How Arizona Artist Michael Carson’s Musical Tastes Influence His Enigmatic Paintings

Carson’s show “Audiovisuals” is on view now at Bonner David Galleries in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Michael Carson, Lotus Flower (2018). Courtesy of Bonner David Gallery.

Many artists listen to music in their studios, but the habit is crucial for painter Michael Carson. “It puts me in the mood I’m trying to transfer to panel,” he tells Artnet News. “For me, music and art go together like peanut butter and chocolate.”

The musical influence is not hard to spot in Carson’s work. Take his new show, “Audiovisuals,” on view now at Bonner David Galleries in Scottsdale, Arizona, where song lyrics serve as titles of paintings, such as “Twist of Fate” (after Bob Dylan) number and “Lotus Flower” (Radiohead).

Carson also occasionally paints his musical heroes, such as Brit Daniel, lead singer of the band Spoon, recalling an interest also explored by fellow painter Elizabeth Peyton.

Michael Carson, Portrait of Brit Daniel (2018). Courtesy of Bonner David Galleries.

Carson didn’t start painting until his late twenties. Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he stayed in the Midwest after high school, studying graphic design and illustration before becoming a product designer for about six years. He first picked up a paintbrush when he was 28.

“It was a fluke,” he says. “Or maybe it was an inevitability. After trying my first go at it, I fell in love. I quit my career three months later to pursue art full time.

His paintings, mostly portraits, are characterized by their warm, muted palettes and lack of background information behind his subjects.

Michael Carson, Fleur du Mal VII (2018). Courtesy of Bonner David Galleries.

“My backgrounds are like Beck lyrics,” Carson says. “They can mean different things to different people. I don’t like any narrative in my work. It’s more interesting if you have to use your own imagination. I want my paintings to feel like people watching. You really have no idea what’s going on in there.

Michael Carson, Fleur du Mal VIII (2018). Courtesy of Bonner David Galleries.

In addition to his show at Bonner David, Carson is also premiering a new set of paintings at a pop-up exhibition and trunk show at Stephanie’s, a boutique in downtown Scottsdale. The paintings are based on designs by New York-based clothing company Fleur Du Mal and its founder, Jennifer Zuccarini.

The Fleur Du Mal paintings were a bit of a departure for Carson, who turned to fashion for inspiration rather than music. “Where I usually focus on figure and pose and tone and skin, I was diving into fabric,” he says. “Silks and sequins—things I haven’t attempted before. It was more delicate and detailed and softer in color. It made things fun in the studio and changed my work. That’s everything for me.”

See a video preview of Carson’s two exhibitions below.

Audiovisuals” is on view at Bonner David Galleries through April 3. Carson’s collaborative pop-up exhibition and trunk show takes place Wednesday, March 21, from 6-8 pm at Stephanie’s in downtown Scottsdale.

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