It was a great pleasure to be able to interview Michael Mararian, an artist I have admired for possessing a poetic propensity for taking traditionally cheerful images and concepts and turning them into frightening, yet humorous, tableaus. His unique rearranged dark work he aptly call M. Mararian’s Inky Dreadfuls has a tendency to uncover innocence while drawing inspiration from a diverse range of subjects, while focusing on children. Though often shroud in the macabre, Michaels’ ink paintings are also suffused with a sense of mischievous, almost self-deprecating humor. What can on one level be construed as melancholy and cruel, can alternately be viewed as amusing, even charming. He enjoys letting his viewers decide.
James – Your insight and analysis of human nature appears quite introspective, is this something you believe is needed more so in art or is this some sort of personal reflection?
Michael – I am a traditionalist in the way that I believe art should reflect our emotions and that art should help us come to a better understand of who we are. I can appreciate a lot of modern art that has a brain to it but to my personal tastes it is most successful when it has a soul as well. I think many artists create art to help understand their own personal issues, as do I to an extent. In my case, yes, my work is part of my own personal reflection, absolutely. I was raised an only child with overbearing parents who have always wanted grandchildren – as it turns out, my wife and I cannot have children and part of that guilt and frustration creeps into my work and I wind up destroying childhood idealism by way of examining themes of fear, lost innocence and that part of human nature that is afraid or perhaps deteriorating. Of all the art happening now I think journalistic photography best represent human nature more than most because it’s real and it’s right there before our eyes.
James – Do you believe that the innocence of mankind has been lost?
Michael – Yes and no. I think about when I was a teenager back in the early 80′s watching the soft-core porno films that would be scrambled on a pay channel in my home and I would get so excited when it would suddenly un-wiggle and be recognizable for a few seconds allowing me to see “something dirty” briefly before it scrambled again. It was ridiculous, I could sit there for hours waiting for that to re-freeze over and over. Now cut to 2008 with the Internet in full bloom — a teenager with everything at their fingertips — they (or anyone) can literally type into the Internet what they want to see and there it is, instantly. The media world has exploded and it seems that nothing is unobtainable anymore. Even childhood – the bastion of innocence — seems to become more and more infringed upon. Now, on the flip side of the coin, I do believe 50 or a 100 years from now we will probably be looking back on this time and say “wow, we were so naive then” — it’s hard for me to imagine what will be taboo a century from now.
James – Your use of rapidographs and archival brush pens are not coincidental, what are your reasons for choosing those instruments as oppose to traditional brush and pen?
Michael – Actually I have been using traditional brushes more lately to paint on the ink in my latest works, but the majority of the work are with the technical pens. I have always drawn in ink – having filled countless sketchbooks with intricate ink drawings in which I used basic throw away artists ink pens — I have always loved the control over the pen that I can get, and the rapidographs can create a sharp, hard line. I admire immensely the photo realistic painters out there that have such control over their brushes. But I do like the resistance I get from the pen tip on the paper.
James – The words “Fatherless, Motherless, Pointless’, what do they mean to you?
Michael – Well being an only child like I am, parental figures are the most important elements in my life. So when I submitted a poster for Corey Helford Gallery’s “?The War” show I knew I wanted to comment on the shattered family unit as opposed to any comments on the current regime or the oil situation. So after I drew the poster, my wife and I talked about the titled “Fatherless, Motherless, Pointless” and came up with it because we felt it best related to the international struggle abroad with both the US and Iraq perspective. Because at the end of the day that is the one element that affects both sides in the conflict, the final piece could easily have been an Iraqi child wailing on the coffin of one of their lost parents.
James – The child on top of the American flag was a deeply moving touch, and I think that the meaning is obvious, but in terms of your vision do you believe there will be a time art and western society can be reconciled?
