Image Making: Interview with Michael Platt
This Friday, March 25, “image-maker” Michael Platt will give a talk at the Honfleur Gallery in Anacostia about his most recent exhibition, titled Pathfinders. In support of this upcoming talk, the Anacostia Arts Center, and local DC art in general, we talked to the artist to get a preview of what he’ll be covering at the event, including the difference between image-making and artistry, the goals of Pathfinders, and how art speaks back.
AF: One thing that is striking about your career is your preference for the title “image-maker” versus “artist” — can you tell us about what you see as the difference, and why you prefer image-maker?
MP: Artist is a big term, that covers musicians actors visal artists play writers and the particular art I like to do, figurative images. I’ve always made, drawn and printed, figurative images. Sometimes I do sculptures. Images that have some thing to do wth humans, are human-based, so there’s a significant role of humanity there. I’ve always done things about people, in one way or another, that’s the goal with the phrase to communicate that.
AF: Your show at the Honfleur Gallery is called Pathfinders — what was it about these trailblazers as the subject of your work that inspired you?
MP: The term came up after I did the whole thing. You start to look at the images and see what they are telling you. They tell you what they are about. Sometimes you can impose a title on them in the beginning and hopefully it works its way into art, but I looked at these images and they were images of people who lead the way.
AF: It seems like you take a unique approach to the creative process, waiting for images to tell you what they contain or are communicating. Can you tell us more?
MP: What do artists do is they make stuff. We just make things, we have to make things, particularly visual artists. When I was young I used to make kites, paper airplanes, train tracks. The sculptures I am working on now is making little shotgun houses. I am interested in making rings from coins. Artists make stuff. You decide what they mean later, or they tell you. You don’t really see your work until later. You line them up in a blank room and then you see them, The meaning of the piece happens after I’ve done five or six of them, and then the rest are a little more directed. The first piece you find out what it’s about halfway through. You listen to the piece, and it will tell you what it’s about, what to do and what not to do. You have to try it first, and then you know if it’s right or wrong. You have to ask your confidants, for my wife, and they’ll tell you what they think.
AF: How do you capture the tradition-breaking aspects of this topic through art, which has such a long history of its own traditions?
MP: I don’t know, well, usually the only time your work changes is when you introduce something new. You get tired of doing the same old shit, and it might be good shit, but you kinda want to do something different, even if it’s only a tiny bit different, so you include something new. For this series, that new thing was jute fabric. The jute is the same kind of material that burlap is made out of, jute fiber. In the course of a year, someone gave me a whole lot of jute rope, and somebody else gave me a bunch of guinea sacks, and a fishing net made out of jute. And the model came over and I took out all this fabric, and I threw the images together and it looked like she was involved with all this jute. That became the jute spirit, she looked like she was really something to reckon with. This fabric is similar to this other material they used to call negro cloth, the cloth they used to make slave clothing with, really itchy and scratchy. Reminded me of the old pea coats we used to wear — you looked warm but we weren’t really all that warmy. It became your armor, your uniform. So you throw all those things together and I came up with pathfinders. They’re everywhere, they are people who go to places where people have been. A lot of my work takes place where people have been, dilapidated houses or buildings, places where things used to be but aren’t going on right now. You can play around with that, I could invent a whole tale, but those are places I like to work from. Places where the human spirit has been and I like to give it life again.
AF: You are a native Washingtonian — how has your hometown affected your creative practice? Particularly in thinking about “trailblazers” in the nation’s capital.
MP: DC has been good to me. Born and raised here, went to public schools here, definitely was not going to college here but came home after when there was a lot of money being invested in the community arts program. Then I moved up to NW and that’s where a lot of community arts seemed to be focus. My education in the arts always started with the Smithsonian — I thought all museums were free until I left. You go to the museums on a first date, on a rainy day, you check them out. Whenever I get bored, I used to go down to the Smithsonian a lot. My history with the arts has always been with the Smithsonian, and when I came back home from college the DC arts scene had more opportunities for people to show, especially with the opening of the WPA. I always thought the DC arts scene was pretty accessible up to a level. A few places are a little more traditional now, and there don’t seem to be as many reviews of gallery shows, but I guess everything changes. But the nice thing about being on the east coast is you can always get on the train and stop anywhere. A lot of communities and art work on the Northeast corridor on the train.