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Art Buff: Michael Mararian

Where are you from originally? 
I grew up in Andover Massachusetts – but have lived most of my life in New York City and now here in Buffalo since 2008.
What is your medium? 
Initially I was doing ink work on Bristol board but in the past two years I have translated into Acrylics on paper.
How has Buffalo influenced your work? 
Well first of all having come from a small apartment to a large beautiful house here in the city has allowed me to do my latest large scale works which I could not have explored before.  But as far as the city itself I enjoy being a part of the rest belt.  
I am inspired by a lot of the graphic arts happening in this city – I know that might sound odd but I am always blown away by cool posters and designs I see continually all over town for various events – they help me dwell on color composition and style.  I think the city as a whole is inspirational – its history. Its architecture – I mean c’mon -a president was assassinated here and the guy who created the electric chair is from here.  I love that.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Old or new journalistic photography can often do the trick – listening to NPR is a great source of inspiration as well.  Many of my themes come from stories I have heard there.  Since most of my work is based on irony or juxtaposion – it’s quite easy for me to comment through my work on daily life events that may seem unexplainable.  Mostly the bad stuff…
Name an artist (or more) that most inspires you?
Like I said I am inspired by a lot of photographers the likes of Shelby Lee Adams, Roger Ballen, Mary Ellen Mark, Diane Arbus – people who take prying looks into what might be deemed as the dark side of portraiture.   I am inspired by illustrators and artists with a sense of humor like Edward Gorey, Drew Freidman, Norman Rockwell, Ron English – humor and fine art commonly do not go hand and hand so I am always impressed when an artist can pull it off successfully. 
What is your preferred subject matter? 
For the most part I use children as my subject because I feel viewers take notice more when I do.  Points are easier to make using children when you are dealing with issues like gross consumerism, gun violence, obesity or any dire aspects of the American way of life.  My work is not subtle in the least – if anything I hit my viewers over the head with the message but I think it all plays into the style of the work.  Like a big, flashing, warning sign.
How do you feel you can best advance to the next level, or are you most happy where you are now?
If I advance at all I want it to be with the realm of technique.  I want to always paint better – capture a moment better.  Finesse a tableau I may have touched upon earlier in my work but with a stronger sense of knowhow.  My work over time has progressively gotten – at least to me – more complex and challenging.  Lately I have enjoyed adding a sense of photorealism to parts of the work in tandem with my subjects who are rendered usually in shades of gray.
What is another medium that you would like to learn? Or that you have already learned?
I would like to play around with sculpture more – or focus on an art installation that may go with a show I have.  I am always in awe when I come across a real clever installation that so perfectly complements a show.
Is there a purpose to your artwork?
I like to explore the dark humor behind social and psychological issue that people are sometimes uncomfortable addressing.


