Studio Visit

Michael Muir

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
14th of February 2014
'Keep on Chasing' by Michael Muir, part of his upcoming exhibition 'Corner Shops' at Sophie Gannon Gallery, 2013, oil on linen, 198 x 167cm.
'In the Summer' by Michael Muir, part of his upcoming exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery, 2013, oil on linen, 137 x 122cm.
The Sydney studio of artist Michael Muir, featuring works for his upcoming exhibition 'Corner Shops' at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Melbourne in March. Photo by Carine Thevenau for The Design Files.
Michael in his Sydney studio. Photo by Carine Thevenau for The Design Files.
Studio details. Photo by Carine Thevenau for The Design Files.
I must admit, until this interview I actually didn't realise that Sydney based artist Michael Muir is a surfer.  In retrospect, it kinda makes sense.  Just this past week I've actually been in Sydney shooting a bunch of different people and places, amongst them a surfer or two, and I must admit, I've come to realise that there is something quite special about people who surf everyday. It seems there's something about that daily ritual, that constant connection with the ocean, that results in a truly unique outlook on the world.  Yes, the 'surfer stereotype' is often characterised by a general 'chilled-out-ness', but it really is more than that... there's a sense of seeing the world differently, of thoughtful observation, and a general awareness of our place within a much larger machine.  At a basic level, I guess you'd call it mindfulness.  And when you think about it this way, its not surprising to note that so many surfers are also intensely creative people at heart. Michael Muir's paintings are flattened-out picture planes, dominated by solid, thickly applied colour blocks in a consistent muted palette.  The work is in large part autobiographical, referencing Michael's own childhood, and simultaneoulsy that of his three sons.  'I'm trying to see my surroundings in a simpler form' he explains below. These are pictures that tell the story of a new contemporary Australian landscape - depicting streetscapes, architecture and plant life which appear distinctly Australian, and always seem somehow vaguely familiar. Michael's work is highly collectible these days - he's been included in countless major award shows including the prestigious Sulman Prize, and has exhibited extensively in Australia and internationally.  His latest body of work will be on show next month at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Melbourne.  Entitled 'Corner Shops', this exhibition continues Michael's ongoing exploration of colour and composition, and draws on themes relating to journey and destination. Corner Shops by Michael Muir Open from 1 to 28 March 2014 Sophie Gannon Gallery 2 Albert Street Richmond, VIC Opening Saturday 1 March from 3.00pm to 5.00pm. Michael is represented in Melbourne by Sophie Gannon Gallery and Brisbane by Jan Murphy Gallery.
Tell us a little about your background – What path led you to becoming a fine artist, and to creating the style of work you are currently making?
Drawing has always been something I have done. After high school I took a year off to find what I wanted to do, and I think my parents realised that after a year I could potentially be searching forever so they suggested I look into graphic design. I loved the working methods pre computers – torn paper, markers, all very hands on. Upon graduating I did some varied freelance roles, and ended up working for a fashion magazine in the Philippines. After three or four months I came to realise there were certain aspects of my role that were somewhat flawed (my fashion sense is not great and my computer skills were questionable!).  It was around this time that I knew my calling needed to be pursued elsewhere, and subsequently I enrolled in art school. I studied at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney, which was a great place to learn a foundation based in drawing and painting. Both places of study have informed my current work to varying degrees. I spent a number of years in the studio working on paintings, and towards the odd exhibition and award, however a large proportion of the work ended up in the tip. I had notions of making a bonfire but didn't fancy burning the studio to the ground, in the end throwing paintings into the tip was just as cathartic. My life changed when my wife Emma and I had our first child. With that change in life came a noticeable shift in my style of painting. I feel that the work is more true to myself in terms of my character and outlook on life in general. We now have three boys who continue to inform my work, and it's both a pleasure and a challenge in more ways than one!
How would you describe your work?
The emphasis of my work I suppose is autobiographical, yet it's more than just me, it encompasses my family in the present. I feel like I oscillate between my childhood and the childhood my boys are currently living. I'm trying to see my surroundings in a simpler form. It's a picture plane that has been flattened, colour dominates the canvas in unusual harmonies. I feel that the narrative element is important in my work, there is a story unfolding that I hope the viewer can incorporate into their own story.
What can we expect to see in your new exhibition 'Corner Shops' at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Melbourne? What has inspired this body of work?
This latest body of work continues my exploration of colour and composition with subject matter that is relevant to me on a personal level. This particular show is about journey and destination. It is a reflection on travel from my childhood, to our present family trips up and down the NSW coast, a new year in Lorne in Victoria, and a long forgotten fiesta in the Philippines.
