Michael Thomsen started out with painting and slowly moved into large intricate sculptures. While mainly showcasing his work at Rogue Buddha, Michael has also exhibited in Chicago and New York. His latest show, CURIO opens this Friday for Art-a-Whirl.
Photos and interview by Kelsey Johnston
Secrets: Where are you from?
Michael: Austin, Minnesota
Secrets: Tell me about your recent work.
Michael: It’s a continuation of trying to move into freestanding sculptures and finding the major focal point. The word that comes to mind for some of my recent work is curio, it’s almost a sort of a play on curiosities and collectibles. It also has a carnival feeling to it because I have relatives, grandparents who were in the carnival when I was younger and so I have that as a reference point.
Curio which is the title for my upcoming show at Rogue Buddha feels like a personal life time capsule. I’m really into old board game designs and so that I also incorporate into my sculptures which I feel correlates with the carnival feel. There is a dark element to my work, it’s not a direct but, it can be seen consistently through out my work. That element represents more of a struggle or the harder times of life, without having to reference what those moments are. All the fun, circus and theatrics are there but, to always remember that there is some sort of gloom to life as well.
I work a lot off the vanitas tradition which, is this idea of all that all of life has nature of vanity and veritas which means the truth never perishes. A specific area of Dutch paintings which addressed vanitas and veritas used symbolism and objects to express the vanity and truth.
One of the first jobs I had was when I was young, it was literally a job you give to a little kid. I was 6 or 7 and one of my relatives was an auctioneer but in those days auctioneers in the Midwest had reputations and he was kind of a rock star auctioneer. He would go to estate sales and farms that were going out of business and would be in charge of auctioning off everything on the estate. So, he would sent me up to these attics or where ever on the estate and give me a stack of cigar boxes and pull everything out and divide them up so all the pencils were in the same box etc.. I would then bring all the boxes down to the flatbeds outside and each lot was a lot that was then auctioned out. There were obviously bigger things like machinery, tools, and equipment that were also auctioned off so, I’d find all sorts of old dusty junk and curiosities.
At such a young age I got really attached to objects, memories, and their stories. I used to keep some of these things for myself and I at one point started using them in my sculptures. I found a way to duplicate some of these objects but, I also started going to estate sales and thrift stores to get some of the stuff I use in my sculptures.
At first I was attaching some of these objects in my paintings and then my paintings started to become more and more 3-d to the point where I left the canvas and started doing sculptures.
Secrets: What is the most important part of your process?
Michael: The self discovery as corny as that may sound. I wouldn’t have had to explain nearly as much as I just have several years ago because I used to be very emotional about my work. I think a lot of artists go by theory or method or an idea. I sort of worked strait from vision. There was no concept, it was mostly just something I had in mind to create and needed to get as close to achieving it as I could. Looking back at my process I found out a lot about myself just by the way I was doing things, the process I took. It felt like as if your own ghost was manifesting outside yourself forcing you to do things a certain way. I’ve taken care of more problems with art than any therapy could.
Secrets: What to you is a determinant of trash from treasure?
Michael: Well I get that decision down tighter and tighter all the time. I’m looking for certain shapes, wood obviously. I’ve gotten away from a lot of metal because that’s just heavy right off the bat. If it’s plastic which I avoid I look for thinks that are made from the 70’s to the 80’s because from around that time they still produced those items from pretty thick plastic.
I love stuff that has that old Spanish baroque feeling. Things from the time when America was still very connected to Europe. When people were bringing over trinkets, figurines, and souvenirs.
Secrets: What is the best part about Minneapolis?
Michael: Minneapolis has a great arts scene. The art community is really supportive.
Secrets: What is your favorite establishment in Minneapolis?
Micheal: Generally everything about Northeast Minneapolis. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I love Northeast because there’s a little bit of a small town feel. I like The Weisman Art Museum because the Weisman feels like the underdog of the three.
Secrets: Childhood dream career.
Michael: I always wanted to be a film maker. As a child I would use my fathers Super 8 camera and make movies of all sorts.