Art School Confidential: An Interview with Artist Michael Alan

Art School Confidential: An Interview with Artist Michael Alan

by Luiza Oleszczuk
07.24.2008

“After this pose is over, we’re going to put the model on the TV,” Michael Alan declares during a figure drawing session in his loft in Williamsburg. Soon, a naked man with hot-dogs taped to his face strides into the room yelling: “Who wants a dog?” And from then on, it only gets more surreal. 

If your experience of figure drawing ends at junior high art classes, you’re up for a little trauma while witnessing Draw-a-thon Theatre—a weekly artistic extravaganza combining drawing, performance art, modeling, acting and writing; which, together with loud backdrop music, creates a phantasmagoric mishmash of a show, party and art class. Farewell traditional drawing sessions, where naked models sit silent on podiums in a stale, academic ambience. This week’s theme focuses on unruly housewives who pose naked in the artist’s kitchen (one sitting on the counter-top, sipping from a bottle of whiskey), before making out in his bedroom. All for the sake of art.

The 30-year-old artist/performer says that it’s not that the migrating Draw-a-thon sessions are unconventional or shocking; it’s the conventions of figure drawing that became dull.

“If the focus of figure drawing is the model, then why are they usually set in silence? Why are they encouraged to be impersonal? Why were the poses dry?” he asks.

In retrospect, he describes himself as “a child of the 80s, roaming the streets, influenced by chaos.” While searching for a more inspiring ways of drawing, this young and almost-romantic idealist occupied himself with climbing the buildings and trains around the metro area and celebrating his first love—graffiti. That passion evolved into professional art-making.

As a young man, Alan attended art and sketch classes all around New York City from 1995 to 2003 and did not find anything revealing about them—until an embryo of unique inspiration appeared.

“Draw-a-thon Theater is … a reaction to art school,” says Alan. “I drew the same models in the same poses in the same ways over and over again. The rooms were silent, there was no energy. I wanted more; more hours, more models, outrageous poses, different types of models, music, insanity, action, chaos. I attended Peter Hristoff’s class at the School of Visual Arts in 1998, and after sketching models holding dead cow parts, I left influenced.”

During an average Draw-a-thon Theatre performance the first aspect that jumps at the viewer is the parade of naked people—standing, lying and hanging in outlandish positions, smeared with weird stuff. The models are actors, the artists are models, and the models also draw, coagulating into a unique artistic experience.

“Uninterested in pursuing one genre of art, I started integrating seemingly inconsistent styles, creating hybrids and crossbreeding,” says Alan.

The idea seems spot-on—who ever thought about drawing a performance? The guest artists (anybody can attend) create sequences of figures representing one model that is moving.

A 25 year-old Brit-turn-New Yorker artist, Celine, found this place the same way most people do: by the word of mouth. She never attended an art school, that is why independent art classes like this are important to her.

“I’ve been drawing since childhood,” she explains, “It’s my second time here and I enjoy these sessions more than any other in NYC.”

A 26-year-old video game artist, Mike, shares Celine’s opinion. The first time he came over, Michael Alan was building a huge cake out of the models.

“I like the vibe here,” says Mike. “It's not stuffy or old fashioned like other life drawing sessions I’ve been to. It seems more modern; the poses are creative. You see a lot of people drawing in unique styles, not everybody drawing in the same old academic way.”

“The goal is to create a new positive and encouraging space outside the art world where a community can grow together while drawing theater,” says Alan. “Everyone who comes to the show-- performers, musicians and the audience; is part of the process.”

Not only does he draw, but sometimes Alan performs himself, as he did in a church on Governor’s Island. But during most draw-a-thons, the master occupies himself with directing, making sure “no one goes on fire.”

“It’s going to be a work in progress today, fellows,” he addresses the drawing audience while putting a pillow under one model’s elbow. The TV, pinned under the model, is playing the surrealist film Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story.
“This is what they should do in art schools,” exclaims Alan. “Show videos. They can take you back in time.”

The poses that models take, as well as the setting and (scant) costumes, are designed by Alan, with significant help from other participants and friends. Though the artist believes that, like a movie director, he should have a set idea about the piece in advance, he leaves room for Allan Kaprow-like improvisation.

He likes to draw human-shaped creatures which he calls Time Travelers: “creatures that are caught in the past, present and the future, surviving in an alternate reality. The chronic time exaggerators are a critique on the progression of art history. [The travelers] question the idea of history and are a reaction to living in a confusing art period. The travelers are alive and believable; their time and place are being made.”

Alan also creates abstract sculptures and amalgams of sculpture and audio video installations (his apartment is filled with turned-on TVs covered in colorful paint). But, as he claims, his favorite theme is still “making them all into a big pile.” That means paint, installations, fabrics, and, most importantly, people.


JULY-- at Michael Alan's open studios: 694 metropolitan avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
L train to Graham St
Rooftop drawing, short pose room, long pose room, shower drawing
SESSION 1 STARTS AT 4PM-8PM
2ND SESSION STARTS AT 8PM- 12:OOAM
Single Session July 5th {4pm-8pm 0r 8pm-1am}- $15 at door $17

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