Portland/Brooklyn Artist Series, Week 2: Michelle Ramin

Feb 22, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I had a friendly encounter with another art enthusiast at the local art store in downtown Portland.  We briefly chatted about art supplies, and I was impressed by her knowledge and usage of different art materials.  It wasn't until the next day that I found out I had been talking with artist Michelle Ramin.  The funny part of this story is that I had already been corresponding with Michelle via email about the artist interview series.  I love living in a small city!

Michelle's studio is a warehouse turned artist haven in SE Portland's Industrial District. 

How would you describe your work?

As of late, I've been working mostly with graphite and acrylic on wood panels.  In the last year, I've also been working on the figure, portraits in particular.  Before then, I had been creating almost exclusively small, illustrative marker and pen drawings of architecture.

The figurative pieces have incorporated a lot of the aesthetic qualities of the smaller, more graphic architectural pieces, but with much more content and meaning.  I always quote the artist Marisol, "Everything the artist makes is always a kind of portrait." These portraits are a way of defining myself by defining the people around me.

Golden fluid acrylics are some of Michelle's favorite art supplies.  

Tell us about the biggest risk you have taken as an artist.

Making art is like learning a new language- you have to build your own unique artistic vocabulary.  Every time I add a new "word" or "phrase," I take a huge emotional risk.  I know that the vocabulary I've had has been working.  It's risky to add something new to that vision or to move away from that vocabulary entirely to find a completely new realm of words.  The risk is that the new work may not be as accepted by others or even by myself.  Growing stagnant in my work, however, is a much worse consequence.

Michelle's largest work to date- a 5' x 5' mixed media on birch panel.  It will debut at a solo show next month.

What are the greatest challenges of being an artist today?

The economy has plummeted in a way that is deeply affecting even the best selling artists.  I no longer count on selling art as a source of income.  We've all had to go back to our jobs or increase our hours at our part-time jobs.  There is definitely less time for painting.  However, the time I have now is much more important, and I am more focused.  The down economy has pushed me to create some really fresh and exciting new work.

What do you love most about Portland? 

Driving 10 minutes out of town to Sauvie Island, where you feel like you're a world away from city life.  The farmers' markets, the bike lanes, the festivals, the music scene!

Everyone is friends with everyone else.  It's youthful and energetic, full of quirks and humor and art.  I like that people here aspire to composting and organic gardening, DIY beer making, commuting by bike, reading every Vonnegut book ever written and backpacking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail).

Lots of pencil shavings from working on her large figurative works. 

What makes Portland such a great place for independent art?

Affordable living and emphasis on art culture.  People flock here from all over the country, sometimes the world, in hopes of finding part-time, low-responsibility jobs that pay enough to make the rent but give enought flexibility to take time off to travel, to hang art shows, and to experience our lives.

The community is a DIY community- we help each other out.  All of my friends are creatives-filmmakers, musicians, photographers, web designers, graphic designers, chefs, comic book artists, spoken word poets, painters.  Whenever possible, we want to make each other grow and prosper in our respective fields.  Portland's an amazing city in that respect.

Michelle's favorite studio chair.   Photos by Sarah Hooper.

Michelle is currently showing at Blossoming Lotus through the end of this month.  In March, she will have a solo show of her recent figurative works at Bellamy Studios. 

This week's featured Brooklyn artist is India Richer.  Read her interview on Art Hound.

As part of the artist interview series, we are inviting readers to participate in a dialogue about the Portland and Brooklyn art communities.  This week's question: Do you think it's harder for artists to make a living in a small city or a big city?


belinda marshall said...

i've had this page marked for ages . . . i really enjoyed this interview. michelle's work is amazing + i love her approach.

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