As all-hallows-eve draws near on the rusty horizon we welcome a fitting paint slinger from right here in our own stompin’ yard : the Republic of Texas. Lone Star native, Mike Monk is just gettin’ his socks wet as a painter but he’s long in the gum as an experimental musician and skin slappin’ drummer king. The work you are about to see is direct, raw and very much ALIVE. Step right in & get a look up close...
Interview by Richard Mullins
At what age did you first start to notice art in the world and what caught your eye?
Initially, probably going through my dad’s Floyd and Beatles records as a kid, but what really stuck was when I started reading MAD and The Far Side when I was about nine. We had a massive stack of newspapers in the garage and I went through and cut out every single Far Side panel in them. I had shoeboxes full of those things. I would redraw them and attempt to redraw some of the MAD artists like Berg, Drucker, and Jaffee. As a ‘tweener’ I got pretty heavy into the art rock stuff like Rush and Jethro Tull and I was reading a lot of Tolkien, so the natural progression is that you have to be into Escher and Dali. I guess that high school art classes are when I started to appreciate artists outside of the comic and fantasy realm.
You have been writing, playing and recording music for many years but painting is a relatively new outlet for you creatively, what made you want to start down this way?
For around fifteen years I would use a black uniball to draw everything. If I was feeling experimental I might switch over to blue. The problem is that the same size pen tip always yields the same results and none of the work ever seemed substantial because everyone can draw with a fucking pen. Plus I wanted to work a little chunkier and paint allows me to actually build an image that feels whole and get away from the spastic line art.
Your art is mostly dark and darker. Can you figure out why your vision as an artist is so bleak?
My best estimate of the situation is that I played drums steadily for thirteen or years or so and very rarely do now. So instead of beating the shit out drumskins now I beat the shit out of canvas. For me it’s the same creating music as it is with art; I don’t do it because it’s something I’m into, I do it because I feel like I’ll literally explode from the inside out if I don’t create something at that very instant. I never do sketches before starting a new piece so what comes out is what it is without any sort of pre-meditation. There’s a very aggressive nature to it so maybe that’s part of the reason the pieces turn to the dark side.
Inside the darkness a strong element of the grotesk figures in particular in the scary floating head portraits. Why do you think this is?
I’m not exactly Rodin, so it’s easier for me to convey emotion through a facial expression than it is to do so with posture. I keep the head and trash the body. It’s also sort of indirect influence of the whole ‘Empowerment Me’ era we’re living in. It seems like almost everyone has a blog now. Go to the profile page and boom, there’s generally a boxed off photo of the person running it. Myspace, flickr, livejournal…head shots. Facebook…it’s in the title for Christ’s sake. You can’t even be a number in a telephone anymore without your picture attached to it. So I take the faces and beat them up a bit. I peel away the layers of trivial information like how you’re really in a Cherry Coke phase right now and and get to the part of the story where you’re storing your own shit in Mason jars. “Just the facts ma’am.”
Who are some artists working today you get a kick out of (I know you are a huge Jeff Soto fan already) but other than him...
I just recently found out about Eric Swenson who I think is doing some pretty nice work and I like what the ArtDorks guys are doing. For the most part though I’ll just do some browsing on flickr and try to find people I haven’t seen in Juxtapoz or Giant Robot or whatever. A few standouts for me are Hannes Iversen, Falling_Apart, and Diversionmary. They do some seriously brutal work.
You listen to a huge range of music. What sort of stuff is you 'pod full of these days and how does music effect your work as a painter?
Man, I’ve acquired something like 200 new albums over the last couple of months and it’s getting out of control. Currently I’m back into an electronic/field recording/experimetal/free improv sort of mood, but I’m into a fairly wide variety of styles of music. I’m a fan of sound in general. As far as music affecting my paintings, I don’t know. I could listen to Sunn O))) or Astrud Gilberto and would still end up with the same result. One of my darker pieces was born from Bruce Hornsby’s ‘Old Valley Road’, so I guess the music doesn’t really transfer onto the canvas. Or come to think of it, that’s a pretty bleak tune so maybe it does. I’ll pick up a Hanson record and see what I come up with.
Having observed the Low Brow scene for number of year now, how do you see it progressing in the future?
Right now it seems like it’s on idle. It’s similar to the eighties Hair Metal shit when there were a ton of bands that sounded the same and there were some stars in the bunch, but you’re waiting for someone to shake up the formula and carve out a new road. I’m not claiming I’ll be the person to do this by any means, just saying it’s got to happen at some point. It always does. So it looks to me like we’ll be seeing Alex Gross sun rays, Jeff Soto clouds, and people dressed in animal costumes from everybody for a while to come.
Are there are future projects rattling around yer cranium you might want to mention?
Actually I’ve been brainstorming for an idea that would be a sound recording as well as a video installation piece. The problem is that would be ridiculously expensive to pull off and I feel crushed underneath the weight of the amount of preparation and experimentation it’s going to require. So until then I’m gonna keep on with painting and see if the Hanson record can push me in a new direction.