Immediate Splendor: An Interview with Artist Mike Solomon

Berry Campbell Gallery
Jun 23, 2017 5:44PM

Berry Campbell Gallery, New York is pleased to present the exhibition “Mike Solomon: Immediate Splendor” featuring nineteen recent paintings and works on paper from June 1 to July 8, 2017. Mike Solomon's exploration of the effects of light penetrating color continues in his recent work made with resin.

On a recent sunny summer day in Long Island, Christine Berry spoke with the artist about the physical and not physical elements related to his work and how he came up with the title "Immediate Splendor" for his first solo exhibition at Berry Campbell Gallery.

Installation view of "Mike Solomon: Immediate Splendor" at Berry Campbell Gallery, New York

Christine Berry: Where did you get the title, Immediate Splendor, for your exhibition?

Mike Solomon: Originally, I came across that phrase in an essay by Alfonso Ossorio written for the 1951 Jackson Pollock exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery, and it was in reference to Abstract Expressionism in general. He used it to describe what you encounter in terms of the paint surface and the quality of abstraction that simply had to do with eliciting the beauty that was inherent in the directness of their approach to painting.

CB: And how does that translate to what you’re doing?

MS: I think it’s in keeping with sticking to the essentials of the materials. Of course, I use very different techniques, but it’s basically a continuation of the notion that the materials and abstract forms are enough to relay all that needs to be conveyed in terms of what I want to express.

Mike Solomon
Todos, 2016
Berry Campbell Gallery

CB: Everyone asks about your process and how you make your work. You’ve worked in different media previously – sculpture, drawing. How does this all tie in to this current exhibition?

MS: Well, that’s kind of a big question in a way and there's both a physical part as well as a non-physical aspect to that question. The particular materials that I use now have to do with transparency, as has a lot of my work throughout the years. I was trained in watercolor as a child, so that’s always been sort of an underpinning in my work: dealing with how light can penetrate color. The thin tints of watercolor evoke a kind of luminescence not found in other media. And this new work is also done with watercolor, but what I’ve done is added resin, which amplifies the traditional effect. I learned to work with resin when I was making sculptures.

CB:  You mentioned the non-physical aspect of the process. So how does your spirituality come in to play?

MS: The spiritual aspect has to do with evolving a process from some inner need that wants to have a conversion take place in the material. You could say that is the content of my work. This is different from content say conjured through a narrative, depicted in visual media.  Mine is to explore what the visual media can become when run through certain processes. From that experimental context, I find conditions and forms that extend the perfections of those materials and forms. I help them find their “paradise" -the potentialities within them that cause them to bloom in ways not seen before.  It is this collaboration with the physical, that is also transformative for me and thus I see the entire practice as essentially spiritual in nature.  The Baha’i's regard making art as a form of prayer. That seems right to me concerning the transformative aspect that can take place through art.

Mike Solomon
Selfie #1 (Bokeh 4), 2016
Berry Campbell Gallery

CB: Was color always important to you?

MS: Yes. As I’ve gone through a number of explorations of the philosophy of art and examined different things in terms of this orientation I have towards essentials, what I’ve determined for myself is there are things that you can take out of painting and put in a different art. You know, you can put story in painting, but you can also have story in words, in writing. Music can have patterns and shapes and texture. So what’s exclusive to the visual arts? The most primary element is color.  That's what Matisse knew: Color is the element that is exclusive to visual art.

Mike Solomon
Rise and Set, 2017
Berry Campbell Gallery

CB: You work in several different styles for this exhibition. Did you plan on that or were you working in all three at the same time?

MS: I call them “modes,” because, while I think that they all have relations to one another, each one requires a specific application of paint.  One mode is done by painting short vertical and horizontal marks with a one inch brush.  Another mode is painting stripes that are three feet long with a one- and two-inch brush. That requires a certain touch and a skill with viscosity. Another mode is making the hexagon shapes, which is not done with a brush but by spraying watercolor around a shape so that it masks off a shaped area underneath. I do each type of application on the same paper and then they are run through the process of infusing the sheets with resin and layering them together, so I think of them in terms of modes because they are related by process but have different iconographies in the marking. Because the applications of paint are different, the compositions are different and the feel is different, though they were all processed the exact same way.

