Studio Visit: David DiMichele (Part 1)

David DiMichele; Photo credit Gary Brewer

David DiMichele: Synthetic Visions

An image comes to mind of a white, ideal space that, more than any single picture, may be the archetypal image of twentieth century art…

Brian O’ Doherty, Inside the White Cube

Written by Gary Brewer
The journey to discover one’s vision as an artist can be a long road. There are many paths that lead one to a specific moment when all of the tendrils of thought and feeling coalesce into a clear idea: an idea that allows one to move freely, both focused and open: a space where one’s vision can grow and develop into a new language.

David DiMichele is an artist who has worked in many forms and has found a way to meld them into a fascinating synthesis of sculpture, painting, installation, architecture and photography. They exist in a conceptual space that is both psychologically compelling and express a poetic love affair with art history.

The artist said of his early student work, “When I was in school I worked both as a painter and a sculptor. I began mixing the two forms together, trying to find a way to give myself some new areas to explore. It was the beginning of these ideas that led me to the current work that I am doing.”

DiMichele is a student of art history. He is especially drawn to abstract artists such as Jackson Pollock, David Smith, Robert Smithson, Eva Hesse and others, whose art from past eras informs and inspires his vision. In his work he transforms them into a post-modern expression, paying homage to these artists and the formal inventions that they created, but through a multi-layered approach that breathes new metaphoric life into these forms and reflects something new about our current world.

“As much as I admire historical abstract art, it has been done so well by so many fabulous artists for so long that I began to feel that possibilities for expansion and growth had become very limited. I saw more opportunities available in a more Post-Modern approach, in a kind of art that would critique and comment upon abstraction.”

For many years DiMichele worked as an installer in art museums, and later in the Department of Education at MOCA Los Angeles. Over the years, after spending so much time in galleries and museums, his interest in these architectural spaces grew and developed to become a part of his vision.

In 1998, he approached Ubermain gallery in DTLA to show them slides he had taken of maquettes for the installations that he was working on. The gallerists told him that they did not have the space to exhibit the installations, but that they would like to exhibit the photographs. At that moment he had a realization: he could create works that would exist as images in an artistic form that would invert photographic documentation. Rather than using photography to document an exhibit or an installation as a secondary experience- allowing one to see images of a show that they could not see in person; the photograph would become the primary experience. DiMichele saw that approaching his work in this way gave him limitless possibilities.

David DiMichele; Photo credit Gary Brewer

Using this approach gave him the freedom to create small abstract sculptures and paintings. By placing them in his architectural spaces, he could reanimate them with new life. The photographs include all of the elements of painting: light, composition, perspective and design. DiMichele calls this series of work Pseudodocumentations.

When I first met DiMichele in 2013, he was creating goofy modernist looking sculptures out of rocks, stacked and painted in somewhat lurid colors. He would place them in front of abstract gestural paintings done within in a dioramic space- then he would photograph and print them as large format digital prints on paper or canvas. Next he painted abstract passages in a loose gestural style on top of the print. They were strange and compelling, imbued with a sharp wit. It was wonderful to see the freedom that he was giving himself to mix mediums and stylistic approaches and arrive at these engaging synthetic visions.

On my recent visit to his studio, I saw a new project that David has been working on: The I-Beam Gallery: a physical gallery space with a floor that measures approximately 4×8 feet with a ceiling height of about 40 inches. It is a classic white cube with heavy-duty I-beam structural support pillars and cross beams. To activate the space, he arranged 3-inch tall figures of people- an audience standing around the gallery viewing the art. They look to be figures one would buy from a hobby store for miniature train sets or architectural models. They set off the space with both a sense of scale and the feeling of psychological engagement that the “spectators” are actually experiencing with the art.

It is a “gallery” where DiMichele creates art exhibits of his own work and the work of friends. His current exhibition of “tire track photos” are epic in scale in relation to the space and the figures. They are bold black arcs and semi-circles whose powerful physicality brings to mind the oil stick drawings of Richard Serra. Indeed, DiMichele prints these photographs and then reworks them with black oil bars. There is a graphic power to these compositions that imply physical force. With a touch of wit and cheeky irony, these images are photographs of the tire tracks left on the road from countless cars doing doughnuts and burning rubber in the turnouts along Angeles Crest Highway. In the exhibition that I saw in his studio, he also installed his expressionist totemic sculptures, whose miniature size is magnified to a monumental scale by the relationships with the gallery space and the 3-inch figures.

DiMichele said of the drawings, “I drive up to these turn-outs and stand on top of my car and take panoramic photographs of the tires marks left by cars on the asphalt. The gestural marks always reminded me of abstract drawing and painting, so I finally decided to make abstract works based on them.” There is a combination of danger and recklessness in these tires marks that speak to our human nature. There is also a wry sense of humor to DiMichele’s artistic sensibility in finding parallels to abstract expressionism and other modernist aesthetics within the actions of our urban world. The risk and pleasure of driving dangerously, humorously reflects the existential ethos of Ab-Ex painting, to risk all at the edge of the abyss.

During my visit I saw one of his Pseudodocumentations pieces, “Hills and Mist” 2008, (30×96 inches). It was framed and displayed in his home/studio: the scale and the wide horizontal format gave it a powerful presence. True to his description, the painterly quality of light and perspective were on full display. Mounds of earth form hills in a gargantuan seeming space; a lone figure looks down from an elevated walkway perched above. Through the scale created by the figure and the room, the walkway would be roughly 30 feet above the floor. The seven mounds would stand 20 feet high or more. At the base of these hills is a mysterious mist filling the floor with a strange atmosphere. The image conjures a kind of industrial romanticism blended with the suggestion of a science fiction narrative. The skylights, casting a dramatic luminosity to this seemingly vast room, amplify the grandeur of the space.

On a table nearby, was a series of drawings: biomorphic abstract works that David makes for his miniature dioramas, and that stand alone as completed pieces: they are done with a casual fluidity. In his yard, there are abstract sculptures that pay homage to many 20th century abstract artists: Stephen De Stabler, Peter Voulkos, Miro, Giacometti, and others. They are all done with a lightness and wit that frees the works from the existential weight of the original. They hover in a space between homage and a kind of stage prop, which indeed some of them are- transformed from the miniature works made for the Pseudodocumentations into full-scale sculptures.

This self-conscious device of creating architectural models from his imagination and filling them with sculptures and painting at epic scales, adds humor and a kind of theatrical magic to abstraction. DiMichele commented, “By working this way, I can explore virtually any bizarre and extravagant idea that occurs to me without any financial or logistical limitations. In my model exhibition spaces, I can continue to create abstract art, and to explore the relationship between the artwork and the space in which it exists: in this case, the ideal space of the contemporary gallery.”

Language is a limitlessly mutable phenomenon. Our need to find a way to reflect our experience in the world continually renews language. The profound metaphoric archetypes underlying our stories remain, but the way that we express them changes. Humor is an important element in freeing us from taking ourselves and the world too seriously: it is a catalyst of transformation and a form of grace that allows us to cope with our topsy-turvy world. In the arts, it gives us freedom and latitude, transforming fixed ideologies into the malleable plasticity that is at the heart of creativity.

David DiMichele arrived at his art through an organic process of self-discovery. His works express an original vision that plays freely with art history and expresses a profound love for the creative artists whose historic achievements we build upon. These pieces are dreamscapes in a theater of memory and imagination, creating new ways of seeing and experiencing this ever changing world that swiftly flickers before our eyes.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 in a series of articles focused on David DiMichele. Constance Mallinson will talk specifically about The I-Beam Gallery.

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