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Artist Spotlight: Meet Michael Marx of Unsane Art

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 Jen Lezan

Pursuing a career within the art world is not nearly as glamorous as it would seem. It's actually quite daunting and grueling to pursue your creative passions and attempt to make a living out of them. Often, that living is directly related to whether or not a person associates value with the work you do. Which can can put artists at odds with the industry. On one hand, the work they do is so personal - putting hours upon hours of sweat, blood and tears into creating a personal vision and on the other hand, having to put it on public display hoping someone sees value in it.

Yet, most artists don't just pursue their art just for the money. It's an innate drive within them to create. It's something that is an inherent part of their soul. But that doesn't mean that it's fair for the industry to believe that the joy they find in creating should be compensation enough. In today's digital world, more and more artists are hustling to get paid for the work that they do and they deserve it. Not only do artists help our culture thrive, but the arts is a vital component to the advancement of our world. Often, when school budgets get cut in the states - the first thing to go is funding for the arts. 

Our nation has put such a focus on science, technology mathematics and engineering and often is quick to discount the impact the arts has on the world. The arts are a wonderful arena for fostering creativity, an important skill to have in a rapidly changing world. The arts can help foster critical higher levels of thinking that carry over to learning in other subjects and in life. Through the arts, children can learn to observe, interpret, see different perspectives, analyze  and synthesize information. 

In an article for The Guardian, Britian's Arts Council Chief: Sir Peter Bazalgette explains, "the inherent value of culture, continues through all the social and educational benefits and only ends with the economic. Otherwise we fall into Oscar Wilde's celebrated definition of a cynic: knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing." In a time when art and creative studies are facing cuts from education and are being dropped from school, it’s time for us to start understanding what art means in culture and establishing more respect for the artistic process. The reality is, as a whole society needs to put their money where their mouth is in regard to supporting the arts and artists.

Investors, the government and society in general, is fantastic at spending money on endless manufactured products, but when it comes to investing in artists there seems to be cultural block and an assumption that artists can and should work for free. Things need to change. The reality is that it can be a difficult journey to pursue, but artists chose to forge on. They chose to share their talents with the world and work to change the status quo themselves. 

Artists like Michael Marx of Unsane Art, are using the internet, social media and digital media to make an impact and push for growth. His work is at once hauntingly beautiful. The craftsmanship and hard work he puts into his work is immediately identifiable. Known for his work as a precious metal clay sculptor, his skills are evident in his ability to manipulate the medium into detailed pieces. Precious metal clay retain all of the subtleties of sculpting and remains as sharp as it appears in the leather hard state. 

Michael took some time to share his story and some advice on pursuing a career as a professional artist. Keep reading for the full interview.  

1. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what led you to pursue a career in art? 

I am a California-based PMC sculptor who specializes in unique and original works. I have been working with PMC since 2000 and believe that Sanity is the Playground of the Unimaginative . I was born in Massachusetts in 1969, and lived there for 18 years before becoming a born-again Californian in 1987. I currently reside in Alameda, California where I have lived since 2000. I am married with a ten-year old son, who I have been a stay-at-home dad for since he was 3 months old. I was formerly a personal trainer for 20+ years, until retiring from that career in 2010 to focus on art and being a dad. I have had some formal art training, with level one and two PMC certifications, but am mostly self-taught when it comes to sculpting and making jewelry. I have always been an artist, and was given art supplies as a child as much I was given books or toys. I decided to make art a career shortly after starting to work with PMC, as the response to the work was so positive.

2. Can you tell us more about your current work and the vision driving the pieces you create? 

My current work has been focusing on mixing PMC with other materials like glass and ceramics, with some pieces having more of an organic feel, while others are more pop art driven. The vision for my work has always been to be an innovator in the field of metal clay, with designs and concepts that are different from what other artists are doing. I like making pieces that are not just about adornment, but that also make a statement.

