TIME OUT: With Gulf oil spill artist Michael Boroniec
Artist Michael Boroniec declares himself a product of the "information generation." At 26, he is continually alert to present time, confronting a flow of media words and images that are instantaneous and as constant as waves driven upon a beach.
"It's what we're living and it's so readily available to us," he said in an interview at The Eagle Tuesday morning.
The information flowing out of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico touched off his latest undertaking, an ongoing series of ceramics called "Crude Awakening" that, he says, "tells about our time now, a particular moment." It is on view until July 10 at the Ferrin Gallery at 437 North St. In Pittsfield.
A Pittsfield native and art teacher at Taconic High School, Boroniec talked about his show, about the difference between art and news media imagery and about being an emerging young artist living in the Berkshires in an e-mail interview and a face-to-face conversation.
Q: You have a new show, "Crude Awakening," at the Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield that addresses the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. One terra-cotta piece has a pelican covered in oil (or black glaze) sitting on an oil drum in front of an oil-stained American flag.
We get the empathy with the injured pelican, but why the American flag? BP isn't an American company.
A: This installation is a piece with multiple messages. I think the pelican and the oil drum are self-explanatory. The flag on the other hand isn't stained; it is actually silk-screened with oil, instead of traditional ink. It is representative of the damage that oil is doing to our country.
It also represents the reminder that will endure beyond this crisis -- the reminder that, as a country, we need to explore energy alternatives and adopt cleaner energy technologies.
Q: People are seeing images from the Gulf all the time on TV and in newspapers and magazines. What can an artwork like yours say that hasn't already been said through the media?
A: This strikes at the very difference between mass media and art. The mass media could publish a color photo of Main Street, Stockbridge, at Christmas, but could that photo ever possess the magic or meaning that Norman Rockwell brought to his painting of the same scene?
In much the same way, my work is a photograph or chronograph of a moment in time; it captures a snippet of history. It captures my personal interpretation and expression of what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico. That personal dimension and expression through art adds emotion and humanity that can never be conveyed through mass media.
Q: Are you working from news media images yourself?
A: No. I think the media focuses on sensationalism in its reporting of this crisis. I am not interested in the politics, corporate or otherwise, associated with this spill.
I rely on more objective sources that have a demonstrated commitment to the environment; sources that can credibly profile the extent of the impact this spill is having on our environment and on our future. I think organizations such as the Audubon Society are credibly documenting the extent and nature of this crisis. [He clarifies that he relied on Audubon bird prints as anatomical sources for his work.]
Q: Was there a specific incident or image that galvanized your attention and inspired you to begin this project?
A: It's not so much a singular image that galvanized my attention, as it was the all-consuming feeling of the environment being damaged and habitat that may never recover being destroyed. Feelings motivate art much more readily and with much greater passion than visual references or photographs.
Realizing the magnitude of this crisis was a call to action to express my outrage and pain for what is transpiring in the Gulf through my art.
Q: I understand your series is ongoing, that you will keep adding to it as the spill continues. Is this a new approach, or have you done this kind of "narration" before? Do you have an idea where you want to end up with it?
A: It's a matter of scale and dimension. I don't know that anything like this has gone on for so long at any time in our history. By adding to the work, I can keep it current and keep the public focused on this crisis and the ongoing nature of the devastation that is occurring.
Q: You were featured in The Eagle a couple of months ago for pieces you made in connection with Pittsfield's "Big Read" project, about the objects soldiers carried with them into war. You sculpted copies of the boots, cap and canteen that your buddy Samuel Russo carried with him to Afghanistan.
Are your always this topical in what you do, meaning do you often respond artistically to community and news events?
A: The reasons for art and the motivations behind it are as varied as the starts in the universe. I am a person who lives in the here and now and pays attention to life. As such, current events find their way into my art in a fairly natural way.
Capturing my attention, my interest and my passion, I am motivated by events that affect us all in society, as opposed to an artist that focuses more on the ethereal. Not that I don't have my ethereal moments, but they don't consume me. My art chronicles our times.
Q: You are 26, so you are really at the beginning of your career, "an emerging artist" as they say. How would you say your work has evolved to this point?
A: I'm not someone who is possessed by the drive for commercial success. If people recognize and appreciate my art and it finds commercial value, this is great, but that is not my purpose.
I am one of a new generation of artists who are products of the information generation. What is going on in life means the most to us, captures our attention and drives our passions for expression.
That also explains, in some way, why work such as mine is focused on the here-and-now in hopes that it will endure and continue to send messages about our time for many, many generation to come.
Q: You went to a top art school, but now you are back in Pittsfield working, rather than NYC or L.A. Why?
A: I don't think geographic location is as important as it once was. Back in the day, you needed to be in a major metro to gain the exposure that led to commercial success. The Internet and electronic communications changed a lot of that.
Good art will rise to the top, just like cream on milk, regardless of location. It is much more important to live in a creative environment that stimulates your artistic drive. The Berkshires really are the definitive creative environment. I think that's why you are seeing art of all kinds flourish here with collectors and commercial interests paying much more attention to what goes on here than they do to the bigger cities.
Here, I have the best of all possible worlds, family, friends and a creative environment that stimulates me to create my best work!
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