Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Art Space Talk: Mike Solomon

Mike Solomon-- originally a painter--now primarily focuses on sculpture. He views his sculpture as a visual manifestation of sound. In a sense, his work is a visualization of energy moving through matter existing in space. Mike holds an MFA from Hunter College. He is currently represented by Salomon Contemporary.

Studio installation with Panta Rhei, New Seah and Bolster (l-r)

Brian Sherwin: Mike, you studied at the Skowhegan School of Sculpture & Painting, Yale Summer School of Music & Art, the College of Creative Studies U.C.S.B., and you earned an MFA at Hunter College. What can you tell us about your academic years? In your opinion, what is important about studying art on the academic level?

Mike Solomon: History is essential. One has to put one's self into context to be relevant in any field. How can this be done unless one studies the history of ones' chosen field ? A lot of the artists of my father's generation were self taught. The advantage there is perhaps that whatever one encounters, it has not been excessively filtered. College taught means that one is required to follow a curriculum that has been filtered and therefore may be not so raw or original. Perhaps this accounts for the lack of originality in much of the art made by the generations that are college taught. Everyone gets the same information and emphasis, so only a few escape into authentic experience. It's really in how you process the historical information, what talents you have and perhaps most importantly, what your intentions are.

The Deborah Number, 2008, net, fiberglass, epoxy and tint, 44 dia. x 9 inches

BS: You were originally a painter, correct? At what point did you decide to take on sculpting?

MS: My paintings have always had a relationship with materiality and at some point it expanded into the third dimension. After reading a lot about the mythology and philosophy of yoga, how space was created to provide a context for sound, I had the notion that sculpture was in a sense, a visual manifestation of sound. My sculptures are the visualization of energy moving through matter existing in space.

BS: Mike, your father is the late Abstract Expressionist painter Syd Solomon. Can you discuss the influence that he had on you both as your father and as an artist?

MS: When one's progenitor is also one's art teacher, things can get complicated. In some ways it is an advantage and in some ways a disadvantage. I can't, in this context, tear it all apart for you. Certainly the artistic lifestyle was influential. Whether one is born into an art family or not, one still has to deal with the influences of art history and there are no "get in free" cards to succeeding in any way, in art.

Siphon, 2008, net, fiberglass, epoxy and tint, 59 x 41.5 x 12.5 Inches

BS: I understand that you had conversations with Willem de Kooning. Can you recall that experience?

MS: When I was quite young Bill would sometimes come around to see us, or my dad might take me over with him, when he visited Bill. I was always excited at the thought of seeing him. His aura was so compelling… it was always a special thing to see him like seeing a magic deer. Bill was brilliant, even in the smallest of observations and his language was marvelous, so original.
When I started painting (at 15) he saw something I had done, I think it was a watercolor. He was kind and encouraging. That was more than enough. I had friendships with many of my dad's friends because they saw in me a sincere interest in learning about art. James Brooks, Charlotte Park, Alfonso Ossorio, David Budd, Ray Parker, John Chamberlain, Dan Flavin, Neil Williams... the list goes on. I was Chamberlain's assistant for a few years. I was lucky to be responsive, given the context I was put into by birth.
Panta Rhei, 2008, net, fiberglass, epoxy and tint, 44 x 42 x 32 inches

BS: Based on those experiences one might think that you would have ended up exploring some of the same directions that your father and de Kooning explored. Yet you obviously broke away from that path, so to speak. What attracted you to exploring minimalism within the context of your art?

