A CONVERSATION WITH MIKE CHEARNEY
By Amanda Quinn Olivar
West Coast Editor
Mike Chearney lives and works in Los Angeles. His painting explores vibrant color and texture as a vehicle of energetic transmission. He is represented by the George Billis Gallery and has shown in New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles. He is a self-taught painter who came to art after a career as an advertising Creative Director in New York and Los Angeles. This year, his work was featured in shows at The Cornell Museum and The Gadsden Art Center Museum. He is currently showing at The Cathedral City Art Gallery in the California Desert.
Amanda Quinn Olivar: You made a choice to become an artist relatively late in life. What was the catalyst to change, and how has that choice affected you?
Mike Chearney: The term “late in life” seems so strange to me because I feel so young, like I am in my twenties. I pray, many years from now, I will die young.
At the time I began a second career as an artist, in 2005, the pain of doing something I considered meaningless with my life outweighed the fear of change. My life became highly unstructured, financially uncertain and full of unexpected magical turns in the path. It has led me closer to my true self, my natural bohemian spirit, love and others. I tell people of any age and myself: following your dreams and intuition, however challenging that may be, is far, far easier than not. I believe, in hindsight, leaps of faith are a great thing; so I keep taking them.
How would you describe your subject matter, approach and process? You stated "There is just the paint flying, dripped, swirled, cajoled into its existence."
I am a wild man in the studio. My painting space in downtown LA is totally canvas and plastic coated. I just let the paint fly, and in recent years, dance. It is an incredibly physical and emotional possession. Time stands still. I meditate on the people, places, the great art I have experienced and the ideas that move me with their beauty, and I paint them, their energy. It’s like I am being called to paint, by the tree I just passed, or the great statue I just saw, or the unseen. I call out to channel the highest vibration and humbly attempt to bring it to life and the canvas. While I may have an idea, a “portrait” of what I am painting in mind, I let go of any conscious control of outcome.
Before painting, I often sit in the beautiful Parisian-like coffee shop downstairs, The Daily Dose Cafe, and listen to a song over and over again that moves me to silent tears. I will then post on social media a shot from the cafe, and call for the help of my many friends as I paint. Then I take that high vibration of collective consciousness and good will with me and lose myself in a trance state in the studio. I never paint “alone”. The end result, if I am lucky, is a transmission and a high energy transmitter.
Do you need a lot of space to paint?
A small space can become very large if you need it to be.
What messages/themes are conveyed in your work?
I hope: hope. Transcendence, that we can touch the divine in ourselves and the world, through and with art. It’s a mashup of Shakespearean themes, Disney archetypes and Renaissance light, with a modern spiritual energetic twist.
What’s the importance of color to your work?
Color speaks, to me and for me. It’s at the soul of my painting. I believe it can convey the energetic quality of the subject, its un-seeable heart, its highest being, its auric body through its vibrational patterns.
How do you name your pieces?
I ask my paintings to tell their story, to give the viewer a clue, a window to their meaning.
The story: I had the powerful experience of seeing Joan Quinn at an exhibit of her legendary portrait collection at The Brand in Los Angeles, in 2014. Many of the great artists of our time have gifted Joan with portraits, and many were in attendance that night. I was pretty awestruck and I almost resisted my friend Raymond Lee’s insistence that I get to know Joan.
I soon found myself painting a portrait of Joan, and that portrait was inspired by the love I saw these artists express for her, a love I now understand and share. This was my first “portrait”, and a defining evolution of my work and moment in my art life. Currently that portrait is in a show at the Cornell Museum, next to the Basquiat.
Do you consider your work as existing within any particular art movement?
I haven’t really thought about belonging to a school or a style. I am just creating. For me, I am attempting to see through physical form to energetic being.
What materials and mediums do you work with?
Working with acrylic paint has been a love affair for me from the start. It’s so immediate, visceral, passionate, vibrant and sexy. Learning all the nuances of its chemical interaction and shadings has been like mastering a beautiful language.
I sometimes use unconventional materials--often organic, like leaves, branches or flowers--as a vehicle for paint application. You may find rose petals embedded in my work, or small souvenirs or remembrances of places or people associated with the painting. I believe this all adds to the energetic vibration and quality of the work, even if it is not visible. One day my wedding ring flew into a painting and it took hours to find it.
