Michael Divine

Writings : On My Artwork


These pieces contain thoughts and reflections on individual paintings that I’ve made. If you are looking for some deeper understanding of my own take on some of my work, where it comes from, or what inspires it, this is a good place to start. Enjoy!

On New Directions in My Work

If you've been following my creative trajectory for a while, you may have noticed a shift in my approach and output. The subject of the paintings has become more fluid. Ideas seem to be less specific with greater sweeps of color, more spontaneity of brushstroke. Most of all (and what I hope and aim for): more visceral and emotive of sensations and less illustrative of a particular idea.

Like any relationship, my relationship to painting has continued to change and grow over the years. What I want out of it - how I want to express myself. WHAT I want to express. I look at my 20s and wonder: what of that was the wildness, the hormones of youth, and loading myself up on [primarily] yoga, buddhism, and the outdoors. Later, into my 30s I found myself wanting to slow down and focus more on the individual elements of the paintings. For each piece, I made detailed preparatory drawings and then a moved forward into the painting with a very slow methodical approach. Some of the best pieces to result from that are ones such as The Glass Onion, The Myth of Freedom, and First World Problem Child. Still, later, we moved to where we are now and, to me, the pinnacle of that approach has been the paintings The Apotheosis of Hope and Only Love Can and The Bricklayer's Dream.

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This painting expresses the dance of rhythm and chaos that often is the world. It is the crackling light, the fire, that permeates everything and yet still is just calm waves washing over us, pulling us back, pushing us forwards with some sense of self that we hold on to within that. With perhaps the barest touch can dissolve it into everything where our borders are permeable and our identity an illusion and that there is only this Now, this moment - and then the next and the next arriving on the shores of each breath, each inhalation and exhalation and we hold this fragile self itself cobbled together from conditioning and fantasies, fears and imagination, doing the best that we can with what we have to work with and we face it all bravely and boldly, with compassion for the immaculate dance that is life.

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Illegitimi Non Carborundum

"Illegitimi Non Carborundum" loosely translates from Latin to mean "Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down." Allied soldiers in WWII wrote it on their helmets while they fought the fascist Nazi regime of Germany. ⁠

These past few years in the US have been intense and I painted this in the summer of 2020 while I read constantly of Black Lives Matters protests - protests by people who only wanted to be treated equally, who wanted their voice to be heard - and, you know, not be afraid of having the police shoot them. Meanwhile the government that is supposed to represent me seemed to be getting overtaken by actual fascists (sure they might look like just a bunch of pasty old white guys but yeah... then there was Jan 6th). ⁠

So we have to rise and rise and rise again. Those of us who want to create a healthier world - a world where we can live together and be treated equally without regard to race or color or gender or sexual orientation or any of a thousand other reasons that people pick to divide and conquer and create fucked up hierarchies that they use to oppress. A world where we care for the environment as a steward and not a parasite. ⁠

So we rise and rise and rise again - busting through the complex structures created around us. All these illusions, ideas, conditioning. We have to rise and rise and rise again and not let the bastards grind us down.⁠

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I've looked skyward many a night - especially in the rural area where we live - and witnessed this lovely halo around the moon. One night that vision just sort of got lodged in my mind and I've been ruminating on it ever since.

I started it in the middle of October 2019 with only a few sketches so as to give myself a lot of room for spontaneity. I wanted to explore that light in the darkness (and there's been no shortage of darkness) - and that moon -  looking upwards in awe - at that great dance it's a part of.

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What It Looked Like From Here: Tiananmen Square, June 5, 1989

Tiananmen Square: What it Looked Like From Here

In 1989, I was 13. In the second grade, we'd done drills in grammar school where we knelt against the wall of the school hallway with our heads between our knees because if an atom bomb fell then that was, apparently, the best position to be in (ha! as if) because the Russians were at war with the United States but it wasn't an actual war it was a Cold War and that the threat of nuclear war loomed large in everyone's minds. China was an even bigger mysterious behemoth. But by the late 80s it seems that tide was turning and in China, students and thinkers and others wanted real change and they organized themselves and rallied in Tiananmen Square. By May of 1989, 300,000 people had rallied in the square. A reasonably detailed and fact based account can be found HERE on Wikipedia.

