Mike Marino: February Artist of the Month
With stories about community and family, February’s Artist of the Month exhibition at the Chicago studio gets right to the heart of things! Painter and Comics Artist, Mike Marino was picked by curator Tim Stone for the way he offsets deeply personal storytelling with a vibrant palette of colors. After their gallery talk, Studio Manager, Catherine Norcott joined them to discuss the work in depth:
Catherine: How do you feel about being Artist of the Month?
Mike: It feels good! When I see my art out there, I feel so proud. It’s great to see all the art I did in the past. I did the presentation as Artist of the Month too. I feel good and proud talking about my father. He was an artist too. My dad was into theatre. It makes me feel like I did a really good job.
Catherine: How long have you been an artist? What are some of the highlights of your career?
Mike: I’ve been an artist for 11 years, here at Arts of Life. I enjoy working here. All the artists, and staff and volunteers are all great. It feels good! I like the comic book I’m working on with Corrie and Henry. We work together. I write everything down and then type it up on the computer. And there’s comic group every Tuesday. I really enjoy being with them and talking about different comic books. I like working with Corrie and Henry and Nick, they’ve taught me about more comics. I felt really happy when we had the comics show here [at Circle Contemporary]. That was last year. Me, Dave, and Christina were all in it. I got lots of compliments about the colors I use.
Catherine: Tim, tell us about what stood out to you about Mike’s work. Did you notice anything when you were curating the show?
Tim: His comic book pictures stood out to me. I paid close attention to his storylines. They all come from life. Mike works slowly, he takes his time, and puts a lot of effort in.
Catherine: Tell us more about your practice. What inspires you?
Mike: I’m working on a biography/graphic novel right now. So to get ready, I’ve studied different graphic novel artists. I’ve looked at websites and books. And I look at how they do their artwork and how it is different than mine. Some of theirs are realistic, some have superheroes. I check out comic books from the library a lot. And I watch the comic book movies too, they inspire me. I’m going to go see one this week. Sometimes I get ideas in my dreams. I use the outlines sort of like they do in TV shows, when people are on the phone, like a split screen.
Catherine: Your work often involves stories. Are there any particular ones you want to highlight?
Mike: Like the story that I’m doing about my life. It goes from childhood, to my teens, to now, as an adult. It has L’Arche, and all the surgeries I’ve had. There’s the one story that I did about my transplant. I remember that night, when we got the call in the middle of the night, but it didn’t work. Then we found out that I got a kidney, all the way from California. I had to go to the hospital at 5 in the morning. My sister and my mom were with me. It helps me to think about and remember that time and what I went through. I wrote a letter to the family, but I never heard back from them.
Catherine: You used to paint a lot of celebrities, right?
Mike: Yeah, I did. This one is a funny one [points to artwork on display: The Cyrus Family]. It is the Cyrus family board game, kind of like monopoly. If you land on Miley, you have to marry her, because she was getting married then. When I made this one, I thought a lot about Billy Ray Cyrus’ family. I sketched it out, then I painted it, and used the sharpies for the outlines.
Catherine: What made you change your focus to writing stories about your own life?
Mike: That’s a tough one. I just took a break from that to focus on the people in my own life. When Nick was here, in the comic group, I saw Dave make a story about his own life, and that made me want to try it. Our stories are different. I put my family in, my god brother, like this one [points to artwork on display: Love at First Sight]. It is about my god brother and when his sister got married to another woman. It made me think about what is love at first sight. I put a couple of hearts and crosses in there, and a ring for their engagement. It made me feel happy to tell their story.
Catherine: Tim, you’ve known Mike for many years. What have you noticed as his practice has evolved?
Tim: Now he’s doing comics, but in the past he was doing more drawings and paintings. He has always had an interest in people, and included them in his work. He’s worked a lot on his comics, his stories are even more interesting now.
Catherine: What are you currently working on, Mike?
Mike: The story I’m working on right now is about my job before I came to Arts of Life. It was at a nursing home. I remember an elderly lady, she was crying and she grabbed me by the arm to sit and talk to her. That was way back when I was in high school, at LTHS. That’s one of the new stories. I remember a lot of things from high school.
Catherine: Tim, do you have a favorite piece? What makes it stand out to you?
Tim: I like the comics. They are very interesting. All the colors and the thick outlines make it really pop out. And the story tells about his dad. I think it is important that he is telling this sad story. It is a big part of him.
Catherine: Mike, can you tell us more about this piece?
Mike: Yeah, I’m glad Tim picked that one. This started my graphic novel. It tells the story of my dad getting sick and how he passed away. It has my family in it. That was a hard time. It was right when I started at Arts of Life. And Tim is right. Where I used the markers, I do that to make it pop out.
Catherine: What do you want people to take away from your comics?
Mike: I thought about this, how it would be a good idea to tell a story of my life, what I’ve been through through the years. How I lost a father. It helps me to think about putting my life into a comic book, but it was hard at first. I want to write a graphic novel and share my story.
Catherine: Tim, is there anything else you wanted to add?
Tim: I think the work is really well done. Mike is a talented artist but also a nice and caring person.