Interview with Miami + New York-based interdisciplinary artist Michelle Weinberg

Artist Michelle Weinberg divides her time between Miami and New York. Her diverse work includes painting, collage, and sculpture, and also public art, product design, tile, mosaic, and textile design. Weinberg’s recent public commissions include Intricate Pattern Overlay for Wolfsonian Museum-FIU, Miami Beach, FL and RGB Equinox for Facebook’s Miami offices. Recent exhibitions include a collaboration with writer Denise Duhamel for Word + Image Lab (WAIL), Downtown Miami: The Ground Beneath Our Feet and a mural project for WantedDesign, Brooklyn, NY. She will be exhibiting her paintings with Curatorial+Co, a gallery in Australia that will open in September 2015. She is the creative director of the alternative art space Girls’ Club in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

A visit to Weinberg’s studio revealed a sustained studio practice that inspires her various design and public projects. Weinberg spoke about what it means to be a creative person, the difference between her two home cities, and thought aloud about how one of her studio works in progress could be applied to interior design.

A: You do so many different things in your work even though you started as a painter. How did all those activities begin?
MW: It probably all began as necessity. It’s a real engine, having to earn a living. Now that it’s so much a part of my life, it fits with my natural curiosity, or desire to participate, or share an idea. My own work comes out of being solitary in my studio and making paintings. I like to apply the space, color, or pattern—in my paintings—to other formats, whether it’s public art, an interior decor, a mural. The idea of being a creative person means I’m going to be a creative person throughout—my personal relationships, my home life, and my idea of how to make a living. I want to experiment and see what works best.

A: You were raised in New York?
MW: Yes, it was such an advantage to grow up in New York. I’m grateful that my parents took me to museums, ballet, theatre. They always thought I was so rebellious but I’m so much like them. My dad was an architect and his office was in our home. He and my mom were completely immersed in architecture, contemporary design, housewares, fashion, fabric.

A: It’s interesting, then, that your paintings depict interior and exterior spaces that are very much about architecture, decoration…
MW: …product design, typography, graphic design…. From very early on I was interested in color and stacked, flattened spaces. My earliest art influences were Warner Brothers cartoons—black outlines and flat color. Real art was Matisse and Persian and Indian miniature painting.

A: As a New Yorker, what do you think about living and working in Miami?
MW: It’s a more suburban life. There’s a lot of driving, and I hate driving. In New York, before you open your eyes you’re interacting with a million people on your way to the subway. It doesn’t matter how fancy you are, you have to be on the street and you’re exposed to so much. That being said, I’ve been in Miami since 1998 and I’ve met really great people. There’s a smaller population and I’ve gotten many interesting opportunities. And it’s cheaper. I’m going to be renting a 1,900 square foot studio that’s being made new. I could never do that in New York.

A: Can you tell me about these small, painted objects in the vitrine?
MW: I love the shapes of these little objects. The idea was to make something sculptural but from re-arrangeable and component parts. It fits with my collage aesthetic. What would happen if I took these familiar forms—detergent or orange juice containers or whatever—and destroy or sidestep their branding graphics? How can I change that for a more abstract, aesthetic experience in which you see how the patterns move across the shapes? I arrange and re-arrange them in glass cases to address ideas of consumption and branding. I like thinking about convenience stores and shopping, and then subverting that. The cases could be a kind of building material, too. What if they are a solid wall so the accumulated, recycled objects become part of a building? I’m talking with a museum to do a store installation, like an old pharmacy or perfume store that has shelves that go all the way to the ceiling. But also, imagine being in a cocktail bar or a café, where there’s a mirror behind the objects and the walls are covered with these things. It would be so fun.

A: You’ve done a lot of collaborating, too. Can you talk about that?
MW: I’ve been a part of a collaborative team called IPO. I’m the visual artist, Octavio Campos is the dance theatre artist, and Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez is the film and video artist. We created a corporation to do projects to investigate business, economics, and art. We’ve done projects called Insane Performance Opportunity, Invite People Over, and any iteration of I, P, and O we could come up with. I can handle a certain amount of collaboration. Too much and I’m exhausted. I’m really happy that my creative work is mostly solitary. I can do it at any age, at any time of day or night, all by myself, without anybody. That I love.

Erica Ando

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1. Michelle Weinberg, Intricate Pattern Overlay, Wolfsonian Museum-FIU, Miami Beach, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.