But I remember on June 5th, this man, unmoving, who stood before a line of tanks with red stars on them. I remember the sensation as if a veil of fear were about to be lifted. I remember that the crowds of people were students. I was a student. They were young. I too was young. You have to understand, in 1989, the world was on the brink of change. A few months later the Berlin Wall fell. A couple of years later, the USSR became the independent state of Russia and a bunch of other independent countries (the independence of which is debatable, at the very least).

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The Bricklayer’s Dream

Every painting I make is this months-long meditation on an idea or melody or a feeling. Each moment and movement - every visual motif and swath of color - is a thread that should be relative to the overall storyline. In some paintings, like Only Love Can, the threads lead to the highest most beautiful moment I can feel that has ever been felt (within the boundaries of the vision). The painting becomes this ever rising aria of light and beauty and love and joy and, ultimately, it's wonderful to paint. 

Every time I pick up that brush again for the current painting I'm working, I step into this river of emotions and sensations that I’m directing to the most perfect vision of the vision on the easel that I can imagine, no matter how I personally feel. If I'm depressed or sullen and the painting is to be a thing, it's just the work to be done. In those times. it’s a good and nourishing meditation. When it's a painting of unfolding beauty, it's like the unwrapping of a precious jewel reflecting perfect light.

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5 Tiny Visions

This Saturday, July 7th at the Hive Gallery in Los Angeles is the opening of a show called "Tiny Visions". Alongside the pieces below are works from Violet Divine (my amazing wife), Martina Hoffmann, Allyson Grey, Radhika Heresy, Dan Cohen and a bunch of others (maybe two dozen other artists?)

Small (tiny) paintings like this allow for a kind of intimacy of the experience. One can imagine it at 4 or 5 feet tall but instead they are these delicate little portraits of dream-like ideas and core moments.

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Commissioned Portrait: “A New Perspective”

A collector of my work commissioned me to paint a portrait of him in my style. I don't do a lot of portraiture so I enlisted Violet's help and we worked together on this painting. She is more adept at creating from real life than I am. In that way, we tend to meet in the middle as my approach generally builds up from abstraction.

The person who commissioned the painting is quite a thinker, parsing different ideas and concepts through his mind in a really brilliant manner. The resulting piece is intended to portray the lens of the mind contemplating a flower and the various ideas and associations around that- colors, shapes, etc. He loves the blues in my work and had requested that I stay within that spectrum, so it was a good piece to paint in tandem with "Only Love Can (Reign Over Me)".

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Only Love Can (Reign Over Me)

I began this painting in September 2017. The blues and clear focus felt like a good next step following The Apotheosis of Hope. But then the fires hit all around us (we live a couple hours north of San Francisco) and our air was awash in smoke, the light was ever orange-gold, and everything was chaotic and burning. Suddenly cool blue didn't seem so important even if it felt trite to say so.

At the time, too, we'd taken in some cats that our [terrible] neighbors abandoned when they moved. One of those cats, Mu, who Violet had rather fallen in love with, was seized by our neighbor's dog and killed. It was brutal. This would be, in and of itself, rather tragic, but she had already been suffering from depression. There had been a lot of loss in her life recently and it'd been building, draining, challenging. The death of this sweet new kitty sort of rocked the boat in a serious way she tumbled even deeper.

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A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds

A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds

"Each note is like a whole universe. And each silence.... And the quality of sound and the degree of emotional... It's like the most important thing in the world. It's truly cosmic."

Jerry Garcia in "The Rolling Stone Interviews"

Loud fuzzy distorted sustained amplified strummed plucked looped shredded wah wah wah wailing upon and fed back through layer upon layer of chord progression melody line guiding me and dividing me and finding that perfect note, that golden chord, that crying out tone of my soul.

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