From CF-18 cockpit to Crash Gallery: a Q&A with artist Michael Markowsky
"My best work is usually done quickly and confidently, and the less I do the better."
Crash Gallery's high-energy first season comes to a close this Friday, with a season finale that features a twist on the comic strip that we're pretty sure you've never seen before. It also features Michael Markowsky, an acclaimed visual artist whose semi-abstract landscape paintings have led him, among other places, to the cockpit of a CF-18 Hornet (his career goal is to make a painting from the surface of the moon). In preparation for the final episode, we asked Michael a few questions about what it was like to find himself amidst the chaos and creativity of Crash Gallery.
What was your first thought when you were asked to be on Crash Gallery? Did you hesitate at all?
Honestly, I had no idea what I was in for until I walked onto the set with the audience there waiting for us, as we weren't told much about what to expect. It's not like the show had been on for a few seasons and I could prepare for it!
Yes, I suppose I was a little apprehensive about how it would play out, because quite frankly I have an established reputation as a fine artist and university instructor, so I didn't want to jeopardize that by coming off looking like a fraud! I think there's a real fear in the art circles I travel in that doing something like this could ruin one's career, because for so many artists, giving up control over the context and final product are non-negotiables. But I guess for me I use that fear as motivation.
Do you typically create your art alone? What was it like working in front of the crowd?
Over the past five years, since I moved back to Canada after living in Los Angeles for 11 years, my work has become much more performative, and involved making work in real time in front of an audience who have certain expectations — one of which is to be entertained! Making art in front of an audience can be really exciting and also terribly stressful. I've literally been heckled while painting, so I knew anything could happen.
Has the way you work changed since appearing on Crash Gallery?
Since the show, I've really been trying to embrace working more quickly and moving forward, rather than fiddling with something over and over until it's "done." My best work is usually done quickly and confidently, and the less I do the better. Having a countdown timer really forced me to focus and not question myself, because there simply wasn't time!
You're a painter and an illustrator. How did the different mediums/materials challenge you?
Without giving anything away, I would say that I usually paint in oil, and so I was reminded just how different acrylic really is. I mean it's like a tennis player switching to badminton: a whole new set of rules! As well, I had to use some unconventional surfaces to paint on, to say the least.
What was your favourite part of being on the show?
My favourite part of the show was meeting different artists and developing friendships with them. Jenn, Candice and I are getting together again on Friday to watch the show! I mean it was such a strange, wonderful experience that I think only people who have actually gone through it can fully appreciate it, and that brought us together.
What's next for you?
I'm currently creating a new body of paintings, video and possibly sculptures for a solo exhibition at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Ontario. They've commissioned me to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of Tom Thomson's death in 2017, which is an incredible honour for me because he's a Canadian legend and personal hero of mine. It's a daunting challenge, but perhaps in some way doing Crash Gallery encouraged me to reach outside of my comfort zone.
Don't forget to tune into the finale of Crash Gallery on Friday, Oct. 30 at 8:30 p.m. on CBC.