My work explores aspects of suburban gayness through camp, craft, and collecting. These different components, of my practice, allow for investigation into the struggle to locate self in an uncertain landscape of love, longing and loneliness.
Interview with Mike Linskie
Questions by Emily Burns
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what motivated you to become an artist?
Both of my parents were and still are very creative. My dad is a musician and painter, and my mom is a quilter and photographer so they both have always been extremely supportive in that regard. When my family and I were living in Massachusetts, I had a good friend whose mom was a painter. Her medium was watercolor and in fact, I took a couple summer classes she taught when I was in 2nd and 3rd grade. I remember her taking us into Boston to see a Winslow Homer exhibition. I recall boats and lots of them but I can remember also thinking that it was very special. That we had gone in to the city to look at paintings behind red velvet rope stands. It made a big impression on me. Since then, I had my own drawing table that I would have to draw or paint in my room all the way through high school.
You work in series and your work spans many different forms and media, including quilting, drawing, painting, and more. Do you work in one media at a time? What are you working on right now?
I don’t work in one media at a time. I normally bounce back and forth from one to another. Maybe I get bored easily? No, I think it actually has to do more with my painting background and the way I was taught. When painting, you are supposed to work the whole canvas at the same rate. For example, you shouldn’t fixate on the bowl of fruit for hours and then address the rest of the painting. At the end, you come to realize you didn’t leave enough space for the table and your left with a bowl of floating fruit. I think of my entire body of work as one painting; slowly over the years, building up the different areas of the canvas, leading to a larger complete picture.
Currently, I’ve been working on these Calvin Klein quilts that seem to be taking me forever. I have been collecting Calvin Klein Mens shirts and jeans to cut them apart and sew them back together with traditional quilt block patterns. It's been interesting so far, especially the denim quilt. I wanted to challenge myself and step away from conventional cottons and make one similar to the one my grandmother made back in the 1970’s.
What is the significance of each medium for you?
They all are significant in their own right. At least, I don’t have any kind of medium hierarchy. I utilize all of them because they function differently. I think the drawings are very direct and immediate, as that’s how they are usually made. The quilting allows me to slow down a bit and take some time to be very careful and direct but with a different kind of speed. I also think quilting is free from any “history” that painting has to fight with. And painting is somewhere between the two.
In the work included in Issue 6, there is a star character with a face appearing either in a repeat pattern or as a standalone element. Can you tell us more about this motif and when it first appeared in your work? Is it inspired by quilting patterns?
I was working on sand castle paintings and I started to look at medieval architecture, more specifically, gargoyles as reference images for the paintings. I started doing little watercolor studies and I really got into them. There was this one gargoyle that had a face that just stuck with me. I was also looking briefly at the painter Yue Minjun at the time and thinking about comedy and tragedy. This face was laughing and I couldn’t tell if it was out of true laughter or happiness or if it was out of anxiety or nervousness.
With regards to the star, it is very traditional to quilting. There are many different stars, with different names to differentiate them – some are more regional than others but all in all fairly synonymous with quilt making. The drawings were an escape to what I wanted to be doing more of which was sewing. You can’t really sew with your machine late into the evening with all of your neighbors. But drawing doesn’t make too much noise and so the quilts came to life in drawing form.
Pattern seems to be a recurring theme in your work, what draws you to using repeat elements?
I would go back to quilts. The idea is you spend time making smaller individual blocks and when you bring them altogether it’s not about each block but rather the total sum of those parts. It’s also a mode that seems to work for me. Patterns can be disorienting in many ways and it’s in that confusion that I can push the imagery/motifs to different places until they, for example these drawings in this issue, break from the gargoyle and quilt block and become really my own. Once I make it mine then I can use it as my own visual language to do with what I want. Again, I believe in slowly building up the body of work, and these are just a small part of the whole.
Can you walk us through your creative process? Does this change depending on the medium?
A lot of the process allows for play. A lot of the process allows for mistakes and failures. I would say a good portion of my process involves editing/throwing away. It’s a strategy that I use – the more things you make the more chances you have of making something special. That said, quilting is slightly different, I do still allow myself a certain level of playing but once you start piecing fabric together its not a whole lot of fun to have to use your seam ripper and undo everything. I have a design wall usually and the quilts get laid out for the most part. They don’t always stay 100% true to the original design. You have to allow for some changes in the process but they more often stick to the plan. So much of it involves measuring and cutting and putting the whole thing together based on the last piece of fabric you added.
Are there any overarching themes that you keep returning to in your work?
“Not gay enough”
I return to that sentiment which a lesbian said to me when I was in undergrad. She was implying that we couldn’t hang out or be friends any longer because I wasn’t “as gay as she was.” It has stuck with me ever since and in many ways what drives my work. Obviously, it’s complicated to unpack those three words but it’s worth exploring in my opinion. It just left me so dumbfounded.
What artists have you looked at the most over the years? Who are you looking at now?