Installation View of "Mike Solomon: Immediate Splendor" at Berry Campbell Gallery, New York.

CB: You’re working larger. Is this bringing you back to sculpture or…?

MS: To go back to the  “immediate splendor” thing, one of the things that Ossorio alludes to in that essay is the scale of abstract expressionist painting. This was sort of around the time that people had been working big -at the peak of it.  “Off the easel” is the way they put it back then because they really all came out of the tradition of easel painting, in which paintings weren’t that large. I think that when you work very large, you’re creating an environment for the viewer. If the viewer is actually in front of a large work, like Monet's Water Lilies for instance, you’re really in an environment of color. It affects the body as much as the eyes.  My work draws one in close because of the attraction to the surface and depths created by the layers. So one's closeness in relation to the work is important too, in having that encompassing experience. The larger works simply function in a broader way with more variety as to the proximity of the viewer and the space in which the work is seen.

Mike Solomon in his studio with four panel piece, "Point" 2017.

CB: You currently have a painting on view at the Ringling Museum in their show Art of Our Time – it’s from their permanent collection. How did you come to be part of that show?

MS: Steven High, the Executive Director of the Museum, came to see a show I had at Allyn Gallup in 2014 and liked the work, and so he asked their curator Matthew McClendon, to pick one for the museum.  The work chosen was “A Frank O’Hara Summer,” and it’s kind of a hazy work with some greens and pinks in it, and greys. The color was something that for me, well, a lot of the time color evokes memory, and the way these works are made also evoke a deep space that in a sense has a lot to do with memory. And so that work – the reason that I titled that – was, not really having a premeditated idea about it, but when I worked with those colors the memories of the summers in East Hampton in the Sixties came to mind. Those days then could often be kind of foggy, especially in June, and kind of beautiful and hazy and weird – it just came to me. And the most iconic thing that I could remember about that time was... well, I didn’t know Frank O’Hara- I was only ten or so when he was killed by a Jeep on Fire Island - but it was in a fog, and what I do remember is that the community was really shocked by his death. He was someone that really bridged a lot of worlds. He wasn’t exclusively in one camp or the other, so he was just well loved by everyone. I wish we had more like him today. I think Dan Cameron is about as close as we will get.

Mike Solomon "A Frank O'Hara Summer" is part of the permanent collection of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida.

Installation view of "Mike Solomon: Immediate Spendor" at Berry Campbell Gallery, New York.  Picture here:  "Ok and Yes" and "Rise and Set."

CB: You were studio assistant to John Chamberlain. What was the most important thing that you learned from him?

MS: I guess, from the point of view of making art – from artist to artist and making art – the thing that was most important to me about Chamberlain was that he confirmed a lot of what I felt I knew but was not sure of, because of my age and inexperience. As a young artist, I mean, to be asked to come work for him was kind of an honor in and of itself. He had seen some of my work – I was doing assemblages at the time with geometric shapes that actually, are akin to my recent brush stroke works. It was kind of an acknowledgement, and he felt that because I worked the way I did, I would understand his process. But going into and working in this huge studio, 18,000 square feet, and assembling many, many pieces at once and doing a lot of the preliminary treatment of parts and things like that, well, it was an incredible experience.  So, I think I learned in a sense, how important it is to seriously respect material and your process in the most profound way  – giving it the most honor, I guess I would say – that you can. Working with John just kind of showed me that this one thing you have to do.

Mike Solomon, studio assistant to John Chamberlain, 1980.

CB: You’re getting ready for a museum show next year. Do you have any thoughts? Will it be in the same line of what you’re doing now or will you do something different?

MS:  Well, I will continue doing larger versions of the resin work like the most recent work, Point, 2017, but I do tend to push forward after a few years of working with a material. I have a number of ideas that I have not executed yet that relate very much to what I’ve been doing but are in a different media. And I have drawings for pieces that would be installations as well, so we'll see how things go in the studio. One step is linked to the next.

"Mike Solomon: Immediate Splendor" is on view at Berry Campbell Gallery, 530 W 24th Street, New York, June 1 to July 8, 2017.

Berry Campbell Gallery