Divine Intuition: Entering the Gallery of Artist Mic Carlson
Over the last four years, I’ve had the chance to get up close and personal with ArtPrize. The organization has done a fantastic job of creating profiles for the artists and getting them connected with the festival. However, I had one artist that I wanted to know more about. His name is Mic Carlson, also a local of Grand Rapids, whose name popped onto my radar before I got involved in the ArtPrize craze.
Mic, a sculptor and painter, has created stunning pieces that have appeared in ArtPrize since the competition’s inception, but his journey has been in the works since his college days. Recently, I had the chance to chat with Mic about his art and his ArtPrize experiences, and let me just say: I have a whole’nother level of appreciation.
“Most I learned from college was that I like history of art, learning about the masters,” Mic explained, sitting comfortably at his desk within the sanctity of his art gallery. His baseball cap, tilted up enough for eye contact, held his black ponytail securely, as he folded his hands onto the desktop. “I didn’t like school,” he admitted, “they want to teach you this and this and this, and I wanted to go right into painting and doing what I wanted to do.”
Mic has always been creative. In his teens, he learned how to build houses and furniture. When he enrolled at Grand Rapids Junior College, Mic further explored his “knack for creating things” by taking basic art classes. The idea of painting professionally didn’t come till later. As he began toying with the idea of being an artist, he painted portraits and commissioned pieces.
“Back then, I didn’t think I’d be in the Water’s Building with this eclectic collection of work,” Mic said. “It was just one of those things where I was like, I’m starting here on my journey, and I’m still on that journey.”
The Turning Point
“I had a dream that when I turned 30, I wanted to spend my birthday under the Eiffel Tower,” Mic explained, smirking at the memory.
The dream, however daunting, didn’t seem impossible. After working at the Crystal Springs Country Club and selling three paintings to Blue Cross Blue Shield, Mic quit his job and hopped on a plane to Europe, bound for France. He stayed there for two months.
“I’ve never looked back since.” He said with a smile, “That moment, that two months, defined a lot of where I’m at today.”
During his stay in Europe, Mic had the chance to explore the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa and many French impressionists, whose art influenced many of his later works. At the time, Mic had not started sculpting. Since his first visit over the pond, Mic has returned to Europe twelve times.
For eleven years, Mic’s gallery has been located in Suite 100 of the Water’s Building in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. As he gave me the tour of the gallery, I couldn’t help but think of the catacombs buried beneath Paris. From the hallway, his gallery opens up into one large room, which leads to several other small cubbies filled with colorful art. No two rooms were the same. Everywhere we turned a giant canvas or life sized sculpture greeted us.
Near Mic’s desk, hanging alongside a six-foot-tall painting of Elton John, was a replica of his 2013 ArtPrize entry. The replica, a print on canvas, detailed a wine bottle and wineglass encompassed in colors of deep reds, crisp oranges, and cool blues. The original piece, done on glass, was being featured in the Acton Institute at the Windcat Building. When I asked Mic about the wine depicted in the painting, an excited spark came into his eyes, a look of nostalgia overcoming his features.
“I love the Montefalco Rosso, it’s a wine we drink in Italy” Mic explained. “We were sitting in a cafe overlooking the Umbrian Valley. We could see Assisi, or the home of St. Francis, in the distance, and I took a photograph of that.”
The photograph became the inspiration of his painting. The painting’s wine bottle and glass were realistic in appearance but were cast against a colorful backdrop, reminiscent of watercolor paints melding together on paper.
Unlike a watercolor painting, Mic had done the original Vino Rosso on glass. To paint on glass, everything must be done backwards. The viewer is meant to see the glass’ smooth side, with all of the paints being applied in order of how they’d appear once the paintings finished. For Mic’s painting of Vino Rosso, he first would have painted the wine glass, followed by the wine bottle, and then continued working his way back.
“When you’re working on glass, that’s harder to fix, because when it’s there, it’s there,” Mic explained, pointing at the painting.
From his desk drawer, Mic pulled out a book featuring his previous works. Flipping through the book, Mic highlighted his ArtPrize pieces. He settled on a picture of his 2009 bronze sculpture of St. Francis jumping over the globe with a palm leaf in his hands. The sculpture was 12-feet-tall and surrounded by 12 monks in a circle. The circle of monks was broken, with arms still outstretched, welcoming visitors to join hands and complete it. The story of the piece Mic wrote was: “All of us are like the 13th disciple to go on and spread the word of Christ.”
Fumbling briefly with the pages, Mic found a picture of his 2010 entry, another sculpture made of bronze and high density foam, depicting Jesus and St. Francis. The sculpture was an interactive piece, allowing people to sit alongside Jesus with his arm outstretched. Smiling, Mic said that thousands of people sat alongside Jesus, which was featured within the top 100 in the ArtPrize competition.
His 2011 piece, a clay sculpture called “Reflection of a Fallen Soldier” featured three soldiers mourning the loss of one of their brothers in combat. To protect the delicate clay, a friend of Mic’s built a wall around the structure while it was on display in front of the Gerald R. Ford Musuem. In front of three soldiers, bronze busts were made of their heads, and below them, brass plaques with names of all of the fallen soldiers were listed.
The last page Mic turned to was almost unnecessary: In the front of his gallery, the original 2012 entry, “Madonna of the Streets” was on display. This sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding an infant Jesus had been my favorite entry in the 2012 competition. I had seen it--gleaming white and standing over six feet tall-- alongside one of the pools in front of the Gerald R. Ford Museum, the same location of his 2011 piece. It was obvious that the “Madonna” held a special place in Mic’s heart. The original sculpture’s mold had been used to make a bronze cast that had recently been dedicated and blessed to be placed as the centerpiece of a local prayer garden. (The video of this process has actually been listed below!)
As the interview wrapped up, Mic humored me by answering a question I’d been dying to ask: What do artists do about mistakes?
Instead of laughing or asking me what I was smoking, that same excited glint lit up his eyes. “Sometimes those are the best” he said, “That’s how you invent stuff. You come back to it a year later and think, huh? That’s kinda cool. How did I do that?”
If Mic continues fusing his passions and talents, I think that the world has a lot more “cool” stuff coming.