Michael Sieben is a lot of things; artist, writer, skateboarder, badass â€“ but something about the way he talks implies that he doesnâ€™t care too much about all that. Michael loves what he does, but he wonâ€™t give you the impression that he is what he does, which is probably why heâ€™s cooler than the rest of us.
For example, Michael could have told me that he was working on a campaign with Adidas featuring him and three furries, but instead he just told me he was going swimming in the river. Considering itâ€™s a huge campaign â€“ one that will give him more drooling attention than anything heâ€™s done before â€“ it goes to show that in Michaelâ€™s book, hype is hype, and rivers are rivers, and the obviously superior candidate is the one that will cool him off after a sweaty skate through Austin. Read up to learn about Siebenâ€™s art, his words, and his down-to-earth perspective on it all.
Michael Sieben: My first art memory is drawing drag racing cars all over my arms (with markers) in Sunday school when I was six. My parents were bummed when they picked me up, but only because they had asked me to stop drawing drag racing cars all over my arms when I was at Sunday school.
â€œI’m sure if I’d never started skateboarding I would still be making art, but I’m pretty sure it would be radically different. Probably more mature.â€
Format: What role has skateboarding played in your development as an artist?
Michael Sieben: I think skateboarding has had a huge impact on the development of my collective imagery. I grew up in a small town in Texas and skateboarding was my window to what was going on outside of my little world. When I was a kid I spent hours and hours staring at Thrasher magazine soaking in illustrations of Pushead, VCJ, Jim Phillips (and countless others). Trying to recreate board graphics taught me a lot about line work and definitely instilled in me a love for screen-printed imagery. I’m sure if I’d never started skateboarding I would still be making art, but I’m pretty sure it would be radically different. Probably more mature.
Format: Your work has been described as â€˜dealing primarily with the loss of innocenceâ€™. Could you expand on that?
Michael Sieben: My personal work is about the fading magic of childhood. I’m trying to create imagery based on personal nostalgia but filtered through the eyes of an adult. Sort of like if your favorite childhood cartoon character suddenly realized that there was a lot of suffering and injustice in the world. They’d probably still look sort of cute but they probably wouldn’t be dancing around as much.
Format: You have a very distinct style; particularly by way of the characters and creatures you create. Have you always drawn this way, or do they represent a melding of a few different styles and influences?
Michael Sieben: The style I work within has been culminating over the past fifteen years or so. I see a change in my work year to year (which may or may not be obvious to the viewer), which reflects current or new interests. I feel like being around other artists helps me to develop new imagery and techniques within my own work.
Format: Youâ€™ve done a lot of writing and illustrating for zines, and you still work with Thrasher, correct? Can you tell us about that magazine and what you do with them?
Michael Sieben: Yes, I still work as a staff writer and illustrator for Thrasher. Basically I supply illustrations when needed and I also have a semi-regular column that I write. The column is basically a one page humorous article either ridiculing trends in skateboarding or making fun of myself. I got the job at Thrasher through making tons of zines. Dreams really can come true.
Format: Much like NYC and LA, Austin has its own driven-by-skate-culture art scene. What are some of the forces â€“ people, galleries, places â€“ that have propelled that?
Michael Sieben: Does it? I’ll have to look into that. I’m kidding. I think this city attracts creatives from all different fields. Within skateboarding though I’d have to give a thumbs up to Tim Kerr and The Big Boys for putting Austin on the map in the â€˜80s. And hopefully it’s not weird to mention Camp Fig gallery that was founded by Lee Brooks, Katie Friedman, Allison Sands, and myself. R.I.P. Camp Fig.
Format: It seems like thereâ€™s something really amazing about the way people work together within your realm of art; everyoneâ€™s always helping each other, working together, and creating for creationâ€™s sake. Would you say thatâ€™s true, and if so, could you talk a little bit more about it?
Michael Sieben: I’ve found that to be totally true. I feel like the community I’m in is very unpretentious and people are genuinely interested in each other’s work. As a result you get a lot of support and help. The D.I.Y spirit is alive and well within this realm of art and I feel like people are just stoked to be contributing and helping build artistic communities. It’s not every person for himself.
Format: Your gallery, Okay Mountain, sounds like serious business (I say that because you have interns, which is usually pretty serious). Can you tell us about it?
Michael Sieben: Okay Mountain rose from the ashes of Camp Fig and two other artist-run spaces in Austin (The Fresh Up Club and The Artist Studio studios). We’re pretty serious about what we’re doing, but the gallery itself doesn’t feel â€˜seriousâ€™ in a stuffy way. We try to have shows that encourage discussion and we do our best to present the work we show in the best way possible. But we also like to hang out on the picnic table in the backyard and drink cold beers in our cut off shorts. It’s sort of like a clubhouse masquerading as a contemporary art space.
Format: I get the impression that you connect with the whole Beautiful Losers movement, and if that is the case, what are your feelings surrounding that?
Michael Sieben: I’ve definitely been inspired by the bulk of that group of artists. When I graduated from UT in 1999 there really wasn’t a whole lot going on in Austin in terms of the younger art scene. I definitely drew inspiration from what Aaron Rose was doing with Alleged when contemplating opening a gallery. Seeing things like Fort Thunder and Space 1026 also gave us the idea that you didn’t need a lot of money to contribute to your scene. All you need is energy.
Format: Whatâ€™s coming up for you?
Michael Sieben: I’m about to go skate and then go swimming in the river. Then back to work.
Thank you for the opportunity to share some words. Be nice to each other everybody.