Meet Michael Divine, a creative on a mission to open the minds and spirits of his fanbase to the possibility of love.
Michael's mission as a visionary artist is to imbue the world with more beauty and transmute his adoration of life into fantastical paintings that explore the numinous and ineffable.
Through self-examination, rigorous study, and oneness with nature (he spends a lot of time tending to a garden which has in turn provided him with numerous existential and philosophical insights) he has been able to temper his artistic vision and share it with the world at large.
Michael wants artists to subvert analysis paralysis and other forms of crippling self-talk to become the greatest human beings that we can possibly be.
"There’s no time for ego games or marketing plans when it comes to art making. It’s just art. It’s you and your chosen materials and your vision, your inspiration. You have to cut through all of the mind-games if you want to make something really wonderful."
Michael gives us some insight on his craft and what motivates him to construct these works.
Prox: What are some energies and emotions you like to convey in your works?
Michael: I think a lot about archetypes of our human experience and the underlying raw spontaneous expression of those archetypes. I’ve tended towards that exploration pretty much since I began painting.
I think that, for all of our complexities, humans have shockingly similar ranges of emotion, movement, etc.
We pine towards the spiritual. We plummet into deep grief or sadness. Then there’s story we tell ourselves about it. There’s our previous experiences. And so on.
There’s so many layers to our human expression. When I’m painting, I try to cut through the story to the raw viscerality of the experience. So a lot of what I want my work to convey is the Nth degree of that expression.
I ask myself what is the height or depth of that archetypal experience? What happens when we push beyond the edge of our personal experience? What happens then?
Prox: What were some of your influences as you found yourself getting deeper into art? What were some of your favorite mediums?
Michael: Early on, in college I mean, I was fortunate to find a job in an art library. We were cataloging slides of what seemed like all of the art ever. Architecture, paintings, sculpture, everything. Basically, with janky electronic typewriters, we had to type these little labels that went on each slide. This was the old days I guess ;) Anyways, while the work was tedious, it was amazing to get such a wondrous cross section of art history, especially since my parents hadn’t been supportive of my art school desires. It was there that I found myself drawn to the modern art movements like the Futurists, Symbolism, Surrealism and others. I think Futurism especially had a strong early influence on me with its explorations of color, movement, and momentum all packed together in these vibrant paintings.
Music was another strong early influence and I have always thought of my art as being very musical. Music can be so multi-layered. Talented musicians can weave harmonies and melodies and rhythms together - telling a story or painting a picture. You know, there’s flowing layers of sound, sentences and paragraphs of melody, and these crystalline moments where it all comes together. I work a lot of those ideas into my art: the way that one shape interacts with another and one color – like a musical tone – layers over another with all these rhythms and melodies that are interacting together.
That layering aspect is one of the reasons I’ve stuck with acrylics for so long. I can paint over each layer very quickly and achieve every gradient of translucent transparency to full-bodied opacity. My own technique is a lot of thin layers intermingling with each other. The quick drying time is helpful because I’m always moving from one corner of the painting to the other - very quickly sometimes and without much pause - in a free flowing manner – before I start drilling down into each little moment and nuance
Prox: Could you discuss your relationship with psychedelics? What have these substances brought into your life that you don’t think you could have discovered without them?
Michael: I have a good relationship with psychedelics. It’s impossible to say what I or my art or my life would be without the various psychedelic experiences I’ve had. There’s a whole host of experiences in my life – as in everyone’s lives – that have helped to define who I am. To me, like everything else, my psychedelic experiences are a part of the warp and woof of a life lived. But more than anything, I think they’ve helped provide a more objective vantage point to observe this mind and body and its relationship to the world around it – to other humans, the planet, and so on. The echo of that is, I think, a greater understanding of and compassion for this rather crazy world we live in. That experience – that perspective - has had an indelible imprint on my work and what I want out of it.
To be fair, I’ll never know what I might not have discovered without them. Besides, there are so many ways to alter one’s perception that I probably would have sought out even if there was no specific psychedelic substance or another offered to me. I’ve always been a skeptic – never really taking at face value information that is given to me, especially when it triggers that cognitive dissonance. There are always more and different ways to view the world and those perspectives are invaluable. Truthfully, we alter our consciousness in so many different ways: Deep grief is psychedelic. Caffeine is (actually classified as) psychactive. 10 days sitting in Vipassana is pretty far out. Falling in love is wild. Fasting is a journey. My garden is super psychedelic because plants are just wild. And psychedelics themselves are really really interesting. The faster we grok that different experiences like these shift our perspective in ways much like “psychedelics” - or entheogens as fashion has updated - the faster we can get down to the business of knowing ourselves and how we connect to the world around us and how our perspective – and the ability to shift it - is really everything.
Prox: Was it difficult for you to find ways to juxtapose elements of psychedelia and space into your work? How did you decide that this was the aesthetic that you enjoyed creating?