The ones I’ve looked at over the years ranges from Henri Rousseau, Paul Klee and Georges Seurat to Robert Rauschenburg, Paul Thek, Louise Bourgeois, Elizabeth Murray, George Kuchar, Martin Kippenberger and Mike Kelley.
I’m currently looking at Richard Hawkins, Nayland Blake, Quintessa Matranga and Polly Apfelbaum.
What have been some of the biggest influences on your life and your work thus far?
I would go back to the fact that I have been very lucky to have supportive friends and family that have kept me going. I mean, I really am interested in the things that I am (painting, quilting and music) because of my parents. I moved 6 times before I was 14 and all I had were my parents and siblings.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me is working a Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-6pm job with at least two hours of commuting. It can be exhausting but I try to make small moves or do a couple things throughout the week after work so I don’t end up putting an unnecessary amount of pressure on myself to be super productive or prolific on my two days off. That’s not healthy. By the time it’s the weekend for me, things have, slowly, started to get to the place they need to be so I can bring everything together or make the bigger, more involved moves.
What type of studio scenario do you need to get work done? Can you tell us a bit about your workspace? What are absolute necessities in the studio?
I love the idea of a nice large studio that is separate from my living space but in reality most of my career, I’ve worked out of my bedroom. Even in grad school, when I had a studio, I somehow was so used to working at home in my bedroom, that I still made smallish work there. With that being said, I need some kind of table space, some paper and watercolors or my sewing machine and fabrics. Nothing crazy. It is also very necessary to have music!
Is there anything that significantly supports or destroys your groove or energy in the studio?
I would say music supports the “groove” or “energy.” It’s like home base or a marker; it grounds me and helps me be able to navigate the act of making. The only thing that destroys it is not having enough time.
Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
When I discovered Joni Mitchell and her catalogue of music, it changed a lot! I picked up at FYE a used copy of one of her records from 1991, Night Ride Home. I can’t explain why that record, a record she says she made while coming to terms with middle age, spoke to me so much but it did. I picked it up on a whim right as I was coming to terms with telling friends and family I was gay. Maybe it’s her emotive vocal performances on that album or in general but I responded to it and still do.
I hate to admit but I am not much of a reader. Don’t hate me. I just never was growing up and to this day I don’t pick up books for fun. Saying all that, I do read books as it pertains to my work/practice. I’m in the middle of a book titled Peacocks, Chameleons, Centaurs: Gay Suburbia and the Grammar of Social Identity by Wayne Brekhus. It’s good because it investigates the differences between the kinds of gay suburban men and how they navigate their lives.
What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of being in the studio?
Its very important. I only listen to music. No podcasts or interviews for me. It’s the thinking side that I’m trying to avoid as much as possible. The type of music is not limited to any one genre, it just depends on the mood I’m in or the work that I need to do. Usually if the work ahead is a bit more tedious, say some small sewing or quilting then it will be more mellow, folky, or jazzy. If it’s about warming up, playing around or not needing as much attention then that may be more fun including show tunes. I’m a sucker for a good musical cast recording post the 1970. No West Side Story or South Pacific, give me Falsettos or The Last 5 Years and I’m happy!
How important is the place where you live to your studio practice? This could include geographic location, city, neighborhood, community, etc.
I don’t consciously think about it but I would say the location I live in affects the work. However, I’m not so sure it affects the practice so much. When I was living in Florida post grad school, I ended up making works on the beech just because I had a new material or environment to work in. But now that I live in New York, its ok that I’m not making those sculptures anymore. I was meant to make them there and then. Maybe it comes down to being as flexible as I can in order to maximize the amount of productivity.
Any advice from your past that has stuck with you or helped you?
I learned early on, if you get stuck, just put it aside and start the next thing. It’s as easy as that. You can always come back to it, and in fact you might have some new information to help you resolve things that you didn’t have previously.
How do you view social media and how has a particular platform impacted you as an artist?
I was hesitant for a very long time to get on Instagram but I eventually did. My reservation was that I had been off of Facebook for such a long time, and it felt great, that I didn’t want to be consumed by another social media platform.
I must say though, it has been very helpful in meeting people and seeing work that you don’t necessarily get to see. There’s just so much out there and it’s impossible to see everything.
Do you have any other news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
I have a show that just opened on March 29 here in New York. Its at Columbus Property Management and runs through April 29. It’s by appointment only. The show revolves around this stack of approximately 320 drawings I acquired at a flea market down in the Jacksonville area of Florida. The artist is Robert J. Lang and sadly the sellers couldn’t tell me that much about him other than they thought he had been very sick and in the hospital for some time. They got his drawings from his estate sale. This is the first time I have shown them publicly, along with some of my works.
I also will be participating in a group show out in LA at an artist run space at the beginning of summer. The dates are not finalized but should be in the next month or so.
Anything else you would like to add?
I hope at least some of this makes sense…hahaha. But seriously, thank you. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to participate in this issue of Maake Magazine.
Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
To find out more about Mike and his work, check out his website.