We understand that meditation has been a powerful influence on your work…
In 2008, I began a life-transforming practice of meditating. Almost immediately, I had mind-blowing, altered state experiences where the fabric of reality seemed to deconstruct. Floors began to undulate like waves in the ocean; space and time seemed distorted, and auras of light appeared around people. It began a wild journey into the nature of reality in my life and work, and it grounded my belief that we are much more than meets the eye. The evolution of my painting reflects that continued exploration. I believe there is no real separation between us or anything else. We are all part of this moving energy field that only appears solid, and that is what I am attempting to capture or translate in paint.
Tell us about your biggest challenge as an artist.
My muse, Raymond Lee, always challenging me to do more, commissioned a large scale rendition of The Last Supper in 2015. The depth of this theme and the energetic relationship of thirteen figures was an epic opportunity and responsibility. I am open to the message of all religions.
It was clear to me this work, my The Last Supper, was meant to convey the important presence of women at this event, specifically Mary Magdalene. It was also to reflect a sad bleeding Judas, unhappy that he must play the part of betrayer. They sit to the right and left of Jesus. Before beginning the work, I was referred to a lady believed to be the reincarnated spirit of Mary Magdalene and we spoke for several hours. It took over one month and a sea of silent tears to complete.
What do you do when you need to find inspiration to paint?
Have a good cup of coffee and instant enlightenment surely follows.
What are you excited about working on right now? Do you have any upcoming events/exhibitions?
Sometimes the universe calls out and you have to answer.
For years, people have stopped me every day, thousands of times, to ask about my painted shoes, wallet, shirts, coats, phone case. These painted objects are all collateral damage from the act of painting in the studio, but I understand they hold the same energy and positive intent as the finished works, and I think the public unconsciously gets that. I feel the benefit of a special energy wearing them, and I want others to feel that tangible power also. So many who would never buy or understand original art on a canvas might wear it or carry it, becoming a living moving art gallery, ever expanding like ripples in the force, into new worlds.
I have just bought the domain name chearneyi.com as a sister website to chearney.com for this new product. The "i" stands for “individual", one of a kind, and is based on the original Hungarian spelling of my name, Chearneyi (I am a mutt, 1/4 English, Irish, Italian and Hungarian). This may be my greatest energetic transmission project, and ironically more powerful than any canvas.
I also have another energetic transmission piece, The 36, where I painted thirty-six individual canvases as one, and then gifted them to people I believe have touched my life and the world... the humble intention being to raise our collective consciousness through and with the art. I am working on a grant proposal that explores the growing relationships of The 36 and their energetic connection, while also working on a new larger scale energetic transmitter project in a pyramid configuration. The “36” range from Dr. Daniel Stone, head of Cedar Sinai Medical Group, to Mary Muller, Global head of Disney Advertising, to Jonathan Murray, producer of everything from Born This Way to The Real World, to my favorite Starbucks barista, Shealyn Marie.
Currently, I am part of the group show Who is Joan Quinn? - A Life in Portraits at the Cornell Museum in Delray Beach, Florida. This show includes over seventy portraits of this art legend, done by her personal friends: from Basquiat to Moses to Ruscha to Graham to me.
I will be with the George Billis gallery at Red Dot Miami in December, and am working on an early year exhibition in the California Desert. The painted cast of my body, I Feel Myself Transported (a collaboration with great friend and caster Lilli Muller), will be unveiled as a new symbol of Cathedral City, California, at its City Hall in January 2017. New series include an examination of Disney archetypes and the Major Arcana of the Tarot.
What's your favorite art accident?
The story of the Green Dragon painting, my favorite art accident: it was the beginning of 2016 and I was just finishing work for my FOUR SEASONS solo show at George Billis Gallery, LA. I had a bucket of mixed green paint that could not be saved, and I spontaneously decided to throw it on a blank, white gold painted canvas. Two major throws in the space of a few seconds and the clear figure of a green dragon emerged. It completely startled me and seemed impossible.
I wondered what did the green dragon have to do with The Four Seasons... I posted the image of the dragon and this question on Facebook. Within hours, I heard back from a Facebook friend. She wanted me to know that in Tibetan Buddhism, the green dragon is a powerful figure symbolizing the Spring Equinox and the renewal of life and the spirit. Maybe, as many artists say, there are no accidents.