Mike Andrews is a Chicago-based artist who earned his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art and has recently had solo exhibitions at Golden Gallery in Chicago and Daily Projects in Seoul, South Korea. He currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is the Academic Director of Ox-Bow.
How does your practice relate to the spaces you work in, from the studio to the exhibition spaces?
I have an unglamorous studio where I weave and draw. I do my animations on my laptop. However my favorite place to draw or come up with ideas is on an airplane. I always make great connections to previous work with current ideas. It’s usually because I am half thinking about projects and ideas and half sleeping. It is a strangely generative mental zone.
I am cautious of directly designing for a space because I don’t really see myself as I designer. When I was first starting to show my work in public I would cater my work to each new exhibition. I felt the work started to suffer because I was trying to specifically address each space. The work was uneven so I decided to stop being so considerate and stick with my own investigations. I would rather make something based on a few known aspects like ceiling height wall width and leave the rest to chance and my current interests. Recently I wove a tapestry titled “Denise” for a show at the Hyde Park Art Center called “Blaque Lyte” It was inspired by my interest the extreme dog grooming scene and it is part of a new series of figurative pieces. I never visited the space while I was working on the piece so I just assumed it would fit. When we installed it had a similar effect as a muffin top. The image of the dog was confusing and the scale of the piece was uncomfortable in the space. It was great. I want to be surprised up until the last possible minute.
What is your process when working on a piece?
It may seem that I just grab what’s around and churn it all up and see what is left over but there actually is a specific methodology to what I do. Thinking through a certain palette of color is a great place to start. I’m influenced by painters, fashions designers, the Internet, thrift stores, old ladies, and sci-fi. That palette can be followed through the project or dismantled and interrupted through the process. I have been making these works on paper lately that involve monoprints, drawing, and collage. In the studio I have stations spread across tables. One station is for printing another for drawing and another for gluing and cutting. I can pass a whole piece of paper through the stations from start to finish or stop halfway and grab something else. It’s like an illogical and inefficient assembly line. As work flows through these stations I start to refine color associations and forms constructions. Gradually formal relationships between being to emerge through the processes. That is one specific example of a mode of working but it operates like a lot of my other process that involve scrounging and editing through a slap dash aesthetic.
Your work is usually within a more fibers/sculptural medium, but lately you have been working with animations and drawings as well. Do you find that all these projects are related or do you think of them as separate?
Whenever I go to a party I am most likely going to remember the odd conversation or the socially awkward person rather than the well-adjusted host. When the drawings, sculptures, tapestries, and animations are displayed with each other there is a continuum of things that relate and things that seem really off like the attendees of a weird party. Lately I have been investigating the parameters of my own output. I have been thinking about the values of defining my work through a particular material or history. Obviously I could crank out the same kind of work over and over but to what end? I get bored really easily so I need to set up some kind of unknown or obstacle in my studio so I don’t feel like i’m vomiting out the same thing.
You often choose to work with acrylic yarns for your tapestries/sculptures. Why is this material important to you?
I like acrylic yarn because it is like really clean paint. I am also attracted to the limited and generic palette. With oil paint or pixels you can mix any color you want but with acrylic yarn there is only a certain range of color that the manufacturers produce. It is an interesting problem to figure out how to mix color physically and optically with a finite set of options.
You have been working with showing in traditional galleries as well as design spaces. Is the cross over between these two spaces something that is significant to you?
The fact that my work can slide in and out of categories is a strategic move. Textiles are the perfect medium if you want to have an open-ended object. What is significant about referencing textile design is functionality is rarely the designer’s job. It is up to the consumer or fan to determine use. I am always open to external possibilities of sabotage. Sometimes when I send them off to exhibitions the gallerists will hand them upside down or backwards. To relinquish control of the finished object is both uneasy and liberating.
What have you been working on most recently?
I’m knee deep in software tutorials right now. I’m learning about node-based programs like Quartz Composer and MaxMSP. These programs allow the user to connect to a range of software and analogue interactions. In undergrad I made 16mm animations and studied experimental cinema. My frustrations as an undergrad were with narrative structures so I abandoned the medium for sculpture, which seemed so much more immediate. At this point I think I am ready to bring my vocabulary of forms, colors, and material investigation back my original interest in moving images. I’ve also to decided to come out as a closeted sci-fi fan and try to figure out a way to incorporate my cinematic and literary obsessions more aggressively into my visual work. I’m not sure how all of this is going to take shape but it feels really good.