Speaking with Multi-Media Artist Michael Alan

July 23, 2014

A multi-media artist who translates energy into mesmerizing artworks, Brooklyn-based Michael Alan is also the founder and director of Living Installations, where human beings are transformed into living art images. Michael Alan’s art has been featured in nine New York solo shows, over 200 group shows and in over 200 living installations. We were delighted to interview this gifted, prolific and passionate artist.

"Michael Alan"

How did you first get into art? What inspired you?

I’ve been into art for as long as I can remember. My first inspirations were the Muppets and baseball. As a kid, I would draw cartoons.

Could you tell us something about the subject of your artwork these days? And the process?

My subjects are often people I observe while sitting here in McCarren Park.  I try to read their energy. I start by drawing a particular person’s body with a pen. And then when I’m back home, I often add watercolor or markers as I interpret the energy that I’ve felt.

What about your Living Installations? What was the initial idea behind them?

I wanted to create a space where people could come together in a positive way.  I wanted people to feel that they could accomplish whatever they set out to do. And I also wanted them to know that they don’t have to follow any pre-determined path.


How has your family responded to your passions?

They’re proud of me. My mom actually participated in some of my performances.

What percentage of your waking hours is devoted to your art these days?

Including music, about 95%.

Can you tell us something about the role of music in your life?

When I’m working at home, I listen to music. And I always have music playing during my living installations. Music and art become one.


Have you collaborated with any other visual artists?

I’ve collaborated with my cousin Moody and with a few fine artists including Alex Katz.

How do you feel about the role of the Internet in the art scene?

If it weren’t for the Internet, I don’t know if I’d have a career.

Do you have a formal arts education? And was it worthwhile?

I have a BFA from the School of Visual Arts. As an art student, I received lots of positive feedback and, yes, that did make a difference.


What’s the riskiest thing you’ve ever done? And Why?

After damaging my spine at the Dumbo Arts Center, I continued moving and dancing.  Why? Because I was ignorant.  Also – setting my hat on fire while performing in Spain was quite risky.

Were you ever arrested?

A few times. Once the cops assumed that I was going to use a mask I had made for an installation to rob someone. And assorted materials – like photocopies of living installation projects – that the cops have found in my car have also led to arrests.

What inspires you these days?

Different people I meet and the energy they give off. Things that happen and how they make me feel – like my grief over the death of my dear friend DG.


Are there any particular cultures you feel influenced your aesthetic?

I’ve been influenced by indigenous cultures, punk, new wave, African art, growing up in NYC and everything I’ve seen at the Museum of Natural History.

Do you work with a sketch in your hand or do you let it flow?

I work from line drawings.

Are you generally satisfied with your work?

Making art — in general — satisfies me. And if a drawing doesn’t work for me, I will somehow reuse it.


How has your work evolved in the past few years? 

It is more mature, smoother and freer. I’m always learning in art, just as I’m learning in life. Art is life.

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

To touch as many people as possible and to set people free.

What’s ahead?

I can’t even think about it. If I could, I’d be scared. But I know that I will keep going. More art and more struggle. And currently I’m at work on “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” a Living Installation for children.

Have you any message to others?

Whatever you do, push yourself and work hard at it. Working hard and creating art have kept me sane.

Interview conducted by City-as-School intern Travis Hicks with Lois Stavsky; images courtesy of the artist.

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