Michael Conger is an artist who is most well-known for his art utilizing the medium known as encaustic (beeswax).
1. Michael, what age would you say you first began creating art? I still have drawings from when I was maybe three years old. I come from a family of 4 boys and one sister. My mom made sure we each had a “save box”. Anytime we created artwork, she would date it and put it in these old cardboard boxes.
2. Did you create for the fun of it, because you simply couldn’t not create art or for some other reason? In grade school I just loved to draw. I was really good at copying illustrations by eye from my favorite books. Oddly, that skill didn’t develop much more than that. In high school I was always creative because I would construct things that would mock or spoof others in a funny way. I would see things and say, “I can make that!” So, I started sewing and working a little with wood. It wasn’t until college that I felt I had something to say. And, I wanted that message to be heard.
I had become an atheist around this time, despite my wonderful Catholic upbringing. I felt that art was the only tangible way to create a legacy. I don’t subscribe to that viewpoint any longer, but it stayed with me for 20 years. Where it should have spurred me to truly create, I feel it really held me back.
3. What age would you say you first began defining yourself as an artist? I once read a quote that goes, “You’re not a writer unless you write.” Same goes for being an artist. I’ve created sporadically in the past twenty years that I would have to label myself as creative rather than as an artist. For the past eight years, I have been accumulating the most wonderful collection of oddities from estate sales. I have amazing items for assemblage and collage, yet they have been used so infrequently in my artwork.
Determined to break this ridiculous slump, I became more serious about art and technique just over 2 years ago. I started to create some of the best art of my life, but it held no joy for me. In the past I had used art as a litmus test to gauge how happy I was. In spite of the outward positive look to my art, inward I was spiritually empty.
So, it really wasn’t until Feb. 19, 2011 that my life took an amazing turn. I receive the gift of faith. I have had a positive outlook on my life ever since. Now I create art to be shared. It is somewhat about sharing who I am…but it is mostly about sharing God’s glory and grace with others. My talent is simply a vehicle for that. It’s only now that I consider myself a true artist. And, of course, this definition fits for me only. Everyone has their own story. I respect that fully.
4. What are your opinions about being paid for art? Do you consider yourself a professional artist? I have been commissioned for only a few pieces in the past. I learned just 30 minutes ago that a large work of mine that I LOVE has sold from this current show (author note: the show until Nov. 2012 is the Two or More art show at Homegirl Cafe, 130 Bruno Street in LA). So, I absolutely consider myself a professional artist. I used to have doubts as to whether my work could stand up against other artists. I see now that it can. I love the look of my art. It’s the kind of work I would enjoy buying. So, I feel fine charging for it.
I do have this rule among friends. If you want me to make it for you, you have to pay me. However, if you are willing to come over to my studio while I create and learn a little along the way, then you can have it for free. Strangely, I’ve had very few takers for this proposition. I’ve gotten more exposure with this latest show. I might have to amend this offer. Ha ha!
5. Have you had formal training? If so, how do you feel it has helped you as an artist? How do you feel it has hindered you? If not, what are your thoughts about formal training? I have a degree in graphic design, but have also had classes in studio arts. Thankfully, I had great teachers. I learned from an excellent instructor, Stan Wilson, that artists needed to learn the rules before they could break the rules. That works for me.
Learning to talk about composition, color, balance, etc.–these are all great. They force you to think about your own work. In the end, it can still be very subjective to critique an others piece…but it helps you decide what you buy in to.
The only down side to my training is that I wasn’t fully ready for it. Now I am dying to get back for a Masters in Art to see how I can further grow.
6. If you could create art with a different medium than the one you are most well-known for, what would it be? I would love to be great at illustration. I am able to see amazing images in my head almost at will. These images come when I am near sleep, and I don’t even feel I can take credit for them. It’s different than dream images though. I just let them flow into my mind rather than conjuring them up myself. If I was able to draw these, it would be so cool.
7. What inspires you? Do you have some sort of “something” you do that when you do it ideas for new projects just seem to flow? Do you ever record your ideas for future use? If so, what is your favorite way? I’ve gotten better at sketching out ideas and seeing them through to the end. That’s extremely satisfying. My biggest inspiration has to be my desire for almost instantaneous results. It has helped set my aesthetic and has led me to learn and develop techniques that help me to create quickly.
Aside from that, I am inspired by my absolute love for being alive. I want to share this joy with others visually. This all stems from my faith. I really enjoy writing and will journal often. Going back to reread helps me create.
8. What’s your favorite curse word? N/A
9. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Well, I suppose I could work in a shop of some kind or freelance, selling some sort of product; a salesman, like maybe a haberdasher or maybe like a chapeau shop or something.
10. What’s next for you? What else is possible? I will be exploring a Masters of Arts. As well, I will definitely be entering more shows. I have several upcoming commissions to start. I’m also ready to help a third bride with her wedding soon. That’s great fun!
Anything else you would love to share here about you, your life, your art, anything? One of my pieces in the current show is for my brother, Matthew R. Conger. He passed away from liver cancer on Sep. 8, 2011. Our show opened Sep. 6, 2012. My tribute to Matt was a modular piece depicting him on a vintage bike he restored. The symbolism of the great joy of his life and the journey beyond as he rides away is easy to catch…and yet still just as powerful.
As I finished that piece early in the morning in my wood shop, I cried the most beautiful tears of thanks that he was properly honored. My family loves him dearly. The work was as much for them as it was for my brother.
If someone would be interested in seeing, buying art you already have created and/or commissioning you for an art project; what would be your preferred way, currently, to have them contact you? Please contact me at MikeConger@gmail.com. I can direct you to examples of past work as well as current work for sale.
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