It’s hard to believe the shy, humble, yet extremely talented collage artist named Michael Church was once in the army. Perhaps it’s not too far off, though, as a young Conway High grad, Church wanted to explore the world. Laughing he says, “I wouldn’t have joined now, but my uncle was in the army and I wanted to get away and travel,” he recounts.
His travels to Europe and beyond opened his eyes and continue to shape him. These days, Church is an internationally recognized collage artist, and has had his work exhibited in places like Greece, Massachusetts, and of course, Arkansas at large.
His transition from the army to the art world was organic as Church took up a job at a manufacturing plant in Conway upon his return, working night shifts, something he’d never done before.
In a round about way, the job opened up a new opportunity to Church – “I had a lot of paperwork lying around … and so I began writing on it. I started creating poetry and short stories.”
He continued writing, taking a workshop here and there, mainly feeding his itch to get the words out on the paper. “I felt like I had to get it out – I had to get it out of me … that’s kind of how I feel about most of my art,” he says.
Since starting out as a writer, Church has explored different genres and materials, honing in on collage about three years ago. At the time he was inspired by his partner, a fellow artist and graphic designer. “He was doing this thing on Instagram where he started out doing a drawing a day, for a year. … I watched him do it and became interested in it that way.”
Church starts a piece visually, gravitating towards an image equipped with emotions. “I am very image driven, if an image moves me that’s where I start,” he explains. From there he uses his hands to create, “Everything I do is analog, I cut and paste.”
After three years of cutting and pasting, Church has a wealth of work, and no inclination of stopping. His collage journey has taken him in so many different new directions. He’s met a ton of talented people in Little Rock, and discovered the art scene to be alive and well here. “I used to think there was a lack of a scene but I really don’t anymore. There’s a great group of artists here,” he says, “There’s kind of an underground art movement that not many people know about.”
He spends time with V.L. Cox, among others, and recently helped her move the door exhibit she had at the State Capitol titled “End Hate.” Church’s friendship with Cox has driven him to put even more thought into what he does.
“In the last six months as I’ve known Lynette, I definitely think my pieces are more thoughtful. If I have something in my head, I’ll find an image then I’ll think, ok, that represents how I feel. Even if nobody else gets it, I’ll always know what that piece means to me.”
story continues below
Looking at his work as a whole, Church feels he doesn’t necessarily have overt themes he comes back to, but he finds himself fond of red. “Even the really black and white stuff, for some reason I’ll put a little bit of red in it. I don’t know what it is exactly, but people tell me they like that little pop of red,” he says.
Church’s work is striking and provocative, sometimes dark, sometimes nostalgic. The resulting images he creates beg a conversation, or at the very least, a reaction from the viewer.
Daily, Church is amazed at people’s interest in his work, and was completely blown away when he was featured in the LA-based print publication Satellite. “I started doing art because it was really fun. I never imagined in a million years that anybody would be interested in or want a piece of mine,” he says.
Church works part time at Little Rock’s M2 Gallery, and immersing himself in an artistic environment helps with inspiration at times. “I don’t want to copy anyone’s work of course,” he says, “But sometimes I’ll be inspired by an angle here or a line there.”
He believes that’s how it should be though, a conversation from artist to artist, artist to audience. “That’s really all art is, to me, it’s literally a form of communication. You may not understand it literally, it could be like talking to someone who is speaking Japanese, but there’s a certain tone to it that is universal. Sometimes you like what it says, sometimes you don’t, sometimes you don’t understand it – it’s all ok. It’s just, it challenges you. That’s the way I feel about it.”
Currently Church is experimenting with transfers and adding paint into his work. He is here to stay, and glad Arkansas is more progressive than people think. He has shows upcoming this fall in Little Rock’s Garland House and Fayetteville. Check out his work at M2 Gallery, or visit his website – http://cargocollective.com/puredirtart.