Understanding Michael Peoples, Prospero of Wax and Fire
Finger On the Pulse of the Criminal Mystique, ArtPrize 2012
Although it is fashionable to critique ArtPrize as an upstart, one cannot question one success of the festival that returns this fall for its eighth celebration. A generation of artists has been activated and nurtured by its annual demands. The proof of this proposition can be found in the protests of artist who will disagree with it. tom d. duimstra, post your response for Art-Hack, please.
A case might be made that the artistic arc of Michael People could not have risen so high without the context of ArtPrize to press him. Not only has Peoples exhibited in 2012, 2o13, 2o15, he’s booked to exhibit Binomial Nomenclature, a series of Disney style gnomes hopefully as endless as Agent Smiths in the Matrix. I’ve experienced the gnomes before at his one person show at the Fire Barn Gallery. Now what happens when his smiling wax minions overwhelm a gallery?
More, People has served as a lieutenant of the SiTE:LAB team for endless hours. SiTE:LAB’s arc has risen higher because of its existence within ArtPrize and the Avenue for the Arts. It might be easier to get a post on the Nebuchadnezzar with Morpheus than a post reporting directly to Amenta. For Peoples, SiTE:LAB has been the only art and design graduate school he’s ever known or will need. Peoples studied drawing under Tyler Loftis and Chris Protas at the Fire Barn Gallery too, certainly a developmental experience. Peoples brought his son to draw by his side, blessed be the ties that bind. The family that makes art together stays together. If I remember right, the two biked to class.
SiTE:LAB completed Michael Peoples as an artist.
Accompanied often by his family, you’ll find him in the background this October on Rumsey Street. The record suggests that he was the first of Paul Amenta’s lieutenants on the ground at Rumsey Street last season and this season. Peoples often has the energetic yet slightly drowsy appearance of those rare humans who require little sleep. How the man creates art, manages a major volunteer commitment to SiTE:LAB and holds a major role on the culinary team at Kirby House in Grand Haven staggers those who get a glimpse into his life.
He will not talk about his boundless activities for to talk about all that successful work draws close to the abyss of bragging. Peoples could win a Nobel and keep from bragging, his character raised in the Grand Haven tradition of Muscular Christianity. It might be too personal to suggest that many find personality on the psychologist’s couch. This is an inference. People’s forged his character in a drawing room, developed his personality over years of conversations. We can only imagine the objets d’art in that drawing room.
The art historians to follow are advised to look for the pinion, the spindle that turns the long playing record. Long playing records are a material for a series of People’s work that are somewhat facile. Look into the following for the drivers of his pure obsession. Find a source in fire, which melts his wax, creates his ash and transforms foodstuffs into cuisine. Find a source in literature, which informs his exhibition themes, from the cabinets of wonders the Germans called Wunderkammers to the deep Earth magic practiced by Shakespeare’s Prospero.
However, one must note that People’s practices infiltration and subversion, perhaps inadvertently and always for good purpose. Because Peoples works in series using wax gathered from thrift shop candles, he’s able to offer individuals for prices that make them gifts. Part of his process requires scouring every thrift shop between Grand Haven and North Muskegon for raw materials, fresh wax, which he assesses with an experienced eye. Given wax and crayolas by a donor, it might ruin him. The Muscular Christian must be driven by a quest, a search for a Grail or at least wax for Prospero to transform into high art.
For example, Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me consisted of sixty four instances of Bodhisattva Guanyin in a spectrum of colors, if the picture above correctly shows an eight by eight matrix, a chess board array. Peoples sold these to donors for less than fifty dollars each. I appealed for one far too late, snoozing and losing. This generosity successfully placed the image of the Bodhisattva in many homes, an infiltration. Last May, during a night of the Full Moon Supper Club at the Gaines-Taylor Home in Heritage Hill, Editor Tamara Fox of Art-Hack noted two Guanyin placed on the mantel in the home, Guanyin in black and Guanyin in white, the yin and yang landing in the home of ArtPrize’s executive director and his family. That’s a result one could not have achieved directly or by effort of ego. However, consider the code that makes a mortal a Bodhisattva, a promise to not enter paradise until all mankind enters paradise. The Bodhisattva code would not be a new idea to Michael Peoples.
That brings us back to Grand Haven, the ducks of the Great Race and gangsters. It’s all about the matrix, the ties that bind. August 1933, Baby Face Nelson and a team of gangsters armed with machine guns robbed the People’s State Bank on Washington in Grand Haven. Thanks to a legion of armed citizens who turned out like minutemen, the squad left with less than three-thousand dollars, leaving one of their own in the hands of the law. In an uneven battle between machine guns and mere rifles, only four Grand Haven volunteers suffered injuries. The matrix of Grand Haven assaulted, held. Responding to this chapter in family history, Michael Peoples remembered the day in his work “Finger On the Pulse of the Criminal Mystique”, Baby Face one of a set of three that included Dillinger and Capone, all three realized in fingerprint smudges. Of all the ways an artist can say, “Don’t be that guy”, fingerprint smudges might be one of the more effective.
To say it another way, in SiTE:LAB, Michael Peoples recognized a community where he could grow as an artist. Perhaps it reminded him of Grand Haven, where through studies and volunteerism, he arose as a young man?
So what about the ducks in wax? My memory of ducks takes me back to the happy days with my young daughter in Northville, Michigan, a town akin to the city of Grand Haven, ancient towns by Michigan standards, destinations of migrants who arrived by the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, a great journey and race to the land office. Once yearly, children are given a floating duck with a number, all of which are raced down a branch of the upper Rouge River near the historical village. Simple entry extended to all citizens, give a buck and buy your kid a duck, proceeds to maintain the historical village. Message: Be that guy. Did Peoples remember a similar race on the Grand River? Or does he allude to a duck game on the fairway of Grand Haven’s oldest tradition, the Coast Guard Festival?
The funny thing about those floating ducks? Not all of them are captured at the finish line. Some turn up in the flotsam and jetsam years later, infiltrators of the natural matrix, keepsakes for those Calibans who troll the sands for treasures. Keep an eye on the estate sales for ducks and gnomes of Michael Peoples, Prospero of Wax and Fire.
Images courtesy of ArtPrize, Michael Peoples and rock photographer, Jeff Brinn.