Michael Anderson is a Bronx born artist making large format collages. Anderson’s work is widely collected and exhibited. Dapper Dan Magazine has recently dubbed him ‘International Street Collage Gangster.’ I first heard about Michael Anderson when Eric Gleason, formerly of Marlborough Chelsea, introduced me to his work a number of years ago. My first meeting with Anderson was via email during my first interview with him for Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art. After a few years of knowing Michael and subsequent visits to his studio or “The Harlem Collage Shop” as he has named it, I slowly began to understand the complexity of his vision.
“It’s completely wild, it’s open, there are hundreds of artists working and it’s kind of like virgin territory.”
FMichael Anderson, Pictured here in “The Harlem Collage Shop.” Courtesy of the artist and Whitehot Magazine.
In Conversation: Noah Becker Interviews Michael Anderson
Michael Anderson is a Bronx born artist making large format collages. Anderson’s work is widely collected and exhibited. Dapper Dan Magazine has recently dubbed him ‘International Street Collage Gangster.’ I first heard about Michael Anderson when Eric Gleason, formerly of Marlborough Chelsea, introduced me to his work a number of years ago. My first meeting with Anderson was via email during my first interview with him for Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art. After a few years of knowing Michael and subsequent visits to his studio or “The Harlem Collage Shop” as he has named it, I slowly began to understand the complexity of his vision. It was only after I interviewed Anderson for Art in America that I really began to see the multiple layers of meaning in Anderson’s work. Eventually I understood his work as a new kind of abstraction. Anderson’s work consists of collages made from large street posters ripped from walls around New York and other international cities. Altering torn and collage posters, Anderson creates an abstracted constellation of re-created narratives. At a certain point in Anderson’s career he left New York and set up a studio in Athens, Greece. I was aware that he opened “The Athens Collage Shop” but had not yet gone into detail about his adventures in Greece and what the art scene in Athens is all about.
Noah Becker: So tell me a bit about the project you did in Athens?
Michael Anderson: Well, it was really crazy; I didn’t really expect to make a project in Athens when I went there. I already had a really long year. I had two solo shows, one in Copenhagen and one here in New York, and two museum shows, one in Detroit and one in Florida. And I did a lot of other things, earlier that year too. So, a friend of mine, he’s a collector and a Greek doctor named George Christianson lived here for ten years in New York and he’d just moved back to Athens. He told me, on doctor’s orders that I was supposed to come to Athens and see the Peloponnesian Mountains and regain my lost nature, basically.
NB: So how long did you end up staying there?
MA: He was insisting on me coming, I said “I can’t come, I have so much work to do,” but he finally convinced me that August was going to be fine, nothing happens in August in New York anyway. So, I was there for the month of August, I arrived somewhere around August 4th and was coming back near September 3rd. Originally I had only planned to be there for a month, as a vacation. And it was actually the first vacation I had ever taken in my life.
NB: Where did you spend your time?
MA: Mostly in the Peloponnesian Mountains. I ate really well, I spoke with my collector and friend for hours and hours, I swam everyday in the Mediterranean, and it was absolutely paradise, totally beautiful. I developed a tan, I felt great, you know? I came into Athens for the final week of the month that I was going to be there, I wanted to go out and see the monuments and things. But what really struck me in Athens was the graffiti scene, it was really incredible, it was like the East Village in the 1980’s.
NB: There’s a graffiti scene? That’s interesting.
MA: Yeah, It’s completely wild, it’s open, there are hundreds of artists working and it’s kind of like virgin territory. They were covering all the buildings for the first time, really. And basically the entire downtown area of Athens is covered in graffiti now. There are an awful lot of politically wild postings and posters. And there are all kinds of riots happening there. Everyone is just very unhappy with the austerity measures.
NB: And you had a studio there?
MA: Ok, well, after I was there for about five days in Athens I couldn’t believe it. I met some people, particularly a guy who had a graffiti store. We started taking nighttime tours with him of Athens graffiti. There was a building I saw that was vacant and I thought, “I think I’m going to change my ticket and stay here for another couple of months and try and set up a studio.” So I ended up meeting the guy who owns the building, by hook or by crook, I found the studio through a lawyer that was attached to a rental company.
NB: How much space was the Athens studio?
MA: Originally I just wanted the top floor of this building to put my studio in. The guy who owned the building, turned out to be an investment banker from UBS in London. I talked to him about possibly doing a show in the rest of the building if he didn’t want to use it for anything else.
NB: So you were making your point in Athens and really proved something there?
MA: I think I proved to him that I could pull off a project of this nature. I had an assistant work like the devil for me, I could not have done it without her, she was kind of my “gal Friday”. She translated for me, and took me around to different places, and she just really helped out with putting the space together. The space was a complete disaster when I first got there.
NB: Was there a lot of interest?
MA: I ended up having about 200 artists come by the space. So we made this show called “Greek Infusion”, based on the idea that different types of artists are showing together in one serial set. Mostly because I ended up using both street artists and fine artists and I couldn’t really umbrella the idea any other way. The problem in Athens, is that there’s tons of young artists doing really interesting work, but there’s only a few galleries. So all the more established artists get to show, or they’re also showing a lot of international art there.
NB: How is it different as an art scene?
MA: There’s not really the same kind of situation you have here in New York, where there’s many galleries at all kinds of levels. I think, in Athens, it’s much more difficult. We had 200 artists’ works including video art, installation art, street art, sculpture, collage etc. We even had theatre play and music. The opening band played all their songs based on Kurt Vonnegut novels. The whole thing was pretty interesting.