Interview: Michael Cavayero – Travel Stories and Being Inspired by Art
by Daniel Haim
Michael Cavayero was born in New York City and raised in Merrick and Syosset, NY, two Long Island suburbs. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from New York University in 2009, and studied at the Cooper Union School of Art and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design GSD in Cambridge, MA. Cavayero recently exhibited his work in two solo exhibitions at the Broadway Windows exhibition space in Manhattan. The first included a series of abstract paintings of hair, while the second expanded the artist’s subject matter into large paintings of actress Lindsay Lohan and Meryl Streep juxtaposed with huge pansy flowers. Cavayero has studied in the Czech Republic, China and Japan. While in undergrad, he studied painting with Maureen Gallace and Ross Bleckner. He will attend a research program in Woodblock printmaking and paper-making at Kyoto Seika Daigaku in Kyoto later this year as part of a residency program. Cavayero currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and works as an apprentice for artist David Salle.
“I started to paint these sort of young Meryl Streep paintings maybe in the Spring of 2008. I think I had always liked her. My dad use to make me watch a lot of movies with him, mostly on VHS from the 80s when I was younger. That was sort of the post-period of the movies.”
We watched like, Splash, with Daryl Hannah, and Mannequin with Kim Cattrall — so I was always exposed to these strange female 80s stars and that became like my sensibility or what I liked — it also made me a really precocious moviegoer because I had a sense of history and context when I watched later more current films with them in.
So with Meryl Streep I first saw her probably in Death Becomes Her, and I really liked that movie — it was so campy and her and Goldie Hawn basically compete against each other the whole movie playing these washed up Beverly hills Hollywood hags who take this potion to make you look younger and live forever — but they want to sort of outdo each other so the whole second half of the movie is them trying to destroy each others’ body so that they are the more desirable one.
Its really funny. But that movie, which I use to watch over and over again really seduced me because it was made in such a melodramatic 80s way but was sleeker because it was made in the 90s and for a lot of money. And that movie made me love and feel connected to Meryl Streep. I guess I had an affinity for her kind of need or desire for attention in that film — which always made me relate to the character she played and I sort of use to imitate her, Madeline Ashton.
Then I guess after that I remember seeing this movie inadvertently on television with my Dad, and it a much older movie. Meryl Streep was in it but she looked much younger, creamier, almost regal looking. And I was so impressed by sort of just the way she looked– its hard to describe the sensation I had seeing her in a younger state for the first time but I thought that feeling was a unique one that I wanted to exist inside some of my paintings of her.
Just that sensation. Also making the Meryl Streep painting I thought because of this relationship I had to her I felt I could own the use of painting her. And I liked the idea of wanting my paintings to have Meryl Streep in them — like what an odd choice — and one that I hadn’t seen in a painting before. Paintings usually don’t care about whose in them — they sort of always regurgitate the soul of the painter first and foremost — like in Picasso paintings — it didn’t if he was painting Gertrude Stein — it was about Picasso.
My paintings are sort of like that but I do thing the choice in subject matter is important as a way to state something or as a psychological element in the paintings as a narrative or string of ones thought. I think each painting I make is almost like declaring its own space in the world of my painting — so if im painting a celebrity is a translation of the real world into my world that I am showing — but at the same time I am also interested in the conceptual gesture of choosing a particular subject as content for a painting.
Daniel: What are your hopes for the next year, what are your ambitions?
Michael: That’s a really hard question — I don’t really think about time like that; I sort of have a big big goal and then I take one day at a time to get there. Its very strange — I’m a planner in the remote sense. Like I create the framework for myself but them fill it with every passing second — so I cant really see that far ahead but I sort of know what’s coming. But honestly by next year I’m hoping to have a full-on working studio — right now I am working all over the place like a nomad, plus Ive been living out of suitcases — I feel like my whole life so Ive also become very ascetic with not too many things attached to me. I use to keep a lot of things, now I sort of just have a collection like a traveling circus that I carry around with me. On a daily basis I have this bag that I carry around — but most of the things in it are things that I would ever need in an emergency. Like my passport, an exact duplicate fold up bag of the bag I carry around (in case it breaks and I need to replace it) my hard-drive with all my images on it, a multi-colored pen and a lined thin notepad, I also keys, this pouch wallet I bought in Japan and papers. I use to keep a sketch pad or some book that I would constantly have with me and I would draw in it all the time. But I reduced that to this small white vertical notepad with spiral on the top so that you can flip it — now I use that to make lists — to do lists, or to jot down ideas — pictographs to myself for paintings or future paintings, the movements of my work — its basically like my working studio.
But in the next year I plan to be in the middle of some full-blown project that I am working on, and is literally consuming me and causing me to vomit out work one piece after another. I’m planning to go to Japan this Summer to work on these Woodblock prints with a master print maker at this site in Kyoto. Hopefully the solitude there along with the spiritual nature of what I am doing will bring me back to drawing.
Daniel: What motivates you to continue doing what you’re doing?
Michael: You know, Art is my religion. I take it very seriously so to distribute it somehow is sort of my means, my goal and my ambition. I want my work to be seen, and I want it mean something to other people. I want it to have an impact — its pretty clear how you get it to do that. One day I see myself waking up in the morning with the ability and the means to choose whatever project I feel like to work on and make it happen. I think art is so important and you sort of have to cut the balls off fear to make it happen without looking back in the mirror. Its a tough thing to say but if you look at the art that generates the largest impact based on exposure and stamina its the work with the will, that will cut through to move forward. I think in that sense someone like Jeff Koons is a model even though hes a tough one.
Daniel: Who are your major influences?
Michael: Im influenced by other artists. Lately I am on the Internet constantly. I look up every artist website I can find and I think its kind of funny how there is a formula to them — and yet its all such an non-reality, and sort of intimidating to see how organized some people are within the system. I hate living inside other peoples systems. So i built my website based on another artist’s website, completely copying him, and using his format which was done in the minimalist way possible — which i liked. I think my biggest influences do come from artists who took there are very seriously. I had a teacher in school who always described art as serious as a heart attack. Its true.
Basically if you want to change anything you have to do it with a push forward. A few weeks ago I came across a boldness that inspired me: Magritte’s Vache period — I thought about this as almost identical to what I wanted to achieve with the Lindsay and Meryl paintings I painted. This almost Vache! What A CoW! reaction. Like POW! Slap in the face. Magritte’s paintings of this period were done in the late 1940s. Basically in 1948 he was invited to have a solo exhibition in Paris by the Parisian public (for the first time.) This was sort of late in Magritte’s career as he was already an established painter and a central figure in the ongoing Surrealist movement. But because he was Belgian and really good he was sort of an outsider for the Parisians and never fully accepted by the Paris Art World. But in 1948 they finally gave in and granted him this exhibition for the first time. Expecting Magritte to come out with his usual work, painted in a realist semi-removed style, Magritte instead decided to produce a series of quick, aggressively handled paintings, usually his iconic imagery but in a way that was fast and slap-dashed together. He produced seventeen works in the course of a two week period and in what became his attack on the French public and an assault on painting he exhibited them and shocked the public.
I liked this story because I think its brutally important in art to make a statement about who you are and what you want in art. Its political to have agency as an artist and not to just fall to the masses otherwise you are not unmasking truth. Its your art is just being enjoyed too much I think it stops its heartbeat and then it dies. Art should die like that — it should have a lifespan so it needs to keep going and be elusive, challenging, key at some points, ahead at other points, and even once in while remain under the radar at some.