Michael – No, and it shouldn’t be. I think if we want good, meaningful art it should never be reconciled. The analogy of sand’s friction within the oyster shell working to create the eventual pearl comes to mind. Artists should embrace conflict, questioning their surroundings and produce what they feel is their best response artistically. Great art I feel comes from dissatisfied artists who feel they need more in life than what is being offered to them. Not that artists should be suicidal or suffering, I’m sure many artists in history were quite happy with their lives – I know I’m quite happy in my life, but all artists should be passionate about what they have to say and not let unwarranted criticism stop them.
James – Wit and humor seems to be recurring theme in your pieces, is that to balance out the representative angst and dread contained in your pieces? or does it serve another purpose?
Michael – I think my work for the most part has to have a sense of humor. Our lives are a steady balance of happiness and sadness and I think if my work were completely downtrodden people would reject them. Also it is in my nature to want to make people happy. I am told I have a great sense of humor and I have always made people laugh so I think it’s just natural that my humor comes out in the work – I don’t think I could not have it happen. That’s why growing up I could never be the goth kid I wanted to be – I was always too funny to be scary — but pathos and despair I can do in spades– and it makes sense since comedy and tragedy go hand in hand.
James – Do children inspire you?
Michael – Upset children inspire me. I guess it goes back to the humor and sadness concept because our hearts go out to upset toddlers even though we know they are usually crying over trivial situations: A dropped ice cream cone, a sudden scrape of the knee, being denied a candy bar at the checkout line. Half the time when a child cries it’s because their id complex is refused, or they are embarrassed, or in some deviant occasions they know they will manipulate positive results from their tears. I can’t really figure out why, but there’s something about taking a cute crying little child and placing them in a truly horrific situation that makes the work uncomfortably enjoyable.
James – In the Phobia, Foibles and Fiends, what piece are you most passionate about?
Michael – There were a few I really loved working on. The one I was most passionate about was the piece entitled Eisoptrophobia (fear of mirrors), which depicts the utter sadness and despair of a little boy in a sailor suit who is afraid to look at himself in the mirror. The final result of the deep pain that seems to emote from that drawing was more than I could have imagined. It’s one of the few that is not humorous by any means, instead I tried to capture the pain a person must feel to suffer from a phobia like that. A fear to look at oneself in the mirror must be absolutely agonizing and I was proud at the way it turned out. The other one I like is Mechanophobia (fear of machinery) in which a little boy has his shirt caught in ominous, rotating, factory gear. The look on his face, the sweet yet horrifying understanding of the inevitable, I think really captures the essence of the type of work I like to do.
James – I recall you called yourself a humorist, is that a self imposed designation? How you believe people react to your art? Or is it summation of what you want your art to embody?
Michael – While revamping my artist statement one night I was trying to figure out if I was an artist who is funny or a humorist who can draw… and I came to the conclusion that it really is both. When people ask me to describe what I draw, I always say I try to incorporate the wit of Edward Gorey with the wholesome tableau’s of Norman Rockwell. I love observing people view my art because it always take a brief second for them to figure out what is really going on in any given scenario. That moment of realization where they either laugh or gasp fuels my fire immensely and makes me feel like I’ve done my job correctly.
James – To you, are children an archetype for a more honest and faithful representation of humanity? I mean childhood emotional expression appears raw and uncontaminated, is this why children are a reoccurring theme in your works?
Michael – Absolutely. There is nothing more beautiful than the simplicity of childhood. I was playing with my cousins little boy once, years ago, and he was curling up his fingers and snarling at me to be all scary, the way little kids sometimes do when they play “monsters”. But when I did my version of a scary monster in return he stiffened with fear instantly and with tears quivering in his eyes he squeaked – “Stop. You’re hurting my feelings.” I just loved that moment. It was so incredibly honest and innocent, and the fact that he confused the idea of being scared with being hurt added to the purity of it. I do believe a part of that never leaves us – we carry that potential to instantly be afraid with us always but as we get older we find ways to suppress it until we are face to face with a truly life threatening moment in which, more often than not, the best we can come up with is our own version of “Stop, you’re hurting my feelings.”