i first met michael desutter through my past workshop with the brooklyn collage collective in july. after following him on instagram for many months and loving his work, i reached out and we set up a time to do a studio visit. mike often hosts collage artists and every day folks at his studio and sometimes creates collaborative pieces with his visitors. i was honored to be one of these lucky people as i've been creating collages my whole life. after picking mike's brain about his journey to today, his creative work and his interest in symmetry, we got collaging.
since that day, i've collaborated and interacted with mike on several occasions. i must admit my relationship with mike is one of my most interesting and most challenging ones. mike and i are incredibly different. often i tell him he's very button up where i'm the complete opposite. i'm not even totally sure how to explain our differences; perhaps he's scientific where i'm a little more intuitive? but our differences are a damn good thing. we do have some nice synergy between our work, like our interest in creative community building. through our many dialogues, we've pushed each other a lot and in turn, i've learned a lot from our relationship. i'm really grateful to call mike a collaborator and a friend. mike showed his work in my souvenir shop pop-up last week (it's still up so check it out this month!) and we also submitted a proposal for spring/break art fair together. i'm very excited to continue our conversations and collaborative projects moving forward.
cultureisland: tell us more about you.
mike desutter: i grew up on a farm in indiana. my paternal grandfather farmed the land and i spent time around grain elevators and live stock when i was very young. my maternal grandparents lived in the nearest town, i spent a lot of time with them as well. my grandmother was very creative and always saved boxes, containers and old magazines for my siblings and i to create things out of. collectively these two things were very influential in my desire to live in a city and create things. with collage, i started out studying business management, then graphic design and ultimately i got a degree in photography. from there it was time to find work so i went where i thought there would be opportunities, new york city.
cultureisland: tell us more about your collages. what led you to select collage as a medium?
mike desutter: i’m always fascinated by the past and understanding how life was for those that came before us. collage has been an amazing medium for exploring another time while creating something completely new. i think collage is a natural fit for me having started out as a graphic designer. as a designer i’m tasked with creating work that visually communicates some other organization’s message in an easily comprehensible way. collage is similar in that i’m creating visual pieces which still involve an “other,” in this case it’s creating new meanings from found imagery.
cultureisland: what kind of subject matter do you focus on?
mike desutter: i’m not sure my work focuses on a particular subject matter. i’m most interested in the formal qualities of photographic images, i break them down and create movement from their pieces.
cultureisland: how has your collage style evolved over time?
mike desutter: at first i was very concerned that pure abstraction wouldn’t be that relatable. i’m slowly allowing myself to work more abstractly now. i believe there are still recognizable (and therefore relatable) images in my abstractions that a viewer can relate to if that’s something that makes art more interesting to them.
cultureisland: what is your process for making your work?
mike desutter: i go through several pieces of source material and cut out clippings that have good depth or movement. from there i sit and assemble a collage seeing what points connect from one clipping to the next. when two pieces “line up” i glue them together and keep turning and adding to the piece to create visual balance. i don't glue my work to a backing paper until it’s time to frame the piece.
cultureisland: where do you find inspiration? are there certain images or sources that tend to inspire you more than others?
mike desutter: my approach is so much about how i connect pieces so i don’t think particular sources or images play as much of a role. at this point, i think my inspiration comes mainly from the many conversations i have and the things i see when i walk around the city everyday.
cultureisland: how do you name your pieces?
mike desutter: i title my pieces just like i add clippings the the collage. the day i am ready to share a completed piece i pull out the new york times and look for headlines or statements that i think relate to what is happening in the completed piece.
cultureisland: you often host other collage artists over to work with you in your studio. tell us more about these collaborations. what is that experience like? how did this come about?
mike desutter: i started inviting people over to my studio mostly because i wanted to meet them and it seemed like a comfortable way to have a conversation. i didn’t necessarily set out to make it a collaboration session, that just started to happen naturally. every visit is completely unique, which is what i love about them. a lot of paper gets cut up and time flies by so quickly.
cultureisland: how did you get involved with the brooklyn collage collective? what is it like being involved with other artists working in the same medium?
mike desutter: i became aware of the brooklyn collage collective through instagram in mid 2014 and then later that year the collective sent out message to local collage artists to join the collective. i joined at that time. like most new yorkers we have crazy schedules and can’t get together as much as we’d like to so we try to set up live collage sessions whenever we can. it’s always great to hang out in that capacity. through the hard work of morgan jesse-lappin and lizzie gill, i have had the opportunity to show work in a couple bcc group shows this year, including shows in denver and london. i’m very thankful for that!
cultureisland: how does your work as a graphic designer inform your work as a collage artist? and visa versa?
mike desutter: we’ve trained our brains to use auto-pilot as much as possible. we’re inundated with advertising and we’re experts at deciphering messages in a matter of seconds. of course the designers creating these pieces know how to add the right visual cues so your eye jumps to these conclusions. i think the way i connect clippings is influenced by my professional experience in making these ads. when i connect two clippings by a common visual line i believe our brain upon first view believes that that line is actually one line. it takes a second look to see that the line is being created by overlapping clippings that from a strictly representational aren’t really related at all.
cultureisland: who are some of your favorite artists?
mike desutter: robert frank has been the most influential artist for me. i’ve always viewed him as an outsider who’s work wasn’t quite beautiful enough to be accepted by life or look magazines. he couldn’t even get his his seminal body of work the americans released in the united states at the time; america wasn’t ready for his raw form of expression. other major influences: robert rauschenberg, edward steichen, hannah hoch, kurt schwitters, saul leiter, laszlo moholy-nagy, and el lissitzky.
cultureisland: what are you listening to right now?
mike desutter: i definitely operate in phases when it comes to music. i also have a tendency to listen to one album for a month straight which is always interesting because then whenever i go back to that album it’s laced with so many memories from the period i listened to it so heavily. that said, i just finished a period of listening to tame impala’s “currents” nonstop and have moved back into listening to a lot of current hip hop -- really into tracks like “white iverson” by post malone and “skrt” by kodak black, “antidote” by travi$ scott, and that general sound right now.
cultureisland: have you watched anything inspiring lately?
mike desutter: two documentaries come to mind, both about couples and art; herb and dorothy and cutie and the boxer. herb and dorothy is about a couple of art enthusiasts who devoted their free time to collecting art. cutie and the boxer is about an artist couple and some of the underlying tension that exists when the other is in the spotlight. watch them!
cultureisland: what are your favorite places to eat, shop, drink coffee in your neighborhood?
mike desutter: i’m in the process of finding new spots since i'm moving studios from south williamsburg to bushwick. i still love freehold for my first americano of the morning and marlow and sons for my second and third. after a long day in the studio, my favorite spots to unwind and have dinner are dinner and isa, i probably go to each twice a week.