. Did you draw/paint much as a boy? Why do you think it took such a cataclysmic event in your life to spur you to want to pick up a brush?

MIKEY: I started painting when I was very young, and continued basicaly until I started up with music full time. After everything that had happened, painting again in the hospital was my only salvation. I left the music biz and hit the paint and haven't stopped since.

MARK: Like me, you’re a voracious reader & were also a musician. Do you take inspiration from other art forms & apply them to your painting? Do you surround your work space with books, photographs, paintings by others? Do you listen to music while you work?

MIKEY: I Do have a lot of photos up all over the studio, books as well. I can't listen to music though. I need the silence, besides all the noise going in my head already. Nothing really influences my work directly, it's all internal. But literature is always the thing that stays with me the most: Camus, Sarte, and the big man, Bukowski. He is it: sadness, absurdity, humor. It's all there, that's what my painting's are. And of course anger and violence. Are we covered now?

MARK: Rimbaud talked about the “necessary disordering of the senses” as an impetus for an artist. I feel it can begin as a spark, a positive thing, but most times it deteriorates into high maintenance & takes most of your time & energy. What are your opinions on using artificial means to prick the muse?

MIKEY: Of course it's all on the individual. But "necessary?” The artist should be able walk without the crutch, even if it hurts. The pain is the muse. Of course a little now and then won't kill you.

MARK: What is your opinion of the romantic image of the insane artist content to create in his own isolated world—what I call the shine on crazy diamond syndrome?

MIKEY: Well now your just knocking my lifestyle. I don't give a fuck what people think of me, and as far as the stereotype—the squares and subnormals always need to have a place to try and throw us. They're afraid, and they should be. And besides, the real artist must have a certain amount of isolation. You can't be too well adjusted and have anything interesting to say.

MARK: The arts are one profession where it's considered ok, even advantageous to be “eccentric.” Have you met musicians, writers, painters who seem to adopt an “insane” persona as a way to get attention? Whereas those who battle with mental illness are constantly working to come off as “normal”—perhaps afraid of frightening others away.

MIKEY: I think you already said it. Those of us who are truly fucked can always tell when some jerkoff is "putting it on." Where as the fragile ones are always hiding.

MARK: How do you think your medications have affected your art, as well as your personality/interaction with others?

MIKEY: I don't think they have. I came into this world already hating most people anyway.

MARK: You’ve said that pain fuels your work. What advice would you give young artists about channeling their darker impulses into art?

MIKEY: I can't. That would be like teaching someone how to cry.

MARK: Your godfather was Spalding Gray—who I think was a unique talent. Any thoughts/memories of him?

MIKEY: A lot of really nice ones, but i'd rather keep them to myself. He did once buy me some hash on St. Marks Place when I was 15. He was very encouraging of my artistic pursuits.

MARK: You dropped out of school in 10th grade. I’ve found some of the most intelligent, well read people I know never attended college. Do you think this might have anything to do with over-compensating for our lack of institutional learning—or is it plain old wanting to know things & a love for reading?

MIKEY: I think it goes both ways. Drop-outs can turn out to be bums, or they can become greatness. Or both.

MARK: Here’s an old standard—who are your artistic influences?

MIKEY: Karel Appel, Francis Bacon, Willem Dekooning, Asger Jorn, and Dr. Seuss ... seriously.

MARK: You have a show coming up in November. Have you created anything new— especially for this show?

MIKEY: Just smaller works that more people can afford, and a couple of sculptures.

MARK: Have you considered moving to a larger city with more opportunities when it comes to galleries, press, higher profile, etc.?

MIKEY: No no no. We have the internet, baby. I have a show in Italy this year, and one in Spain next fall. And I owe it all to Al Gore. I think?

MARK: Which comes first—the painting or the title?

MIKEY: Painting.

MARK: Do you feel consciously, or subconsciously perhaps, at a higher level of purity & intuitive understanding—that is, more who you genuinely are, when you’re painting?

MIKEY: Consciously, yes. Working is the only time I feel that anything makes sense. And my paintings and I become one.

MARK: Do you ever lose consciousness while working—I’m thinking of losing all concept of linear time & thought?

MIKEY: Absolute loss of any outside senses. And that's the beauty of it.

MARK: Do you feel that having a certain amount of notoriety in one field can be a hindrance—that is, getting critics or the public to accept you or take your work seriously? By the same token—can it help one get their “foot in doors” that may not be open to others?

MIKEY: Well I think that my past certainly helped get things started for me. But the art took it's own shape, and things started to flow without the other bullshit.

MARK: I’ve always believed art should be economically accessible to all. You feel the same. You sell many pieces at a reasonable price that anyone can afford. What do you think about those who create an elitist or mysterious cloud around the act of creation—as if it’s only there for a chosen few?

MIKEY: I think that anyone in the art world that shoves the pretentiousness and snobbery into art should spend some quality time in a turkish prison. Foot whippings, the whole deal. I also think that this knit-picky critiquing in art is a giant exercise in blowing hot air.

"Mikey Welsh Interview" by Mark Hartenbach. Edited by Brad Hamlin.
© 2007 by Mystery Island Publications. Published: 08.25.07 by Mystery Island. All rights reserved.