Conversations with an Artist: Michael McConnell

We've followed San Francisco-based artist Michael McConnell for many years and are thrilled to welcome him to Poet and/the Bench. We love how the animals in his paintings take on human characteristics, especially prevalent in his Introvert/Extrovert works from 2016, which is likely when we first came across his studio. Over the years, as his narratives have evolved, we've been struck by the emotionality that sits both on the surface and deep beneath. Without always knowing the symbology present in a piece, you can feel the resonance Michael has with living things. View Michael's art collection in our gallery. 

8 Questions 

Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
I’ve always been considered introverted, and often have difficulty articulating myself with words. When I was 11, my mom enrolled me into art classes. It was like discovering a new vocabulary and way to communicate. I began drawing the characters that my brother and step brothers were creating in Dungeons and Dragons and it allowed a means for me to participate. I think then is when I realized the importance that making art was for me, though it wasn’t until graduating high school that I pursued it as a career.

I don’t know how I’d actually survive without being able to make art.

What themes do you pursue in your art?
My work is heavily based in narrative, using a combination of my own personal stories and those that are more universal. The work often is examining my past– documenting major events and then weaving in narratives of childhood fairytales and fables. 

Recently I was revisiting the themes of all the shows I had at Braunstein/Quay Gallery before its closure. I found it interesting to see how the themes progressed over time, shifting through my own personal history. These themes ranged from exploring the ideals of the nuclear family, uprooting and confronting family secrets, understanding the feeling of innocence lost, and the benefits of letting go of parts of the past. 

Currently my work has been exploring the ideas of chosen families, fatherhood, domesticity, and the unconventional living arrangements I share with my partner of 20 years.  

Neighbors no. 3

Tell us about what influences the direction for your craft .
Due to my introverted tendencies I have strong observational skills. I think this is the biggest influence on my art making: being a sensitive observer. I’m interested in documenting stories and relationships, whether they be personal or the conversation between two colors. I use my sketchbooks to record ideas and phrases that later will be filtered into the work. While I’m in progress of working on a piece I save colors that I like on small panels. These color combinations then influence color stories of future paintings.  


How has your work developed over time?
My work has transitioned through lots of phases over the years. From loose cartoony drawings to a more tightly rendered image. Much of my earlier work consisted of isolated figures on a plain background, while in current work I’ve been painting loose abstracted backgrounds that imply a sense of space or environment for the subject matter to reside in. 

 The Legend of the Owl and the Crow

What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
As strange as this may sound I’d probably have to say sticks of white chalk. You will find dozens of half used pieces all over my studio, some just piles of dust from being stepped on. I use the chalk to draw on my paintings– and because of its impermanence I can easily erase it. Resizing things, switching compositions, or altering the drawing easily. In works in progress images I’ve posted online people often are encouraging me to just leave the white sketchy lines as part of the work, but because of its impermanence that is not so easily done. 

Do you collect anything?
When I was reading these questions out loud to my partner and got to this one, he just began laughing very hard. He’s laughing because, yes, I collect a lot of things. He is often teasing me that when I sell a piece of my art that I’m just going to go out and buy someone else’s. And it’s true, I enjoy collecting art and have a pretty large collection. We make jokes about having to rotate things out. I especially like finding emerging artists because it’s such a rewarding feeling to be supporting young artists at the start of their careers. 

Besides art, I also collect a variety of tchotchkes– white ceramic figurines, rabbits of various materials, wind-up toys and other animal motifs. If I have space on a wall or shelf I can always find something to fill it. My studio is a series of little tableaus of inspiration. 

What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
I’ve been reading a bit about the Ostwald color system and other alternative color systems to the traditional color wheel we are taught as kids. It’s fascinating as an artist to continually learn about color and new ways of seeing things.  

What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
Don’t compare yourself to other artists.  You have your own voice and talents so trust yourself. Also to maybe take some photography lessons.  

Bonus Question:
What role does music play for you while you work?
I love listening to music while painting. I’m really into lyrics and they can often inspire a piece through subject matter or a title.  

Hare Stare

Blended Family

Rabbits have a way of popping up in our gallery and Michael's rabbits (among other animals) with their dialogue and narrative, maintain their own identity as a complement to our current artist menagerie. Won't you come play?

View Michael's art collection in our gallery. 

~ Bonnie & Jeffrey

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