What is the darkest you have gone?
For one show I wanted to do a commentary on how children like Jon Benet Ramsey are exploited even after death.  So I did a series of post mortem Halloween costumes like the old ones that used to come in a box.  But instead of a plastic mask showing through the cellophane, it was a creepy dead child.  One of them was Jon Benet.  The idea being you can dress your kid up as a famous murdered child.  People were creeped out by them.  And plus some of them I did really huge – so in essence you would have this huge dead kid hanging in your home.
How often do you work on your art?
Actually I do not paint something every single day – as a matter of fact I may go a week or two with painting or doing anything.  Doesn’t mean I’m not working on art – a majority of the time I’m kicking around ideas in my head -mocking ups layouts in Photoshop or in a journal.  When I end up painting the final piece I usually work a strict 8 to 5 like I would a daily job.  I like to think of it as a job so I know I will get the work done.
What or who first prompted you to venture into the art world?
I have always drawn and kept sketch books my whole life but have never thought to act on any of it until around 2005 when on a whim I posted on Ebay these hand drawn art cards.  They sold instantly and it occurred to me I have never really tried to sell my art.  I took a few months off and worked on a small body of work and then contacted galleries in hopes of getting into some group shows with them.  I got lucky – I got in a few – the work sold – and from there it just grew and grew to the point where I could leave my 9 to 5 job and focus solely on art.
Have you been schooled in art?  Are you planning on attending art school? If so, where?
Not really.  When I was a kid, Boston television used to broadcast this guy on Saturday mornings named Captain B
ob Cottle.  He had a thick New England accent and you used to follow along as he painted a dolphin or something like that-   here’s a clip of him here…
Beyond that I studied at the Arts Students League in New York City for a short period of time.  I often wonder if I should have gotten a formal MFA in art – my actual degree is in English and Theater – I often think the art world has elements of cronyism where gallerists favor artists that come from prestigious art school backgrounds. I’d like to get an MFA in art but there are many contrarians who question whether something like that is worth it if a person is already working professionally in the arts. 
Where is your favorite venue in Buffalo to exhibit?
I have not had a full blown show in the city since I have had shows lined up elsewhere back to back since we got here.  I have done a few groups shows and fundraisers at places like 464 Gallery, The Book Arts Center and the Music is Art Festival a couple of years ago.
Where did you learn your craft? 
I mention Captain Bob Cottle earlier but before him there were these cool art books by people like Walter Foster that you could get at art stores that would take you step by step learning “How to Draw” … figures – cartoons – animals – fruit etc. I had a few old cartoon ones too – I remember there was this little bald banker that you could practice drawing happy, sad, surprised or angry.  I also had a painting teacher for a hot second named Mr. Penisi (yes, you read that right) that would hold my hand with the brush and basically paint for me.  All the work in the class ended up looking the same. Like a Penisi. I hated that. All in all, I’m still learning my craft – I don’t think you ever stop learning new ways to paint or see things.
What book are you reading right now?
A cool book my wife got me called The Elements of Murder – a History of Poison. It chronicles Alchemy and infamous situation of people being poisoned throughout history.
What’s your favorite movie?
Oh that’s a tough one- I’d have to say it’s a tossup between “The Godfather” or “Failure to Launch” (that’s a joke)   
What’s your favorite restaurant in Buffalo? 
We have been digging Cantina Loca lately- but I just tried Sea bar for the first time last week and that was excellent.  It’s a foodie town – there are many good ones.


What’s the best thing about being an artist?
The freedom of knowing that you, and only you, are in charge of your life and you are allowed to create what you want.  The satisfaction of selling a piece of art that you have created, that came out of your mind and was executed by your hand.  You have your avid collectors and the people that follow your work.  It’s all very narcissistic and ego feeding which most artists thrive on.  Myself included, I’m not immune, I have to admit.  
What’s the worst thing about being an artist?
Well, part of what I mentioned above does not come without hiccups however.  It’s nice to be able to take full credit when you have a successful show, but in this business, often you are only looked at on how well your next one does.  And if that doesn’t do well you can’t blame a coworker or your collectors.  It’s you and only you.  And that can be hard.  The highs and lows are not for everyone and it happens – Loneliness can also be a factor – it can become quite lonely being an artist – you spend hours by yourself in your studio. I talk the Fedex guy’s ear off whenever I have supplies delivered. ☺  
Is there another local artist who you would like us to interview? 
Jason d’Aquino does some great work along with Craig Larotonda.  They are both solid, working, well respected artists here in the city.  
Who would you most like to sell a work of art to? 
Lady Gaga or John Waters 
What’s your strength?
From the comments I get from my collectors I would say it’s the irreverence and humor in the work.  
What’s your weakness?
The non commercial aspect of the work.  I like to make challenging pieces and not everyone wants that.  I am also somewhat inconsistent in style which I think confuse some people but at the end of the day the messages and humor are still there but some collectors like to be able to instantly recognize an artist’s work and that can hurt sales wise.  Oh, and I am constantly riddled with self doubt and drive everyone around me crazy. 🙂
Where is your current/next show in the city? Dates? 
I am working on my next solo show now which is in Los Angeles 2013 at a gallery that has shown my work for the past 6 years.  The Corey Helford Gallery
What is the title and theme of the show/s?
I have been playing around with the title “Overstimu-lie” – which would examine concepts of gross consumerism and how Americans believe by consuming more – they will be happier.
Works featured
Candy Wall
Black Flag
Dawn of the Bullied ‘Frankie Says Relax’
Medieval Times
Postmortem Halloween costume
The New Black
Jon Benet Halloween costume
Black and white tryptic

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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