January 17, 2006 – I was invited to present my work in a slide talk at the Women and their Work Gallery. After joking about my status as a man with some close friends for a couple weeks, the night of my talk arrived. I sat down across the road at the Texas Chili Parlour and hammered out a small speech to correlate with 15 slides over a burger and three beers.
I fought off a few nerves, tried to be casual, and present myself to the audience of 40 people without pretension and any crap. delivered the speech without incident, and later transcribed it for prosperity.
So while the speech was spoken, I’ve left it as I delivered it. Here’s the speech in its entirety:
My name is Michael Schliefke and I’ve been a painter at Bolm Studios for about two years. I was born in upstate New York, graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute, and have been in Austin about four years now. Since I’ve been in Austin, I’ve shared studios at Nathan Jensen’s ARThive, Blue Genie and now Bolm. I’m going to flash through some work from the past two and a half to three years, and just talk about my paintings, influences, and direction and where I’m going, what’s happening, and I’ll talk about my paintings here or there.
Basically, I like a lot of old paintings, I like Titian, Rueben, my friend Chris always jokes when I talk about Titian it sounds like he died a couple years ago, and forget he died 400 years ago. (laughter) I like Beckmann, Jack Levine, Thomas Hart Benton, a lot of other influences from all over the place. I like painters who paint, and are rather unapologetic about it.
A lot of my work plays of old mythology, classical themes and Biblical stories in some odd ways. Everything is recomposed and reworked back into relationships, personal stories and subtle and sometimes not so subtle political and social satire of what’s happening today.
I feel being a painter has to be outside the art world in some way, I like being a painter and not an artist, I’m not one hundred percent keen on being in the art world, but the rest of the things happening in the world scares the hell out of me even more, so I am stuck in studio and flit about as it goes.
The women in my paintings, the paintings have a battle between innocence, the corruption of innocence, beauty for sale, and symbols of all that. I usually paint a lot of strippers, prostitutes, nude women. The women are usually the heroes of my painting, as they are being corrupted by men. I use the women as a symbol of what’s good and pure, and what’s being lost in today’s society. I paint a lot of politicians, fat men in suits, and they are usually lecherous men who are trying to get the girl, take something from the girl, or get something from the girl. The woman has to react in some way, and her reaction is the axis of the painting that everything spins off of.
This painting is called ‘Afternoon Delights’ and I also like painting higher level social scenes, its not a social scene I’ll ever attain or aspire to, but its always fascinated me. The high end, rich end, cocktail party and have people tell horrible jokes and have everyone fake laugh their heart that was depicted so gloriously in Capote.
This is called ‘The Arrangement’, it’s a fairly dark painting depicting not too happy a time. This is called the Champions Room, where I tried to hit on the high social scene, composing a scene built about relationships. This is six foot by four foot, but most of these paintings are 40 inches square.
The next painting is ‘After a Fashion’, I got dragged to the Club Deville fashion show by my girlfriend who was in the show. I found myself suddenly alone in the middle of this whole swath of hysterical fashion people, people who were looking all around at halftime. Stephen Moser was sitting at the end of the runway, and they served pizza at the intermission. I scanned through the whole crowd, of people who were strictly looking to see who was looking at them. In the middle of it all, at the end of the runway, Stephen Moser had two slices of pizza, stacked on each other and was shoving them into his mouth. It was terribly awful, but deadly funny. (laughter) So every once in a while I’ll really hit a moment and try to get on it and see what I can do with it.
This painting is called the ‘In-Betweeners’, I painted it two years ago and still haven’t figured out 100% what the narrative is going on. But I like that about this painting, I don’t really like to talk directly to the paintings, I like to talk about them, but I like the viewers come to their own terms with it. I don’t want to be I like that the viewer has to deal with the imagery. Sometimes they are close, other times they are farther off. A couple years ago I painted a painting of a man in a tuxedo dancing with a woman in a bikini. A conservative looking middle aged man looked at it with his son who was old enough to ask questions. The boy turned to his dad and asked what the painting is about. The son turned and said, “Well son, that man is so rich he can pay women to dance naked with him. (laughter)
This painting is called, ‘A Scarecrow interrupts Paradise’. It’s really about the war on terrorism, led by our esteemed elected officials, The men in suits are raising a scarecrow interrupting the halcyon scene with the naked couple below. It’s large, about 66” x 88”, and is more of a comment of messing up really great things that we have today.
