Val Michael, 18, is an upcoming artist performing at High Cotton Arts. His unique approach to identity and subject matter presents creations that are an extension of his own identity.
“I made it [art]Long work, about personal identity and about me through self-portraits and things like that,” Michael said.
Through the process of creating artwork about personal identity, Michael came to recognize the influence of queerness in his practice.
While he doesn’t force queerness into his creations, it naturally features in his art as part of his identity as a gay man.
“I can’t deny my work,” said Michael. “Those are the things I’m drawn to and the things I want to explore from an intuitive and guttural place.”
“Quirness has had a huge influence on my work in recent years and will continue to do so,” he said.
While he does not set out with the intention of exploring masculinity in his art, he acknowledges its presence and understands that as a queer man themes of masculinity will find their way into his work.
“I think masculinity has a lot to offer and I think it has beauty and it’s a lot more complex than society labels it,” Michael said.
He recognizes that society often thinks poorly of masculinity because of its negative characteristics, but encourages viewers to see the positive characteristics masculinity offers.
“There are ugly parts of masculinity, especially in Western culture, that obviously cannot be denied, but I think it’s a complex and beautiful and sexual thing that’s worth exploring, especially as a gay man.” Michael said.
He said, “Art is an extension of myself so there is no way to ignore it. So I thought, why immerse myself in my work?
Historically, art has been a place where people could express queer identities.
“I think queerness exists throughout our history and especially in the history of painting,” Michael said.
In 1744 Francois Boucher created Jupiter and Callisto and more recently in 1872 DH Friston created “The Dark Blue” as the cover art for the Sapphic novel “Carmilla”. These are just two of the many works in art history that exhibit queerness.
“I think it’s becoming very clear that it exists and that it still exists within the painting,” Michael said.
He further said, “I want to be a part of it. I want to make sure that queerness exists and is represented within the painting.
Like many other artists, Michael uses his art as an opportunity to work through things he encounters in life.
“It’s always things I need to do to get things out in my head, things that I can’t work through with words,” Michael said.
Her goal as an artist is to be as honest with herself as possible and to learn and grow as an artist.
He is starting his first semester at the Art Institute of Chicago this month where he hopes to further his career as an artist.
Michael’s aunt, artist Vicki Camp, told The News Courier in March, “We’ve seen Val with his paintbrush, wandering the aisles of artists at our Art on the Square festivals for seven years in a row and as a teaching volunteer at High Cotton. Athens Arts League Boys and Girls Club Art Camps.
She said, “He’s always seen himself as an artist, and I’ve never discouraged that or suggested he go down another path.”
As he continues his art education, Michael hopes to become more comfortable with his work and hold himself to lower expectations.
Michael said, “I don’t want to put expectations on my work.
To keep up with Michael’s work while at the Art Institute of Chicago, visit his Instagram @valmichael_.
To see her work in person, visit High Cotton Arts during public hours, posted on their website at highcottonarts.com.