Michael: Well, you know, like I was just mentioning: the world around us is pretty psychedelic. From the lines and patterns on a leaf or a butterfly’s wings or the back of a tomato hornworm to the ever-unfolding clouds in the sky, the light that is dappled over my desk, the breeze and the sensation it leaves… It’s all happening at once - never stopping, always changing. All of these bits and pieces are part of the greater whole – with each juxtaposed against the previous and the next.
The more I’ve been able to pay attention to that interplay, the more my own work has been able to find its rhythm and flow, its spaciousness and beauty. Part of the reason we see so much beauty in the natural world is that everything seems to have its place. There are ecosystems within ecosystems of all these little facets doing what comes naturally.
As a creative individual, as a painter, I’ve tried to create with that same sense of flow. Some part of me said early on, “I’m going to be an artist.” And then “I’m going to be a painter.” It’s what came naturally. What is it that gets in the way of “what comes naturally?" So, it’s been a practice of simply acting. In making a painting, there’s this stripping away of the ego and identity and all the ideas of self I can bring to the table so that I can just let the painting be the painting. The tree outside my studio window isn’t (as far as we can tell) saying to itself “Oh yeah I’m going to be the best tree that’s ever treed!” Or a bear isn’t saying “I’m going to get more salmon than any other bear ever!” They just do their thing. It’s what comes naturally. And we marvel at the beauty in these things because their cadence fits as an echo of everything else.
So, after it dawned on me that I was going to be an artist, it was just a matter giving myself the time and space to make art and follow that thread of its voice and allow it to just BE and flow to its own heights and depths. Whether that was unfolding as the tree or a lightning storm. From that openness, I could distill out what I wanted to bring into the world. So that ‘choice of aesthetic’ was as much a conscious choice as an act of surrendering to whatever it wanted to be.
Prox: What is some of your favorite contemporary art?
Michael: I look at everything and love so many bits and pieces. I could name drop a huge list of names: all my friends and contemporaries. You’ve interviewed or written about some of them here. Someone whose art I love these days is Hannah Yatah; her work is awesome. My wife and I are big fans of Daniel Merriam who has a gallery in Sausalito – his work is so wonderfully executed. Sometimes I see a painting – maybe something by Luke Brown – and I’m glad that someone took the time to render that vision and bring it into the world. I think one of my favorites of (not entirely contemporary art) is Mati Klarwein. I love his work.
My wife and I have a collection of art books that spans centuries. There’s really just so much that has been created and so many various expressions of this human experience – which is what art is, really: it’s our own notations of this human experience we are having. What inspires me the most – and the artists whom I look to the most – is the art pushes itself, and adds to the dialogue and discourse. The art that challenges how we think of ourselves and how we express ourselves, pushing that expression to the Nth degree is what really inspires me. It’s in galleries but also on the sides of buildings, on the street. There’s a little of everything in what inspires me.
Prox: What are some things you enjoy outside of painting – hobbies or pastimes?
Michael: Well, I have a really lovely garden. It’s like an ever evolving immersive sculpture that my wife and I help unfold. I like working with wood as well. Besides the satisfaction of making the practical thing, I love the smell of the wood and the worlds that can be found within the grain. I often make myself small pieces of furniture that I need and I find that really rewarding. What else: I’m an avid rock collector, sometimes to my wife’s chagrin. She would rather us climb the rocks than decorate our house with them. Cats. I have 5 cats. So I guess that’s a past time? I’m not sure.
Prox: Tips for aspiring artists?
Michael: To start: you just have to keep making. And when you’re tired, you keep making more; even when you don’t feel like it and then when it’s the most perfect thing ever. On and on. Now, in the midst of that, I think you have to be your own biggest fan and worst critic.
You have to be willing to tear your piece apart (metaphorically) breaking down everything that’s ‘wrong’ with it, looking at it from weird angles, trying to understand, trying to SEE: does it do what you want it to do? And then, from there… you have to be able to say ‘I believe in this. I believe in myself. I can do this.’ You have to hate and love it at the same time. You have to be hard on yourself and also pretty forgiving. It can be daunting. I think that one key to really igniting something that catches hold is in making something that YOU truly believe in.
There’s no time for ego games or marketing plans when it comes to art making. It’s just art. It’s you and your chosen materials and your vision, your inspiration. You have to cut through all of the mind-games if you want to make something really wonderful.
Prox: Information on upcoming projects and releases?
Michael: I just finished this piece: “Only Love Can (Reign Over Me)”.
I started it back in September and then, a little way into the underpainting, there were a bunch of fires around us. We live in Northern California and the fires this past fall were intense, with several burning just miles from our house. So the painting got put aside as the blues in the painting didn’t make any sense anymore. But eventually I got back to it and, focused as I tried to be, the state of the world was distracting. I mean: here I am painting some edge of blue – wondering: did I get that curve just right? - and, well, you’ve read about the state of our politics these days – all this starts to seem trite! And yet: what rules this mind, this body? What really drives it? I think it’s important – perhaps one of my tasks in the world – to speak to the layers beneath the plights of modern life to the human who just wants to live. So the painting became this vision of taking it all in, being bold, being inextinguishable, and transforming it all into something magical.
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