3. Can you share a bit about your journey as an artist, the ups and downs and what led you to this point in your career? 

My journey as an artist has been interesting. I was seeing continual growth in both sales and teaching opportunities over the past 10 years until about 18 months ago when both just disappeared. I took that time to refine the business side of my art, push into more social media opportunities and to mount a collaborative show which was my first since 2011. As an artist it was hard to see the business drop off so much, but then again, I make art to keep myself sane and happy.  

4. Where do you get your creative inspiration and what does your creative work?

 I get a lot of my creative inspiration through social media and the friendships and relationships with other artists. I am a visual sponge, so whether seeing work online, at museums, galleries or in print, I am constantly inspired by the world around me. I love street art, and it has inspired a lot of the work I produced over the past 3-4 years and continue to want to have a percentage of my work that reflects that influence.

5. Are there people, mentors or figures that have made an impact in your life and career? If so, how?

My high school art teacher, Jeff Wixon pushed me to create work that went beyond the basic assignment requirements, which has helped me stay motivated to push harder. My mother, Fern Marx, who trained as a Master Goldsmith in Switzerland in the late 1960 s was a huge support and influence, and she helped me develop a strong aesthetic for highly finished pieces. My wife, Kelly Marx, who has supported me and my vision as an artist, as well as making suggestions and recommendations for new designs. I am influenced by the metal clay work of Gordon Uyehara, Wanaree Tanner and Rodi Frunze, to mention a few, but there are far too many talented metal clay artists out there to be able to mention them all!

6. Who are some of your favorite artists or  inspirational Instagram accounts to follow?

Robert Bowen, Mark Waldman, Gordon Uyehara, Wanaree Tanner, Anna Mazon, Rodi Frunze, James Lemak Cashmore, BIOWORKZ, Wesley Fleming, Jay Hazard and Sam Lichtenstein, just to name a few .

7. How are you remaining innovative when it comes to your work as a an artist?

It s a challenge! I love working within my comfort zone, so right now I am trying to expose myself to new influences to see what might come out of them. I also find it helpful to go back into old sketchbooks to see what ideas I may have had in the past that I couldn t execute for lack of skills or resources at the time.

8. What kind of obstacles have you faced as an independent artist how have you overcome and what are some hardships young creatives may face as they pursue their dreams in the art world?  

The obstacles I have faced have been in gaining acceptance and finding a market for my work that isn t always safe . I am not afraid to make large, bold, strongly-themed pieces, and that can make it hard to both find an audience and buyers for my work. Galleries don t show a lot of jewelry as a rule, and jewelry stores tend toward mass-produced, safer designs. That makes it hard to find brick and mortar locations to show my work. Online sales have the challenges of oversaturation and lack of consumer knowledge of what a piece of custom jewelry entails, so I lose a lot of potential sales to sticker shock. The hardships that young creative may face in the art world is finding a clear, unique voice, getting financial support to make the work, and venues to show their work. They need to be able to stand out from the crowd, both with the message and the quality of the work they produce. Selling art without selling out is tricky, as fame and success in art are not necessarily the same thing. Art can be a struggle, but it is a worthwhile one!

9. Can you share more about some current projects or commissions you are working on if you are working on anything in particular? 

I am currently working on getting back to making work on a consistent basis, as my flow was interrupted by a large remodel of my home over the last 6 months. I lost a bit of creative mojo, so I am looking to finish up a few projects, find some new venues and increase my social media exposure and availability of work. I want to continue to make stand alone pieces as well as more of the ones that come with a mixed-media reliquary, where the piece can be displayed when it s not being worn. I like the idea that my work is a wearable sculpture, so it should be seen even if it is not being displayed on a body.

10. What kind of advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in art?

Do it! Follow that passion, that dream. Express yourself in whatever medium make your heart sing and your feet dance. It may be a struggle that requires you to work another job in order to pay the bills, but it beats not having the ability to bring your artistic visions into reality. Surround yourself with other artists, ones who inspire and encourage you. If possible, find a mentor who can help you shape you career and vision. Lastly, get organized! Art isn t just about creativity, it s a business. Learn how to track costs, inventory, and sales as it will help you avoid some of the pitfalls that come with running your own business.

11. Finally, where can we learn more about you and your work online? 
Instagram: @UnsaneArt

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