Michael Gray studied at the Art Institute where he received his Bachelor’s Degree and is now working on getting his Masters of Fine Art Degree at Florida International University. He has shown at several Miami art shows and has illustrated various children’s books including “The Coldecott Chronicles” and “The Hummingbird”. His works revolve around themes including the chaos of nature and also focuses on the language of the body. His recent work “Lolita” reveals the chaos of the natural world and depicts the negative effect of the presence of man upon nature through the body language of the whale being trapped.
In this interview with visual arts editor Catalina Piedrahita, Gray talks about protest art, spaces for this kind of art and the importance of using the skills as an artist to contribute to activist conversations.
Catalina Piedrahita: First of all, welcome back to MiddleGray Mag! It’s always a pleasure to have recurring artists featured in the zine, specially when you can witness their artistic progress. Can you give us an update to where you’re at with your career? What are some projects you’ve participated in since you were first featured in MiddleGray?
Michael Gray: Since my first appearance I have been busy getting into the FIU Graduate program for fine art. Since then I have worked on the “Oceanus” mural project with the Peace Mural foundation on Miami Beach (1601 Washington Ave). I am currently working on 7 portraits of the people who make Art Basel possible for Brickell Magazine. These portraits will be featured in their December Art Basel edition.
CP: Let’s talk about “Lolita.” How did you get involved in the creation of this mural?
MG: Since I have been working with the Peace mural foundation, I have been exposed to a different utilization of art skill. We were working on a huge mural based around the ocean and it’s conservation. We began talking about specific species that may need some public attention and our local Orca whale Lolita was brought up. A few sketches later we had a plan and within a week we had the Masonite panels ready to paint.
CP: Do you think there is a need of more available spaces to create political/social art in Miami?
MG: Absolutely, there are so many things we are ignorant to and so many things we need to be aware of. I, like many, really care about our ocean and our natural Florida habitat. More needs to be done in the conservation of these things not only for future generations but for our environment itself. I never realized that using my artistic skills could cause such commotion and awareness. It is definitely something I will continue doing because it is something worth doing.
CP: How important do you think protest art is? Do you think more artists should utilize their skills to create different kinds of awareness?
MG: I believe that if you feel strongly about something or care for something so much, you should use every means available to you to express your thoughts or views. If you have artistic talent, even better. Sometimes people can’t be told what to do but they can be shown an image that might change the way they look at something and that is what I aim to do with my murals. I hope that others can follow and really help make a difference.
CP: For those artists trying to get more involved with social/political/ecological issues, can you advise how to go about it or where to find spaces or groups interested in this kind of art?
MG: I found my way – by accident actually – to the Peace Mural Foundation on Miami Beach (http://www.peacemural.org/) and there is always something happening. They (Anna Huong in specific) really taught me how to make a statement with my work. But ultimately it’s a fairly simple process, find something specific you would like to stand for and make the work. It takes some research on the subject and on your audience but it’s a great way to get your statement and your artwork exposed on a larger scale. There are groups almost everywhere, it’s really up to you to find them and show them how you can contribute.