August 22, 2014
It is late-morning at the Flatirons Mall. Michaele Keyes lives in Boulder and I live in Denver. We agree to meet at an intermediate location. We sit at a picnic table with beverages purchased from the nearby movie theatre.
May I ask your age?
How long have you lived in Boulder?
I first came to Colorado when I was 12. My parents sent me West for the summer to be on a horse ranch. The ranch was near Steamboat Springs. I think my parents thought this would be an interesting thing to do; to be out West and to be in nature with horses. My parents were free spirits and they encouraged me to be in new situations.
Were horses important to you?
I loved horses. I enjoyed them and rode them, however I did not enjoy the competitive aspects of riding. I returned for three summers. At this time I fell in LOVE with the West.
It was everything. The mountains, the open spaces, the skies, and profound sense of the open-ness. I think also there was a sense of freedom. That is so important to me. I grew up in Connecticut and New York. Seeing and being in the landscape of Colorado was profound.
When I completed high school I applied only to colleges that were out West. I chose the University of Denver (D.U.).
How was your experience at D.U.?
I majored in art. My experience there was mixed. It was the wrong school in the right place. It was hard for me to connect with the teachers. The art that I wished to explore did not seem to be favored. Teachers seemed to want "hard-edged" abstraction. I have nothing against that way of using paint, it just is not me. It was difficult there because I felt I had no teachers who "got me", and who were "for me". Still, there were many plusses.
Spending a year abroad. In my case that meant a year in Mexico. For a time I lived with a family, however for most of the time I lived with friends. We drove everywhere. I loved Oaxaca, the Yucatan... I studied art and anthropology and archeology. There was art everywhere, not just in the museums.
And after D.U.?
I was done with art. For ten years I stayed away. For most of my life I was working on art, and I simply wanted a break. A friend from high school in New York [Thaddeus, Michaele's husband] came to visit me in Denver, and he never left. He, too, fell in love with the West. We bought some land close to Nederland and we built a small cabin. There was no plumbing or electricity. We received the last official outhouse permit issued by Boulder County. We lived there for eight years, all year round. In some ways I was away from art yet this life was my art.
Why did you leave the cabin?
Perhaps it was because when our daughter Rachel, who lived in the cabin for her first three years, said her first words; her words were not "mommy" or "daddy", her first word was "shoe". My daughter wanted to go to the mall [and her mother wanted "take out"...]
And so you moved to a shopping mall...
Actually, it was my daughter who re-connected me to my artwork. I joke about her desire to be at a mall, however it truly echoed my need to be back in the world, to be near people and art. And my daughter's art reminded me of the freedom of art. Her unscripted art inspired me.
We bought a small house in Boulder. I began to work on my art, and I earned money by teaching art.
What is your relationship to teaching?
My earliest memories are of my third grade art teacher, Miss Baker. She gave us a wonderful exercise that I use to this day. [Michaele takes a piece of paper and draws random lines that intersect, or not; and she explains... 'You create these lines and spaces, and you fill whichever spaces you wish, in whatever pattern you wish. This is a great way to loosen up and get working.'].
Sometimes though I had difficulty with teaching — on both sides of the classroom. It seemed too authoritarian. There were too many limits and constraints.
In my studio now I teach a group of older people, ranging in age from 45 to 75. These are people who want to be engaged with making art. Some were disaffected because of earlier experiences, either in school or elsewhere. We discuss technique and more. Most important, I ask these students to LOOK, to really pay attention to what they are drawing.
Please tell us a bit about your art now.
When I was in school I painted. Big acrylic paintings, loose and with lots of medium. Afterwards, after my hiatus, I painted, I drew … About 15 years ago I moved almost exclusively to printmaking and that is what I am doing now - monotypes.
Can you please explain your monotype work?
In my studio I have this large acrylic sheet. On this sheet I place all manner of material. Maybe it is a packing material, or various small objects and other items. I use soy-based inks, usually colors and now mostly black. On top of this arrangement of texture and ink I place the paper and wring this all through the press.
There is great freedom in this kind of work. Ideas keep generating about materials and colors I want to use, about a kind of space I want; and there is great adventure because with the ideas there are also unknowns that can really never be known until the monotype is seen.
I don't worry about the outcome of a monotype. I know there will be some failures along with the successes. What is wonderful to me is the lack of limitations that comes with printmaking. I am so fortunate to be able to do this, to be engaged with work that has come to be a continual adventure.
Do you have any final thoughts?
I would like to mention some artists I admire. They are Joan Mitchell, Judy Pfaff, Lee Bontecou, and Jay DeFeo. These artists are important to me because they all seem to have achieved some recognition and then chose to leave the "scene'" to create a space for themselves where they were connected and yet apart, and free to do their own work.
I would like to mention, too, the impact of my mother Elaine’s lifelong support of my art.