Can you give us a little insight into your process? What materials do you use? Is each work pre-planned or created very intuitively? Do you work on multiple canvases at one time? And how long does each work take to complete?
I now use a camera as a tool for recording imagery, where I once used to paint in plain air. After compiling a number of images I will do a quick sketch, these sketches are about quick observation which are often not related to the studio work. I work in oil paint and do a loose drawing with a brush, from this point it's all palette knives, working directly to the surface. Working with an image based from my previous wanderings, colour and composition become paramount in resolving the picture and trying to capture a fleeting memory or place with an intent to try see from a child's perspective. I am also really starting to appreciate how peripheral things are subconsciously slipping into the work. The work is pre-planned in terms of imagery, I normally have a pre-determined idea about a body of work with an underlying theme running throughout. Each work informs the next and I find my choice and mixing of colours is quite intuitive, which then tends to link everything together. I feel each work does stand alone and I approach the paintings one at a time, all taking varying degrees of time to complete.
Michael's sketch books. Photo - Carine Thevenau for The Design Files.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
My wife Emma and I have a weekly roster in which we both know who leaves early, and who drops off the kids – it's organised chaos at its best! On an early day I have had breakfast, a very strong coffee and left the house by 5.45am (I feel like a cat burglar trying to escape before I wake kids and sound the alarm bells!), and I drive past the beach with windows open for the salt air. In reality I have ulterior motives at work, I'm trying to see if I may be able to squeeze in a surf during the day. At the studio just before 6.00am I start with my lists. I normally write a list of things to do so I know exactly what is happening (my list making is bordering on OCD!). I then start checking all the important things emails, Instagram, Scrabble! I normally just start painting straight away and work up till 9.00am. Most days I will try get to the beach for a surf or a swim for an hour, and by 10.30am will be back in the studio and managed to have eaten all the food which I have brought for the day! More painting follows with moments of procrastination that I tend to fill in with quick drawings, a self portrait, or by simply copying and sketching anything around me. I continue to paint until early afternoon, most days I have music on, whether it's from my own iTunes, Pandora, or the radio. I tend to finish up and be home around 3.30pm to help out at home with play time, homework, dinners, meltdowns in no particular order! After everything is relatively smooth I head back to the studio around 8.00pm for an hour or two. This usually involves a bit of painting, cleaning up, and making sure my lists are in place for tomorrow.
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?
Art books – I mostly refer to ones I own, but also love discovering new ones at bookstores or through online bookstores. Gallery websites – I like to look through all sorts of people's work, predominately painters and sculptural work, whether it be overseas galleries or Australian. YouTube or Vimeo interviews – At the moment I like watching video interviews on a variety of professionals including chefs, surfers and shapers and of course artists. Radio – I can't go past Conversations with Richard Fidler on 702 ABC. And last but not least the drawings of my kids, they are 8, 7 and 3, and create some interesting little works.
Drawings by Michael's kids in his studio. Photo by Carine Thevenau for The Design Files.
Which other local artists or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Anyone that is prepared to pursue something they love doing and try to make it a sustainable occupation.
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
For me it's being part of the stable at the two galleries that represent me. I still remember writing a list (yes, more lists!) of who I wanted to exhibit with many years ago and those two, Sophie Gannon Gallery and Jan Murphy Gallery, were the top two.
Michael Muir in his Sydney studio. Photo - Carine Thevenau for The Design Files.
What would be your dream project ?
I feel like I'm living the dream.
What are you looking forward to?
More travel, the ideas for the next show, evolving as a painter and exploring sculpture, SLEEP!
Yhan Seal album cover artwork by Michael Muir. Photo by Carine Thevenau for The Design Files.


Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?
Manly. I never lived near the beach when I was young. I love being able to see two aspects of the sea from the ocean to harbour in such a short walk.
Where do you shop in Sydney for the tools of your trade ?
The Sydney Art Store and Art link Art Supplies.
What was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?
Is this a trick question?! At home of course! Actually we just had our 10 year wedding anniversary and ate at The Spice Temple. It was amazing .
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning ?
Well for me it's all seasonal. In summer most likely at the beach, and in winter running between two sports games.
Sydneys best kept secret?
Chowder Bay.
Sydney-based artist Michael Muir in his studio. Photo by Carine Thevenau for The Design Files.

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