Michael Hendrix is a painter and science educator in South Burlington, Vermont. He is currently working on a series of paintings using coffee, tea, and other consumable liquids as the media. He can be found on Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/theretrievers and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/#!/pages/TheRetrievers-at-Etsy/245075195534019 .
What inspired you create a series of paintings using coffee, tea, and other consumable liquids as the media?
I live in a part of the country that, as a community, is generally very conscious of what is ‘consumed’. Vermonters have a tendency to go out of their way to question what is eaten and where their groceries are grown, and regularly support local farmers and businesses – something that was basically neglected where I was born and raised. When I first moved up here six years ago, I immediately found my eating habits challenged. This isn’t to say I was a ‘terrible’ eater, but I would have considered myself a ‘neglectful’ eater. To be honest, I’m still working on that!
In many ways, the “Blend” series is an echo of my experiences since living up here. For me it represents getting back to the basics. Even the paints we consume are synthesized and chemically created. How many people actually know what’s in their paints, or gouaches, or watercolors prior to putting color to paper? I know I don’t. It’s sort of funny and ironic to me that art – the way that many of us relate our ideas and communicate – is, at it’s basics, created using all these bizarre chemicals that we are actually estranged from. I want to create a conversation about my work, but do I have really have the right to ask someone to think about what they consume if I can’t really converse about the basics of the media I’m consuming to create it?
I don’t want to imply that I think my way is best, but I think that in the context of the “Blend” series, using consumable media is appropriate. I’ve always tried to stay conscious of Marshall McLuhan’s admonition that “the medium is the message” while working on these paintings. I want people to think differently about what they put into their bodies, and to look at coffee, tea, wine – whatever – and think about how these things come together in a bizarre alchemy to keep us alive. There’s another use of them besides stuffing them in our mouths. As creators, there is also a HUGE range of beautiful tones and natural colors that are immediately available all around us that we choose to neglect because we aren’t thinking about them. We (and I include myself in this) tend default to what we’ve been prescribed: that color only comes out of a tube, and that we can’t create without going to the art store to buy something. For this series at least, I felt a little silly trying to use colors that I myself wasn’t intimately involved in deriving.
The natural surroundings in Vermont seems to have inspired your Birches series, as well as some of your landscapes. What do you love about Vermont?
One of the advantages of living in a predominantly rural state is that you really feel like you’re a functioning part of the environment, even in the ‘big city’ like Burlington (which is still tiny compared to cities in most other states). The light here is unbelievable and sort of supernatural, especially in the evenings. That has to be my favorite aspect of where I live. It sounds sort of silly, I guess, but I think it’s influenced my color range a lot.
In the summer, Vermont is a very, very vibrant green. In the Champlain Valley, where I live, the Adirondack Mountains are clearly visible across the lake, and tend to be a very distinct blue in the late in the afternoon. In the evenings, things become draped in a strange violet hue, but the sky gets very bright red. In the fall, there’s a period of about a week and a half where the maple leaves are a fiercely saturated orange, and stand out against the complementary bright blues of the sky. Then it typically rains really hard once and then everything hits the ground and turns to a mess… Novembers are visually muted and muddy and generally unpleasant. Winters are long, and the constant blanket of snow makes the darkest midnight really bright in the reflection of the moon. There’s a really wide range of colors going on here, some of which I’ve tried to catch in the little landscape paintings I’d posted; the “Birches” series is more playful and focuses more on the nighttime contrast and positive-negative space you see around here in winter.
Are there new themes or media you anticipate exploring in your upcoming work?
Absolutely, and I think you’ll see more of it in the “Blend” series as I learn to articulate these ideas a bit more in the future. I’m always a little skeptical when an artist tells someone what they should be seeing. My personal contention is that a good artwork should be reasonably conversational and directional, but not dictating. In my experience, it’s always more gratifying when you work something out by yourself rather than being told what to see. A good piece of art, like a good conversation, should effectively communicate ideas and really spark the audience to approach an idea in a way they normally wouldn’t have thought of it. It should be a catalyst.
Ok, stepping off my soapbox, there ARE several themes that I’m moving towards that I hope people will notice if they keep popping by the shop. I’m really interested in the idea of circles and what they imply about infinity and cycles, so you’ll see more of these. I’ve also been exploring the idea of repetitive forms and what it implies about addiction and habits, I’m planning on incorporating more plain water into the paintings, which incidentally, I’ve found erases layers of color set down by coffees and teas. I think there’s a really beautiful purification statement in there somewhere that I still need to develop, but it’s very unpredictable during the drying process and I’m working out the kinks of working with it. The fact that coffees and teas can be erased through water also relates back to their impermanence, which is something I’m very concerned with. And finally, being a scientist, I want to imply topics relating to cells and birth/creation/division. I don’t think art and science are mutually exclusive disciplines, especially when it comes to analysis. They are so similar, and no one seems to give that relationship any credit these days. Anyway, hopefully a few of these little clues will help people see something they didn’t notice in the paintings - without telling them how to interpret it.
Right now I’m knee deep in the “Blends”, and future paintings will incorporate alcohols, especially wines, and some new teas and coffees into the mix. I’ll be revisiting the birches too, but there’s so much to say with the more recent work that I think I’ll be communicating this way for a while!
Many thanks to Michael to sharing his work!
What do you think of Michael's fantastic "Blend" series?