This is some more recent work, from a solo show I had in August, and all the works centered around the American Dream, and whether it exists or not anymore. This painting started out as a very negative depiction of the family, the man was carrying a trash bag, but I wasn’t happy with how things were progressing, so a chicken suddenly appeared, followed by the boy in the wagon, and the tone of the painting moved from a dim look at an overweight middle class family to a more sympathetic view of them. That painting is called the ‘Simple Life’.
The American Dream
This was another painting from that show, this was actually entitled the ‘American Dream’, and it featured the black lawn jockey, the peeing statue, the newspaper, picket fence, nice houses, suburban neighborhood, and a smiling couple living their lives without a worry in their world.
This painting actually touches on a lot of themes I’ve talked about. It is called ‘The Dream Revealed’, another painting from the Hopeless Romance show, you can see the naked women and the huckster character, with a red and white striped hat, the blue starred bowtie, and I really like painting these awful characters, juxtaposed against beauty and virtue, and see the interaction between the two forces. This work really relates to the American Dream –as a sly huckster is unfazed by the disappointment registered on the women’s faces as they open the box and find its contents are empty.
A lot of my paintings are really about beauty and the things that we’ve lost. I paint a lot of paintings set in dressing rooms, backstage preparing for the show. I’m interested in beauty and the price of beauty. The effort and attention paid to make someone or something beautiful – makeup, spin, rhetoric – I’m always amazed at the troubles that women go through every day to dress nice, shower, and put on makeup. Take a look at how I’m dressed now – men are slobs. Men don’t care, barely care their hair, and I’m always stunned and can’t imagine how much attention and looks a woman draws walking down five blocks through downtown. And I’m also very interested in the true price of beauty – as an artist who lives off selling work, I make paintings and sell them. Pricing a painting is difficult, but it’s a price strippers and prostitutes have no trouble naming. Those characters in my paintings always hold the power, no matter how much power or money the seedy men around them may possess.
This painting is one of my more autobiographical paintings, – I guess the dog is a stand in for my brother, (laughter) but everyone else is a family member. It’s a visual checklist of sorts of my life growing up – mom in the kitchen, the yellow kitchen floor – totally seventies – boxes of sugary cereal, Dad reading the paper, my sister on the phone, television. More about the seventies, it’s called ‘September Morn’. The titles of my paintings usually arrive at some point in the painting process, and sometimes are references to pop culture that key the painting. This title comes from Neil Diamond, who’s been an odd influence in my life that began in the seventies.
The final painting I’ll show you is the ‘Red Hot Merkins’, I did a show about fat Americans at the beach, I think this painting was the highlight of the show. (laughter) I threw it all in this one – hot dogs, fast food, wiffleball, and that fat lady in the American flag bikini.
So, that’s all the paintings I’ll show you now, and I’ll tell you what I’m up to beyond painting.
On my website, I’m starting to put together some short artist interviews. My goal is to do two a month, maybe five questions per artist, questions that relate to them, their work and what they’re doing. I hope that this helps fill in the gap left by the Statesman and Chronicle because critical thought and coverage of the arts is so bad here. So that is my minor contribution to that.
I have also put together four painting shows now, I had three at Blue Genie and one at Bolm, er, two at Bolm Genie and two at Bolm. The first two were called ‘Shoulda Been a Plumber’, which featured six painters each. The title came from a frustrated phone call when we were planning the final touches for the show, when my friend threw his hands up and said we just shoulda been plumbers. So the title was born. (laughter). The last show I put together was with Ian Shults, the unicorn art show at Bolm, in November. It was just named the top group art show by the Austin Chronicle. It even beat out the Twenty to Watch show at AMOA. We had seventy-five artists in the unicorn show, and the event turned out to be awesome.
Coming up, I’ll have a solo show of all new work in April at Bolm, and I just decided to put together a quick Father’s Day show with twenty-twenty five artists who do portraits of their father. We’ll have a lavish opening that may include sod and a white picket fence. Ian and I are planning a large group show as a follow-up to the unicorn art show in October. I’m tentatively calling it the sophomore effort. So between putting together shows, trying to help promote other artists and paint myself, that’s what I do. So that’s all I have tonight, thanks for your attention and I’ll answer any questions if you have any.