MS: Everyone is born into a certain time and place. My generation was most influenced by the 70s because that's when we were hitting maturity. The art we aspired to was pop, minimalism and post minimalism, early performance.. etc. After assimilating those ideas (and they did get very pure and esoteric) some of us became reactionary and decided to revert to art that was filled with personal content and expressionism. Some of this impetus came from Europe which was another reversal/ rebellion in art world power. Raw, autobiographical and psychological painting took over and the idea of a progressive formalism was abandoned by many. In a sense it was the neglected side of Surrealism that had to return.
The Abstract Expressionists had taken some things from Surrealism, particularly " automatic writing" and working from the unconscious, but they didn't really deal with how language was transformed by the psyche. In attempting to find the language of "paint itself" they abandoned a large portion of the history of visual language in art, all that was mimetic, even if the formal qualities had been retained by them. The whole of visual language had to return, as it did with a vengeance in the 80s.
Having come from a deepened understanding of Abstract Expressionism and being of the generation where everything they had started was taken to a logical conclusion by Minimalism, and then having everything turn so reactionary, my generation has had a lot to digest. Perhaps a reason my work "sneaks up on you" as the late writer Robert Long put it, is because my process in dealing with it all, has become nuanced, attempting to not "throwing the baby out with the bath-water" in the situations and choices between very divergent paths I had to make.
Louise Bourgeois's big spider now at the Guggenheim is a perfect balance between the purely formal aspect augmenting the literary one. But Richard Serra also has perfected this balance, the only difference between the two, is that one starts on the left foot and the other with the right. She starts with personal imagery and it becomes formal, he starts with the formal and it becomes personal.
Bolster, 2008, net, fiberglass, epoxy and tint, 103 x 32 x 30 inches

BS: Mike, you have been involved with several exhibits. Including exhibits at Salomon Contemporary and Greene Contemporary. Where can our readers view your work in person at this time? Are you represented by a gallery?

MS: Right now I have a work in at The Parrish Art Museum, in the exhibition, Sand: Metaphor, Memory and Meaning. It's a wonderful show up through Sept. My website is : I am represented by James Salomon ( no relation) ( I also work with Beth McNeill (

BS: Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

MS: The dates are not set yet. Check my web site in a month or so.

BS: Your work was displayed at the Scope Art Fair in 2007. What is your opinion of art fairs in general? Did you enjoy the experience or do feel that the bombardment of artwork takes away from the viewing experience as a whole? There has been a lot of debate about art fairs lately so I would enjoy your take on them.

MS: I have had work in art fairs for several years. It seems a necessary (?) evil. They say it's good exposure for young dealers and their artists and they say it's convenient for collectors. I can't tell whether it's the beginning of the end of how art is exhibited or just an ancillary activity.

Rideau, 2008, net, fiberglass, epoxy and tint, 30 x 47 x 18 inches

BS: Do you have any advice for young artists who are striving to land their first exhibits, so to speak?

MS: When I was beginning, the artists of my father's generation forbade me from showing for 20 years, saying that I needed that amount of time to find my voice.. and I think they were absolutely right. Of what lasting value is it to society to choose, as the emblems of culture's high points, student works? That is essentially what the art world is into now, the work of the quite young and untested. Of course, there will always be a few truly gifted young artists. But the process now is that the dealers throw a net over the whole of the art school scene hoping they will inadvertently catch that one talent among the many destined for other things.
In this respect, "art" is being generated from the top down, dealers are looking to "groom" young talent, their collectors (investors) are "in on the ground floor". In a sense they have adopted the music world model.. it's become a corporate thing. The current trend has little to do with an organic process that has historically needed to happen to form our important artists and lasting art. Like the rest of our systems, everything has become ass backwards and top down. So my advice is, don't get suckered in so quick.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or art in general?

MS: "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities." - Delmore Schwartz
You can learn more about Mike Solomon by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

I know a body shop that might hire him. He would be great fixing fenders.

art collegia delenda est

my point is proven
Donald Frazell

Balhatain said...

Donald, again... the opinion you have expressed about this work is based on your own thoughts of what art should-- or can-- be. It is naive to suggest that you are the only one who can define art. True, there can be 'good' art and 'bad' art and you have the right to your opinion in that regard. However, to suggest that his art is not art when you obviously view your art as art--based on some of your past comments-- is amusing at best. I'm sure there are people out there who would question the validity of your art as well. Are you a friend of Fred Ross by any chance?

Anonymous said...

There's a parallel discourse in architecture that also explores fluid forms and non-euclidean orders. There, the work is often software driven; Catia and Rhino, initially the tools of car designers, were adopted by architects some years ago and now used to shape forms elastically.

In Mike Solomon's work, elasticity and fluidity are driven by a different set of operatives. I see more organic visual references, coming out of a more primal core, that may even appear emotional. Yet the deformed grid that he uses to hold the piece together both hearkens to and deviates sharply from convention and euclidean geomtries.

but ultimately, they are beautiful.