“I learned a terrible lie somewhere along the way that hindered my learning for a very long time: the old masters were only able to create the work they did because they were blessed with god-like talent and no one has that kind of talent anymore.”
January 4th, 2017 by M. Elise Hillestad
Quiet, understated, private moments. It feels almost intrusive gazing at the paintings of Florence Academy trained, Sweden based painter Michael DeVore. Yet, there’s a gentle familiarity in his technically pristine, Old Master-inspired works that is inviting. His figures look like friends; like people we know or have observed from a regular perch at a small town bar. Likewise, his provincial, Chardin-esque still lifes remind of the simple pleasures of food, time taken to prepare it, time taken to eat with family- these traditions that are all but extinct in the mess of distractions our world has become. In my interview with DeVore, who Southwest Art magazine called an “Artist to Watch,” he talks about wanting to be a cartoonist as a kid, painting with empathy, and which three painters he’d most like to share a glass of good, dry wine with!
M: What themes or archetypes are most important for your work?
DeVore: My main concern with all of my work is to achieve a sense of balance and harmony. If one can accomplish this well then the work can transcend its subject matter to the realm of the sublime. I mostly paint still life which is ideal for this pursuit because one can arrange objects to directly study composition, tone, color, and texture in an endless variety of combinations. I’m still trying to figure out how to paint a truly magnificent still life. When I paint portraits or figurative scenes I am trying to find that which is most fundamentally human so the viewer can connect with the image. Emotions and behaviors like fear, love, anger, jealousy, curiosity, joy, sadness, contentedness, and self-reflection are the types of things that interest me. My favorite paintings are those that are able to create an intense feeling of empathy with the subject and that is something that I strive for in my own work.
M: Describe what an ideal day in the studio might look like for you.
DeVore: An ideal day in the studio involves stillness, and no distractions or interruptions. A sunny day with plenty of light coming in through a north window or skylight. I like to listen to music or a podcast or stand-up comedy when I paint. If it has truly been an ideal day then I will feel good about all the decisions I made during the day’s work. This would be the exception rather than the rule!
M: Which painters, sculptors, or other creators are you enjoying looking at right now?
DeVore: The ones I regularly look at for inspiration are Rembrandt, Ribera, Chardin, Turner, Ilya Repin, Antonio Mancini, Emil Carlsen, Odd Nerdrum, and David Leffel. Ron Hicks, Henk Helmentel, Olga Boznanska, Carlo Russo, Michael Klein, Gordon Brown, Giorgos Rorris, Vincent Desiderio, Walter Vaes, Charles Weed, and Grzegorz Gwiazda are others whose work resonates with me. There are many more I could mention but it would be impossible to name them all.
M: What drew you to painting figuratively?
DeVore: I have always enjoyed drawing or painting people. When I was a kid I loved cartoons and wanted to be an animator. I connected with the characters and would draw my own versions of them at home and at school. When I was a little older I was reading comic books and making my own drawings of the characters. Copying comics constituted my first lessons in trying to draw the human form in a convincing way (even though the anatomy was grossly exaggerated in most cases). Around this time I attended a nude model drawing class and began to have some art history lessons in school. My family and I traveled to Europe on vacation when I was 14 and we made stops in Florence and Paris. I was in awe seeing the paintings and sculptures at the Uffizzi, the Louvre, and the Musée d’Orsay.
DeVore (continued): But I learned a terrible lie somewhere along the way that hindered my learning for a very long time: the old masters were only able to create the work they did because they were blessed with god-like talent and no one has that kind of talent anymore. When I went to college I nearly lost all hope in painting. I wasn’t learning anything in the way of practical skills and my professors were influencing me towards a more conceptual approach that left me feeling lost and without direction. It wasn’t until I was close to graduation when I started researching European art schools and stumbled upon The Florence Academy of Art. I was amazed to see that there were people painting in the manner of the old masters and that it was something that could be taught! I ended up studying at the Academy for four years and found my love for depicting still life and the human face. It also opened my eyes to the forgotten parts of art history and the modern masters working in the world today.
M: Can you tell us about a project you’re in the midst of that excites you?
DeVore: I recently completed a figurative composition that I started thinking about a year earlier. It depicts two men in a heated argument. Each is holding a book in one hand with the other hand behind his back. One man can be seen to be holding a dagger. I originally conceived of this painting in the midst of terror attacks happening around the world but as the political season started heating up I began to see it in broader terms. I see people everywhere fighting with one another over their differing beliefs and ideologies. They are angry and afraid. Ready to defend themselves against perceived threats or attack someone for thinking differently. The painting I made is not necessarily typical of what I do thematically but it was a painting that I felt I needed to make.
M: Lastly, if you could share a drink and conversation with any 3 painters, dead or living, who would you choose and what would be your libation?
DeVore: It would be Rembrandt, Turner, and Odd Nerdrum with a good, dry red wine. I think I would just love to sit and listen to the three of them talk about moving paint around. All three are masterful and experimental in equal measure so it would be a fascinating conversation. I don’t know how much I would be able to add to the conversation in that way but I could throw in a good joke every now and then.
For more from Michael Devore: