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“Art Saves Lives”: An Interview with Artist Michael Alan

A New York City native, Michael Alan lives, breathes, and eats art. In fact, if you live in New York, chances are you’ll even catch him drawing away on the bus. Art is his life, to say the least, so it seems fitting that he created the Living Installation, a multimedia performance art event during which he transforms human bodies (including his own) into living works of art.


Michael has exhibited and performed all over New York and beyond, including the recent Chashama Gala, the New Museum, and Art Basel Miami. His multimedia line drawings are incredibly detailed and captivating, inviting the viewer closer to investigate each twist and turn.


Art Zealous recently visited Michael’s Bushwick studio to experience his Living Installation in person. When we arrived, we were welcomed into his “Imaginarium” with a slip of paper that read: “Thanks for coming to our clown party!” This note was an accurate predictor of the oddities to come. To say it was quite the night would be an understatement, and as Michael — who often adopts the surname “Alien” — told us in this interview, the Living Installation is an adventure you just have to experience for yourself. Read on to see what else he had to say about art, humanity, and nudity.


photo // Alice Oh


Art Zealous: You’ve been creating art your entire life. Have you ever wanted to do anything other than become an artist?

Michael Alan: I studied creative writing at Hunter College with a cross major in fine art. I was always an artist, an obsessed drawer, but I never thought of it as a job. I still don’t, but then have to. I was a DJ and musician for work and ran different clubs in the 90s while doing live drawings. The drawings were selling and it just became my job naturally.


There was a long, long time as a kid when I wanted to be a veterinarian. I wanted to help animals. Then I wanted to be a cat for a while; I found human behavior horrible. I still struggle, thank the world for art! You can turn anything positive with a pen! I can look into the past and make work from good or bad experiences. I watch and study human situations where people know what they are doing is wrong, but still do it — that amazes me. I love animals, trees, and kids! Can I be a kid? A baby? I’d rather be a cat!



AZ: Favorite art space in NYC?

MA: None!


AZ: What is your creative process like, as a mixed media artist? Do you know what you’re going to create before you start working?

MA: I have many vivid ideas. Some ideas are as clear as a tree, a body, or a skull, some more abstract, some very raw, and some that unfold every moment. I am a multimedia artist. I work with everything. I work against everything. I live to create.


I would say I am primarily a figurative abstractionist. I’m not interested in conveying one idea in one way at all. There is no one way. We are limited by power. I don’t want to limit myself in art by pushing one strength. If I ever feel limited, I push to something else. I dislike anything popular in art; for me, true raw art is outside the pop culture.


I work on people, with people, with sound, drawings, prints, sculptures, masks, all paints, impressions, marks. I’ll use confetti, a pen, my cat, the trunk of my car; it’s all the same to me. It’s all art, based on perception. Or it’s not art, based on perception. I choose art over reality — that’s my perception.



AZ: Can you explain what your Living Installation shows are and why you began doing them?

MA: They’re all different experiences based on creating live paintings on myself and other people, and how we react and change in various spaces. This is a NYC DIY happening, which I find spiritual and funny! Many things are happening at the same time, and time is slowed down. Perceptions of human life go out the window. Every show is different, very different! We have done over 1000 of them. I can’t explain 1000 experiences. People need to experience more and spend less time looking and figuring things out.


AZ: Why do you perform blindfolded?

MA: Why perform doing a routine? Blindfolded work creates pure art. Rare and raw unreal exploitation. It also frees you of your ego. And helps create failure. Accepting creative failures is accepting creative growth. Kill your ego!



AZ: You often cut up your work and use them to create new ones. Can you expand upon this concept of recycling your art?

MA: I reuse prints and photos from my life with layers and layers of art on top of itself. I make sculptures on people, then take them apart and put them into a painting or a chair. I recycle old work that I have made, time travel with it into a live performance, and recreate it. I’m interested in blurring time and space on canvas, paper, in life, sound, drawings, and paintings. Overlapping of energy creates more energy. Time is not real and we rely on systems to control us. Break the clock! Find the truth! Tick tock! Yes please!


Work that inspires me the most is timeless. Taking “past” works and “new” works and creating new works is time travel in “art.”



AZ: Is there an artwork of yours that is particularly important to you?

MA: All of them and none of them.


AZ: Words to live by?

MA: Art saves lives.


AZ: Your Instagram bio says “Naked fan.” Does this refer to the beverage or to the physical state of being nude?

MA: Fan of pure naked bodies that are brave and don’t care about labels. Not for the idea of sex or money, but for freedom! 



AZ: What are you currently working on?

MA: 16 new drawings about space, time, and bodies.


AZ: Best way to stay in touch? 

MA: Instagram or contact my cat. Bye! Hi! Bye? Hi? 


all photos // courtesy of artist