Mike Andrews

Interview by Adam Baran

Thanks heavens for email and internet, ‘cause that’s how we found out about the phantasmagorical crochet works of Mike Andrews. Sorry that we’re too slow to coincide with the opening or closing of his recent show in Chicago, but there’ll be more of Mike’s amazingness in the future. I rang him up recently.

Adam: Where are you?
Mike: I’m in Saugatuck, Michigan, which is this gay destination in the Midwest. It’s this gay resort town of the Midwest. It’s like a small town that is very tolerant and people come to Oxbow, the art school where I teach.
That’s interesting. I’ve never heard of Saugatuck as being such a gay… I mean, it wouldn’t be the first place I would go on a gay resort trip, but I guess if you’re local then I guess it would be, right?
Yeah.
And where’s your studio?
In Chicago.
Chicago, cool. Can you tell me more about where you are from?
I grew up in Michigan in a not quite suburban, not quite rural, town. I was a closet goth, but then on the outside I was a swimmer and a runner. I had this kind of weird back and forth.
How did you get started doing the weaving and stuff?
I never really studied these techniques formally at all, but I was hired in a department where I had to teach crochet and dying and all kinds of different things. So, I quickly had to learn them in order to teach them. Then they started to creep into my studio. Growing up, the women in my family were always into making things. I never felt that I could because I was struggling with my identity. But now I feel like I’m at this point where I could definitely do that and where it’s really powerful to do it.

That’s something that really caught our attention; I think you’re a man using these traditionally women’s techniques.
Yeah, and I like that. I mean they are kind of faggy, these big drippy, gnarly, matted things that make people uneasy and I love that.
What does your family think of them?
Well my mom used to own a craft store and still participates in craft fairs — she thinks they are pretty fantastic. My grandma would always bring weird boxes of stuff home from garage sales or thrift stores and ask us to make things with them. I think that even at a young age we all kind of laughed about weird kitsch objects, or things you find at the store, or hilariously bad homemade things. I have a kind of ingrained sense of the terrible and the beautiful at the same time.
How long does it take you to do one of these knit pieces?
They come in a lot of different scales; like the medium size, 30” × 30” takes only a couple days to make. But the bigger ones, like the ones for Volta took about a month to make. And I had two assistants helping me. The smaller ones I can do more intuitively and quickly and be really messy.
Where does the Neo Geo stuff come from in your work?
Lately it’s just the feeling that it’s ok to embrace a really vibrant palette. I don’t use it to be really aggressive, this material is supposed to be slightly intimate, and some of them play with space more than others do. I am trained as a sculptor, but am trying to depict pictorial space in more of a painterly concern with these big, heavy, weird objects. I like that back and forth.

Well, they are kind of like sculptures too, right?
Yeah. I’ve been experimenting with different ways of displaying them, like maybe they don’t have to go on the wall. Maybe they can go on the floor, maybe they can have support structures where you can walk around them. Making it more of an obstacle. The nice thing about them is that they are totally flexible.
Do you encourage people to caress the work?
Oh yeah totally, all the time.
Do you feel like you have found the medium to express yourself, or do you feel like there is something else out there?
I love artists that are inconsistent or that try different things, or make fantastic failures. Obviously, I could make this work for a long time. But I am too scattered to be satisfied with that and too A.D.D.. I’m excited about doing the tapestries because they are kind of embarrassing. They’re odd and I like that uneasiness of being, ‘Is it OK to show something like this?’ I like that feeling when you’re slightly embarrassed or you’re uneasy about something.
So you like to make yourself embarrassed, basically.
Well I think just put it out there and see what happens.
Speaking of, do you have an art moment low? Did you ever just have a really embarrassing show or an experience that made you never want to get out of bed again?
I had some mistakes in undergrad but that’s what it’s for. I did all this bathroom-cruisey artwork once. I had never done bathroom cruising or anything like that, never really had anonymous sex, so I had no idea what the work was about. I got a bathroom stall and I cut out glory holes in the wall. And when you look through the wall there was this chat room thing running. This was the ‘90s when chat rooms were becoming big, but before any of this stuff was part of our everyday. It was really goofy and part of the software didn’t work by the end. There were monitors in the bathroom and it was totally cliché, like gay surveillance work and it was kind of a flop. But it was a good experience, in retrospect.

End