Michel Delgado. Visionary Painter.
Michele Lesko: Michel, what would you say were your artistic influences growing up?
Michel Delgado: It was my curiosity with the world surrounding me in Africa - craft, dance, farmers, musicians. All of this revealed questions to me about our purpose here. I didn't start painting right away. At fourteen, I sewed, made bags and painted them. I painted fabric, burlap, cardboard. Unfortunately, things around me were very primitive.
ML: Well, that's fortunate, really, because you stayed out of the art world's influence long enough to create your vision.
MD: It's about finding your own essence located inside you, trying to leak out of the cultural identification. It was hard to break away from that. I wanted to be outside my world, to watch the way people live and how they believe their identity from the influences around them.
I moved to Europe, where there was so much, color, speed, theater, sexes, challenging those two cultures and how people relate to this world, this growing madness. I was trying to figure out my own reality of the experience of everything around me.
ML: Your work is described as Brut or Naif art. Do you believe your work exists outside the influence of tradition and culture?
MD: My energy...I believe that how you're going about your existence, your emotion, questions and personal experiences create an image from your own revelations. I was working, in the early period, to build a sense of confidence beyond the “idea” of art. The schools and formal training are expressing something aesthetically beautiful instead of expressing what you feel. I find the most romantic and beautiful things in the world that isn't usually painted. In the school, you paint an ugly flower and you give up. There is beauty inside the ugly flower, inside the wrinkled old woman there is the very beautiful. Illusion of aesthetic beauty is permanent. I want to go past that illusion.
My work has an aggressive feature or energy that doesn't come from a place of anger but from recognition of the reality of the world. I want to bring angst forward - what we feel in the moment interacting with all these people and experiences.
ML: Animals appear regularly in your work. Is there a narrative arc they represent in your mind?
MD: There were animals in my world, growing up. The essence, closeness of who we are, where we come from; we have intelligence, but this is also a part of us, this animal nature. If I paint a plain, white man talking to a tree, I don't express what's real in that. I angst it with the animal image with horns and a man's face, talking with that tree. This comes from another world. Horns in my work are like antennae, receptive to otherworldly insights. People question it and come to the painting with expectations of their own - the devil or something like that. It's not a devil element but receptor for all the invisible that we experience. I paint to bring out what happens every day that we don't see, what happens inside me as I go through different worlds.
It's interesting when they come up with their own sense of it. When they bring their own feeling. This empowers the viewer.
I grew up with domestic animals, grew up watching them, how they interact. We used their horns, their skin, their blood spilled across the yard. There was ceremony and spirituality in it, in killing them. It was biblical, spiritual, Koran-oriented, and that finds its way into the psyche. I would sit on the ground. This man would come in sandals with a piece of wood and no shirt. He was an independent shepherd. He comes and gets the animals, a few from our yard, a few from every yard in our area.The animals feel the guy coming. They follow him. He orchestrates them to move to a field every day, where they eat. Then they come back at the end of the day. It is the most powerful spiritual experience I ever have to sit on the ground as a child and watch the animals begin to run, when they get near their homes, their owners. They come to meet the shepard in the morning and they run to their owners in the evening.
Each day it happens again. All these different feet running past me. All the colors and the power the animals have and their desire to return home. I'd think, who's making these things? I wondered, who is orchestrating who here? Huge questions began as a child there, and I wanted to express that connection I had when they found their way into my psyche.
ML: Your experience with your work is very intimate, so how does others' experience of it affect you?
MD: Different comments come from a variety of intellects and their previous exposure to art. It's often all about their own experience, but it hits them. It's good. The work should be where you go on vacation. You just sit with it. Stay quiet long enough to reveal something. Some people connect to some work and some to other work.
ML: Describe the “loud place” you mention as something that propels your work into being.
MD:The world is constantly coming through me. It is the reality every day that I watch and experience. The most experience comes with unfiltered darkness, love, emotion; a mixture like that I like the most, to have all that come out in the exploration of the world and people. All this drives my higher curiosity. There is a complexity when I merge together with and experience people, the compassion, wonder and mystery of the reality as I experience it.
ML: When were you first able to support yourself through your art?
MD: Let's put it this way: I never thought I'd make art to earn money. I began to show paintings, and they sold. It's been sixteen years now that I've been able to live without other jobs. I had a lot of different part-time jobs. Every day I would give four hours to my work, and, eventually, I could cut the jobs. I did silk-screening, printing, pottery. Making art is not for sissies. You have to remain consistent but also push yourself to create more interesting work, interesting to yourself and then to viewers. Things go good, they go bad. I have money. I have no money. I keep painting, trying to go beyond what I did last. We live for instant gratification, the paycheck, but this, the daily work in my studio, the exploration when I'm traveling, says this is what I really do. The consistency of working. I'm fortunate. It just hit on me that money came from it. It's a mix.
ML: How do you keep track of your ideas, impressions when you're on the road, away from your studio?
MD: It's been awesome, going to different places; a lot of time on my own. My thoughts. I use a sketchbook. I mark things that come out of my head. It's a reference, not a drawing or a formed painting idea. I come back to my environment, my studio, where I've lived for twenty years, and the references in the sketchbook trigger the painting from the world I've been in, away from my home environment.
ML: Your art, in its essence, is described formally as Brut Art, which is about not fitting into traditional art world structures & strictures.
MD: Yes. It's a huge world of creativity every day. Ideas coming from a very certain place but, no, it's endless, constant. It's the reality of where we are, and it's very personal. This moment is not the same to me as someone right next to me.
ML: Is there an influence of acceptance now that your work is collected? Do you feel constrained by collectors?
MD: I love the eclectic collections of the people who own my work.They are not fixed to have “same” things. They're excited about the work as it changes. These people understand visionary art. Where I'm at is never about what I can make for them. It's a happy exchange. They promote my growth these patrons. It's a very respectful exchange of trust.
ML: In what direction do you see your work going?
MD: Yea, for me, this part of my life is about losing boundaries even more. Lose what's accepted and create what comes here once and stays in my mind. I'm growing as a person through the complexity of relationships, raising my daughter, and getting to the point that I want to be involved with people who understand contemporary art. I want to get completely lost, go further inside and reveal that in authentic ways.
My vision is to move to a more central place, a big space, where art is appreciated, so that creative energy is there. I've been isolated in one environment for a long time. I want to bring my work to the people who understand contemporary art, to those who are more receptive to art as an expression that is always changing based on what comes from the experience of this reality and not that sense of aesthetic beauty.