We recently had a chance to visit our friend Michael McGregor at his studio in Highland Park, California. Michael was one of the contributors to our latest collection of graphic tees which you can find here. Check out the full interview with him below along with images shot by Cameron Strand.
Hey Michael, for those that aren't familiar with you and your work please introduce yourself to LA and the greater worldwide web.
Michael McGregor. Born in 1983. I’m an artist, mainly focused on drawing and painting, living and working in Los Angeles. I was born in Connecticut, on the Long Island Sound. I’ve lived all over the place, though. The foothills of the Appalachian mountains in North Carolina, the North Jersey Soprano Suburbs, the St Lawrence River valley, the shores of Lake Champlain, just beneath the Tetons, a little east of the east river, way high up in Mexico City, and now, around the corner from Dodger Stadium.
I mostly focus on painting and drawing, with a heavy emphasis on color, and mark making. I like my paintings to feel “fresh”, some might think they are unfinished, but I think of them as “al dente.” I never want to overcook a painting. I always aim for them to feel raw yet slightly refined, like the best food.
I prescribe to the Hockney philosophy of painting — “I paint what I like, when I like and where I like”. Lately, it’s been a lot of table scenes, the leftovers from long dinners, spilled drinks, and half eaten melons, signs of life, exuberant interactions, big laughs, some antics, and social nutrition. After a year in lockdown, those big dinners and communal gatherings felt like the most humane, fundamentally human experiences. They’ve been rendered throughout art history since the cave paintings. There’s something about wining and dining, the sustenance —nutritional and social — that’s necessary for humans. After lockdown, it felt more essential than ever.
What would you say is your favorite thing about Los Angeles?
When the orange blossom starts blooming and you can smell the citrus season coming alive. And then, when the jasmine hits. Walking around the city during that time of year is a totally magical trip. Like stepping into an old Disney film.
We were really drawn to your work before we even met. Love how you capture normal things in such a simplistic broken down way. What would you say your favorite medium to work in is?
Making big marks with an oil stick on a canvas that’s bigger than your body, there’s something ancient and primal and intrinsically human about it. The oil stick gives me a lot of control but also allows for a lot of rhythm and gesture to come from the body. It’s not as delicate as a brush, you can really have at it, smash the canvas and go crazy like a kid on some newsprint. I’m always chasing that naive spirit and oil sticks really bring it out in me.
I know it's such a played out question and cringe at times but how do you seek inspiration and is there anyone you look to to get that spark?
I’m always inspired by people who can articulate a universal truth in ways that are clever and a bit oblique. Like the way Joni Mitchell sings about coffee percolators and makes the percolator feel like your best friend, or how Wong Bar Wai repeats the same popular song throughout a narrative to a point where it erases your entire history with the song, and you become one with the characters, or the way Henry Miller eulogizes a good meal and a decent bottle of wine and makes it feel like the god’s were really smiling upon you. People who remind me life is unparalleled, and we should really celebrate every little morsel of it we can. Here’s a list of a few, off the top of my head:
Joni Mitchell. Anthony Bourdain. Bill Traylor. Henry Miller. Richard Brautigan. Wong Kar Wai. David Hockney. Charles Mingus. Etal Adnan. Billy Wilder. Andy Warhol. Stanley Whitney. David Behrman. Alberto Morrocco. Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Any sonic waves that you are currently listening to?
In my car, I switch between the radio and my CD player. I’m usually on KSURF (formerly AM1260, now only available on 105.1 HD3), where “the oldies are new again.” It’s pretty unbeatable in terms of selection — 10cc into Aretha Franklin into The Spinners, just golden oldies all day and all night, from Alhambra to Malibu.
But I’ve got a CD player with 6-discs and it rules. So much better than listening to something on your phone in the car, mostly because you don’t have to look at your phone, and CDs sound fucking amazing! This sentiment was somehow forgotten during the recent vinyl gold rush revival but it’s so true. CDs sound amazing. And you can get them cheap at any used record store. It’s a great way to delve into albums you don’t want to buy full price on vinyl, and that you won’t listen to on Spotify because … well.. you have infinite choice. I like to limit the choice, leave a little up to fate, and so I’ve probably got 200, maybe 300 CDs in my car. From Sonic Youth and Psychic TV to Luscious Jackson, Bonnie Riatt, Sade, and some Phil Collins CDs. You can really run the gamut in the CD aisle; low risk, and potential for high reward. Right now, in the 6-disc changer, it’s two Prefab Sprout albums, Kate Bush’s “the sensual world”, Roxy Music “Avalon”, Charles Mingus “Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus” and Madonna “The Immaculate Collection”, which really goes off, and might be the best road trip CD I have. Highly recommend if you need tunes to set the mood on a coastal oad trip.
Food seems to be a constant subject matter in your work. Are there any food spots locally that we should know about?
DAMN. This is HARD. I would usually say the Peruvian Ceviche truck on the Kanan road, between the 101 and Malibu. Its great, a superb tiger milk, perfect fresh beach snack; but they haven’t been around recently and I’m concerned they may have closed shop or moved to a different permanent location :(
So I think I’ll have to tip my hat to my friend Amanda Lanza who years ago tipped me off to Western Dome Noodle, a Korean home-cooking spot, tucked in the corner of a strip mall in K-Town. It’s not KBBQ, it’s home cooking. Get the buckwheat tea. Get the glass noodle, get the seafood pancake, eat all the banchon, and be super kind to the woman who owns and runs it, she's a total badass and been in the neighborhood for over 30 years. A true artisan.
Your work gives big summer vibes, warmth, vacation, sun. Being from the east coast originally how does your upbringing play a role in your work?
I’m a child of the suburbs. I’m always curious about what is in people’s homes, in the fridges, in their pantry’s etc, generally how people live. My work tends to reflect on memories and moods, drawing inspiration and visual cues from everyday life and memories, sort of like warped photographs. I look at a lot of old photos, and I keep a huge archive of my photos of places I’ve visited. I’m always organizing and arranging them, looking for hints of memories that have drifted, hoping something will pop into my head, and inspire me to render the scene in paint.
You can really tell you enjoy painting and drawing from your current body of work. Is there anything else you’d like to explore outside of painting?
I love it when painting intersects with other art forms. Fashion, music, opera, food. I’d love to do album art, or wine labels but really, I’d love to paint an entire restaurant or a hotel — hand painted table clothes and upholstery, paintings above the bar and tables, design and hand write the menus, add little colorful flourishes all over, from the chandelier to the toilet seat. Almost like a rendering of the restaurant, but inside the physical space, super meta, like a child intentionally drew all over every surface of the restaurant.
What's next on the Agenda for McGregor?
Finishing some paintings for some exhibits in early 2022. Developing a series of art/wine events in LA, developing some prints for apparel, and probably sitting at the picnic table thinking of what I should work on next.