Land Art: Interview with Michael McGillis

Land Art: Interview with Michael McGillis

Michael McGillis is an environmental artist who creates beautiful pieces using diverse materials and brilliant colors. He recently shared some of his new work and answered a few questions about his artistic process, ideas and background.  Read on!

“I don’t think of it as ‘inspiration’ as much as motivation.  Being attracted to a subject and feeling compelled to explore it within ones own capacity.  In my case, a process of making art.”

What is your current location and where are you working?

I grew up in the inner suburbs of Detroit, lived in the city for 20 years, and recently moved back to those same suburbs. I have a small studio behind my house where I plan projects, make models and am able to watch my daughters play in our deep backyard.

What is your educational background?

I have a BFA from the Center for Creative Studies, located in Detroit.

How did you get into making environmental installations?

It was a gradual process that unfolded in the mid 90’s when I was invited to submit a small proposal for a new art park in Michigan.  I instead created an ambitious piece and that project became the segue to those that followed.

What medium do you like working with the most?

I don’t have a favorite medium or material.  I prefer to let circumstances dictate what will work for the individual pieces.

What is your favorite thing about making art? least favorite?

At a most basic level I enjoy the process of of moving ideas into a physical form.  I also like sharing work in settings that reach beyond an ‘art crowd’.

(least favorite) It’s common knowledge this is not a high-paying pursuit, so the struggle to fund work and merely stay afloat can be exhausting at times.

“Flow Line” 2007. Auvergne, France

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I don’t think of it as ‘inspiration’ as much as motivation.  Being attracted to a subject and feeling compelled to explore it within ones own capacity.  In my case, a process of making art.

It’s essentially summed up in this statement:

I’m interested in the memories and meaning we ascribe to our surroundings as well as the journey of trying to understand what I’ve come to think of as ‘revised nature’.  It’s a ‘nature’ propelled entirely of momentum that unconsciously corrects course despite interference and disruption; the unseen coyotes that roam in the nearby exurbs, the tragic wake of the emerald ash borer, or phragmites reeds clogging roadside ditches.  All this thriving change has occurred within my lifetime.  It’s this universal sense of impermanence I find so compelling.

Though each installation and sculptural piece has a distinctly informed process, they all stem from an enthusiasm for the swirling bits of detail that collectively define a given ‘place’.  I want to heighten a sense of what’s there, what’s absent and what might be possible by introducing elements that can alter how a place is perceived or understood.  I think of this work as physically manifested overlays that highlight an unseen contaminant or reveal a friction that I often try to illuminate with color.

With my smaller pieces and dioramas, I’ve inverted the scale of my sited work; fixating instead on omniscience, the authority of the museum and the representative potential of minor materials.

What is the last art/gallery exhibit you saw?

I haven’t seen any major exhibitions lately, especially outside the Detroit area.  There are many art events and interesting projects happening around the city these days that provide the necessary art ‘nourishment’.  With young children, traveling to see exhibition in nearby Chicago or even New York is just not as feasible as it once was.  And when I’m out of the country, typically I’m so busy, I don’t have spare time to visit places like the Louvre, as much as I would like to.  Thankfully, I can often get virtual experiences on the internet.

Who are your favorite artists?

Among my current favorite artists are Phillip Beesley, who does incredible ‘living’ installations, Willem Delvoye, known for doing a fairly wide range of work, and Tessa Farmer, who makes tiny assemblages using insect parts.

Any words of advice for those just starting out in the field?

Keep working and stay focused on what TRULY interests you.  Nothing is more pleasing to see than the artwork of someone delving deeply into something they are passionate about.

“Husk” 2011. Steel, Paint. 7 meters. Scenes from Something Overlooked. Center Galleries, College for Creative Studies, Detroit.

“Wilderness Drift” 2012. Etangs d’art, Broceliade, France

“Wake” 2006. Wood, Paint. 95 feet. Franconia Sculpture Park, Shafer, Minnesota  Via Beautiful Decay

“Infiltration” 2008. Plastic grocery bags. Multiple sites, Chemin d’Art, Saint Flour, France. Via Beautiful Decay

Check out more of his work…

Unless otherwise noted, all images are courtesy of the artist.

Published in Blog

1 Comment

  1. Nice. “Flow Line” reminds me of Cristo’s “Wrapped Walkways” in Kansas City when I was growing up, and “Running Fence” here in Sonoma County, CA. 

Leave a Reply

Lost Password