I’ve had the privilege to know a few people who have not only a semi-fictional self-image, but such a stubborn and all-consuming dedication to it that they have managed to warp the world around them to make their idea live and breathe. I knew an art model in Los Angeles who wanted to be an art model in 1920’s Paris, of the Kiki generation. She simply went about living as if this were true, and not only the pretty parts, but the grime and the heartbreak too, and their terrible personal tolls. We all have pretty and grimy parts of our lives, but hers were engineered to have the character of the Parisian era to which she was devoted. Over time, encountering her became like stepping through a door in time and space. There is something magnificently absurd to this, so absurd as to amount to a form of serious existential rebellion. I admire this model tremendously.
Another such eccentric is Michael Alan. He’s an artist and a sort of installation/performance art impresario whom I’ve known for ten or eleven years now. New York does not make life as an artist easy, but compared with much of this uncertain world, it’s not so bad. Unless you want it to be. Alan’s semi-fictional self-image is as a punk outlaw artist of the late 70’s. Like my model friend, he has embraced not only the glamorous and fun parts of that idea, but the painful ones too: he’s been beaten by cops, seen work destroyed, suffered trauma and illness while living on the edge and sometimes past the edge. It wasn’t absolutely necessary for him to suffer everything he suffered. He insisted on taking the hard way, because it was only through the hard way that he could become himself. I would never get anything done if I lived like Alan, but I’ve watched him forlornly posting drawings from the hospital, from the street, from McDonald’s at two in the morning when he had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. That’s how he works. It can be horrible to watch, but it’s also awe-inspiring.
As for the work itself, his drawings are complex meshes of lines and dots, bewilderingly complex network diagrams, as if one shrank a Miró composition and more of it kept appearing at the edges, and you zoomed back and back until a rough analogue for a figure emerged from the chaos. There is a well-ordered relationship between the real figures before Alan’s eye, and their images as they emerge from his pen, but the images on their own appear as a maelstrom of overflowing line.
But the drawings are only a fragment of his work. Alan is a participant in the age-old ambition to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, an all-encompassing art object which includes within it all of the artistic disciplines. In a sense, the attempt to create a Gesamtkunstwerk is the demiurgic impulse to create an entire world. The world Alan is creating is much like his drawings: overwhelming in their amount of detail, leveraging so much primeval mess that orderliness begins to emerge from it. His installation/performance evenings have a theater-of-cruelty edge. They involve a profusion of moving models and props, lines, string, paint, harsh colored lights, and disconcerting music, some of which he also writes and performs. They are long performances going late into the night, so that fatigue comes to the aid of sensory overload in penetrating the observer’s defensive shell, leaving him or her vulnerable to Alan’s version of reality. Alan inspires his models to a near cult-like commitment to the shows they perform; unlike cult members, they tend to leave freely and on good terms with Alan when they exit that part of their lives. For Alan’s part, he remains, his art objects becoming ever more complex in the years I have known them.
In a sense, his artistic Gesamtkunstwerk is nested inside the Gesamtkunstwerk of his bizarre life. He is one of those unique treasures New York has to offer. If you’d like to experience the hurricane force of his vision for yourself, he’s got a performance Saturday night. Details below, as well as a selection of images of Alan’s installations and drawings.
MIND BODY SOUND 4 hour hug - Saturday December 9th 8pm-12am - KHORASHEH + GRUNERT
524 W 19th Street New York
Michael Alan and Jadda Cat will be making a four-hour living HUG human sculpture. With live music by Tim "Love" Lee and Michael Alan.
Using the body, props, fabrics, sound and emotions the Living Installation will take place in the center of the gallery in Michael Alan's exhibit. People are welcome to come gather, watch, photograph, create friends, make art, become one!
Sign up online only, show is limited to online tickets only.