Painter Michelle Armas immerses herself in the throes of her creativity, allowing inspiration from her space to capture her as she creates.
interview by ciara bird // photographs by paige french
Tell us who you are, where you’re from, and what you do. My name is Michelle Armas, Michi to my friends. I’m from Houston originally, but is that really where I’m from? Space I guess, stardust, then my parents, then I guess Texas. Now I live in Atlanta, Hotlanta to my friends.
How did you start your career? You started out in graphic design, what made you start painting? I really started painting when I was a small child. It’s all I ever did, basically until I went to college and studied International Affairs. After one year “working in the real world” (barf), I enrolled to study graphic design and branding. I learned all about creation, and that I can make anything I want to. After working in corporate branding, I realized I needed to paint again to keep myself from jumping out of a window. Paint is like my sanity juice.
Your work explores a lot of organic shapes. Can you talk a little about your creative process or journey? My painting is very physical. It’s a compulsion. When I am inspired, and that happens every time I look around, my natural reaction is to distill it to the most basic components: color, form, and negative and positive space. Once I lay down the first color, it’s like having a conversation with myself. Who knows what will happen next? Not me.
What items are essential for you to get started? No one else’s energy can be in my space. It takes a very long time for me to be able to paint with another person around.
I am lucky enough to get to wander around all blissed out on color and light and form, and then I put my visions on canvas and sell them. Its like magic.
“I need chaos in order to create” is something Francis Bacon said about his messy studio. Do you agree? Oh no! I need space, cleared of all visual and spiritual clutter. Bright light and beauty around me, it has to be visually pleasing! I burn candles and have flowers. It’s the real deal.
How long have you been in your studio? Did you find it right away or was it a grueling process? Ha! I was on a vacation to San Francisco about two years ago. It was a healing experience for me, I learned a lot about myself on that trip. I was just sitting on this rooftop terrace looking out over the bay and Blamo! I thought, “I have to get a studio as soon as I get home.” I went home, found an ad on Craigslist in about two minutes and drove over. Seriously. It was waiting for me.
What’s your favorite thing about the space? I can compartmentalize my work here, like mentally it’s all filed away in this physical place. The space is filled with so many blank canvases just inviting exploration!
What other art forms do you have a high appreciation for? Oh, it’s pretty endless. I love painters from the turn of the century who explored abstraction of portraits and the patterns! Oh, Klimpt is my homeboy. I would have been an interior designer in another life. Pattern! Oh, pattern is my homegirl.
How amazing is it that Anthropologie sells your work? Pretty freaking awesome.
What was the last experience that totally blew your mind? A few months ago I was battling this oppressive exhaustion all the time. I was seeing doctors and worrying myself like crazy. I sat down and made a list of things that absolutely had to change in my life, and implemented those changes like no work after 6pm, spend at least one day every weekend doing whatever I want, and making a real connection to friends at least twice a week… stuff like that. Within one week all my symptoms went away. All of them. My energy came back, it was a miracle. It was such a lesson to trust your instincts about what you need for your spiritual health, because it’s also your physical health.
Where would you like to get lost? I am going to have to go with Civil War era White House. Abraham Lincoln is having a vogue right now, but my friends and family know that he’s been my hero since I was a child. I would love to wander around that house unseen and just figure it out. If I concentrate really hard tonight, maybe I will dream about it!
This interview was conducted early 2013.