All The Work I’ve Ever Done

Over the last decade or so, I have been slowly assembling a chronology of my life’s work in a database – images of paintings, drawings, sculptures, watercolors, prints and photographs. Of the number of good reasons to do this, the primary one for me, is to be able to exhume the hidden narrative my circuitous interests have made.  Having not followed the more standard way, that of perfecting a limited set of media and images over the course of a long practice, I have instead, worked in various visual languages and media, exploring certain interests until I was satisfied, and then moving on to the next.  In an age of specialists, I have been more like a shape-shifter or to use an outdoorsy metaphor, a scout. In my process, ideas morph from one phase into another, or one technique to another and the thread is not always so obvious.

Within the confines of commercial concerns, artists have been required to follow quite narrow parameters. Artists brand themselves for market by sticking to a form and “look”. This has something to do with the lack of depth in the general viewing sector, and it has carried over, pressuring art dealers to require artists to produce more of the same “recognizable” works.  Without a deeper level of understanding of art, recognizing the superficial “look”, is all there is.  This has become coupled with another stereotype, the “obsessed artist”. We have come to judge the artist by the level of obsession/compulsion they have.   Only through obsession is the artist considered to be an expert within his or her chosen set of aesthetics. When an artist moves away from obsession and specialization we tend to be suspect.. he or she must not be serious enough.  It is a limited standard to judge artists with and again, is one that is used by an uneducated audience as they have no other means of respecting the import of an artist or their work.

Now I have no problems with perfecting an idea, deep involvement or specialization, but for me it comes down to the question of how we choose the  limits of our aspirations and how we deal with our natural curiosities.  While working for John Chamberlain, grouping piles of metal in the studio to be used for his assemblages,  John talked to me about the “sets” of his materials. There were the ones that fit into his standard repertoire,  like chrome bumpers, bent fenders, etc., but then there were pieces of metal that John deemed to belong to an “irregular set”, those pieces that, for whatever reason, did not fit into his notion of standard sets.  His solution, which shows one aspect of his brilliance and open mind, was to make works comprised of all the pieces complied from the irregular set.

The point is, that it is often arbitrary to set limits as to what one’s parameters are, especially in the beginning. Eventually, even by taking the freedoms someone like me has taken, one finds one’s limits.  It can take a long time to find the edges of one’s interests.  This was  actually encouraged through the advice given to me by the artists of my father’s generation. I was lucky enough to be doted upon by some of them, probably because in the early 70s, when I was coming of age, there were few young people who took an interest in the art or ideas of the Ab Ex generation. The advice that I got from  them was, “work for 20 years before showing”. In other words, “know thyself first.”

As I look back on 40 years of art making, I can see the links to various paths taken in the service of knowing myself.   One thing that was constant was my use of  the scientific method, which required that I conduct my work by looking into variables and opposites, to guide my explorations.  The years of searching have revealed my sensibility to me. It is that which did not change, while I explored the diversity of examples required by the method.  Without exploring diversely, I could not have recognized the immutable qualities inherent in my being. My process became a mechanism that measured what was a constant internal sensibility ( my uniqueness)  with the various external qualities found in materials, subjects or ideas.

Organizing my work – taking the curatorial approach – also comes about from a professional life of being a curator of the works of other artists. Growing up in my father’s studio and the studios of his friends and later working for Chamberlain, I experienced how artists organize themselves (and how they don’t).  I gravitated to helping artists and their estates organize works. Over the last 25 years I have cataloged thousands and thousands of works; by James Brooks, Charlotte Park, Alfonso Ossorio, Charles Addams and  my father,  and I’ve advised many others charged with this task.  With Ossorio, the curatorial role I played while running Ossorio Foundation, gave me a special opportunity to first digest and then guide the exhibition program of an entire body of work.  During my time there I laid out a plan for 10 exhibitions and we were able to follow through with that, a legacy I am exceedingly proud of. The organization I brought to his diverse and misunderstood body of work, helped people comprehend it and then become enamored with it. Like Ossorio, I have worked more or less independent of market and also have a diverse yet philosophically united body of work.  So I hope I can do for myself what I did for him, by the organization of my work and its explanation and exhibition, through this blog.

So… over the next year I will be posting, in chronological succession, my body of work, starting from 1971 and proceeding to the present. There are about a dozen major groups, with some offshoots. Of course it will not literally be all of the works I have made, but a selection of 20 to 50 works from each period. In the text part of the blog I will write about each group of work that has been put up, discussing their context and how they are connected to previous works and /or future works. I will send notices out each time a new post goes online. The interval between each post will be a few weeks or so, during which time I hope you will feel free to share your thoughts and observations.   As the posts become old, they will remain accessible so that eventually everything will be posted online.  After everything is up, the blog will remain open for any additional dialog that comes about concerning either past or present works. I look forward to sharing my work and ideas with you.

Best, Mike

Mike Solomon  © 2011



I enjoyed reading this, it makes perfect sense to me. I’ve been working at full steam and feel somewhat obsessed;sometimes as you said the only public measure of a serious artist. Wondering now if I can do my best work from that state. While I do take my painting quite seriously, I see and feel the need to ground myself believing that the work I do from a balanced state is superior. Enjoyed reading your thoughts!