“I think the only way of really expanding your art is when you’re around other people who are creative.”
Michael Wallner’s latest collection celebrates the beauty of the city through the shapes, outlines and colours that define its character. London, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Paris, Singapore, Miami, and Dubai are all featured in his portfolio. Before becoming a full-time artist, he spent more than twenty years in the television industry working on entertainment programs, talk shows, documentaries, animations, and children novels. But creating original and innovative art was always his true passion. [michaelwallner.co.uk]
What is your definition of studio space? Studio space is my little area away from the rest of the world, where I can concentrate solely on creating. My work is digitally mounted, so I could technically do it from anywhere. Recently I’ve been doing it from home, but actually, I got a studio space in 2012, because I didn’t want my home to be my creative space. I wanted to be in a space where my brain would focus on just creating ideas. Where my studio is in South London, there’s an art community of about 200 artists. It’s an amazing place where we all have our own studios and we do two shows every year where the public come in to see our work for a few days. I wanted to be somewhere where other people’s creativity might rub off on me and having an area of creativity away from home.
I know you mentioned you’re in a collaborative/communal studio. So, do you think this formula works? Yeah, I think it’s brilliant because it’s essential for many reasons. Being an artist, and I’m sure being an architect too, can be quite solitary. Sometimes you’re working on your own a lot just in front of a screen. When I was doing that from home before I got my studio, it was fine. But it was starting to drive me a little nuts after a while because I wouldn’t see anybody all day. At the studios, I can work in my studio, but then if I want to go down to the communal areas for a cup of tea or chat with one of the artists, we can sit and discuss and make recommendations. It’s actually brought my work on a lot. I think the only way of really expanding your art is when you’re around other people who are creative.
Do you believe that London has an impact on your art? Oh, definitely. Absolutely. It’s my muse. London is my favourite city in the world, I have lived here for about 20 years. But I like most cities actually, like the city life and skyscrapers, the building’s history. I mean, even Los Angeles, which has a reputation for beaches, actually, the historical buildings in the downtown area from the 20s and 30s are amazing. But in London, I love the mix of Old and the New. You have the Shard, the Tate Modern, and St. Paul’s all really close to one another, but these buildings are hundreds of years apart in their construction. Also, the River Thames, which sort of carves its way through the middle of the city, has been the centre of London since it began and even that’s got a nice artistic shape. So yeah, London is central to my art, but when I exhibit abroad like in Los Angeles or New York, I create work about those cities too.
So then, would you consider moving outside of London now like or again? I would to New York. That’s one of my favourite cities in the world. For starters, it truly is a melting pot. I think the architecture there is just monumental, it’s absolutely brilliant. You have the Chrysler Building and Grand Central, which is my favourite building in the world. If I could afford an apartment in Brooklyn I might do that at some point.
Do you think it would impact your work if you were to move? I don’t know. I mean, at the moment I find the subject matter for me is the same. It’s the city and the shapes in the city. I like the outlines of things and texture, the buildings and the shapes of buildings and the colours. So that subject will stay similar, but what will probably change is the materials I use. I’m constantly trying to find new materials and experiment with more ambitious work. The ambitious work is only down to cost and really whether I can afford not because I don’t have the desire.
What do you think the future of studio space will look like? That is a good question. It’s really hard because even though there’s 200 of us in my current space, there are not that many studio spaces in London that exist. I don’t know which way it’s going. I mean, we’re surrounded by massive new apartments at the moment, and our owner doesn’t want to sell ever because it is kind of his baby. We might be lucky there, but other ones haven’t been lucky. I’m hoping there’s some provision for art studios in the future. I mean, certainly, with some of the developments I’ve seen in London, there’s definitely seems to be more of a push towards the arts. For instance in East London, there is a whole new massive development that’s got an art gallery in it, which is insisting it was a part of the development. I can see something in that. There will always be artists and they will always find spaces somewhere, but at the moment it’s quite hard to find decent space.
How do you believe we can ensure artists remain in London? I think is it’s encouraging them that there are places where they can show their work. That’s one of the main things, you know, we can make work forever, but that doesn’t make much difference if nobody sees it. So I do about 10 or 11 shows a year, or at least I did before COVID. And that means you know, I’m talking to members of the public pretty much every month of the year. But in terms of architectural developments, there’s another one near me in South London, which is in a set of apartments, but underneath it is the reception but they use that for art galleries and exhibitions all the time. So I think there’s definitely room for that. And for the developers, I think it’s quite useful to have big bold art in their buildings. I think that could be a useful partnership in the future I think.
Is there any way you think artists can collaborate and communicate with developers to maintain that cultural community London’s known for? That’s a good question. I mean, the gallery I’m with in London called Degree Art, they have initiatives with some developers and one of them they ended up associating with the Bankside Hotel in South London, which has an art studio in the hotel built specifically for artists. I did a residency there, but if my gallery hadn’t told me I wouldn’t have necessarily known about it. If I was trying to get my work seen by any major construction company, how would I do that? Who would I go and see? A lot of banks and financial institutions have somebody who’s in charge of buying the art for their offices, for instance, but I don’t know whether construction companies have that. It’d be nice to have some way of finding out how to get in touch with developers to have some way of dialogue. I’m working on a piece at the moment about the River Thames; its a two-metre piece of wood and we had the shape of the Thames carved through it with LED lights behind it to mimic the flow of the river through the wood. And what we’re working on now is to have real water or liquid instead to be the flow. Now that’s going to cost a lot of money to design, but that’s the kind of thing that would go into a development’s foyer. Somebody off the street is not going to come and buy that so as artists where do we find out about those connections? I mean, I’d love to do more ambitious work, but it’s hard to make these things that cost a lot of money without knowing if there’s a place for them.