Michael Rea is an artist who doesn’t take himself too seriously. As he says, he’s ‘sort of stuck making odd sculptures’ and worries that it’s all he knows what to do at this point. Perhaps, but the work certainly makes an impact. His gigantic wooden space machines, weapons and time travelers have enthralled audiences around the world, including at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Mike has a day-job as a lab technician and instructor at Northwestern University in the US (and he’ll be Assistant/Associate Professor of Sculpture at northern Illinois University starting this Fall), but spends almost every other available moment building fantastical wooden sculptures from the ground up, working purely from his imagination. It’s a concept that speaks loudly.
Hello Mike, tell us how you became an artist?
Not really sure, I used to teach elementary art 1-6 for a few years. Somewhere around my fourth year I seemed to want to spend more time in the studio, and that is when I applied to UW Madison for graduate school. Since then I guess I have been working non-stop on art projects.
Do you enjoy your work? Why?
I do, I worry it is because it is all I know how to do at this point. I think the majority of my enjoyment comes from the fact that most days are different and I am always working on something new.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
The majority of my inspiration come from pop culture (tv and films) , literature, and art history.
How do you keep focused on doing something unique, creative & true to yourself?
Like I said earlier, I am not sure there is anything else I know how to do at this point. I am sort of stuck making odd sculptures.
What sort of skills do you need to do your work?
Basic woodworking skills/carpentry, probably the equivalent of woodshop two in high school would get you to where I am at.
“Work as much as you can, read as much as you can, see as much as you can, and try to have fun while doing it.”
What is a typical day like for you?
It is more of a typical week. On Monday and Tuesday I usually work at my studio from 9-1, and then I work from 2-10 at NU’s department of Art Theory and Practice as a lab technician/instructor. Wednesday and Thursday are 9-5 at NU, and I usually try to catch up on art paperwork/emails and housework in the evening. Friday and Saturday are 9-5 studio days. Friday nights are usually spent going to gallery openings, and Saturday night is usually date night. Sunday I work 12-6 at NU, and usually spend the evening watching tv.
Do you have one tip for other aspirant creatives?
Work as much as you can, read as much as you can, see as much as you can, and try to have fun while doing it.