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Spotlight Artist – Michael Siegel

Michael is a wonderful asset to our LAAFA community. Once you have taken a class with Michael, you will be completely devoted to his infectious personality, enormous talent and his generosity in sharing his knowledge with each student helping them become a better artist.

1. How did having an artistic family help and inspire you to become an
artist?

I really owe my whole artistic lifestyle to my family. I grew up with the
notion that art and music are at the very core of life. My mother is an
extremely talented artist, and it was with her that I first studied anatomy,
life drawing, and ultimately painting. When I became restless studying
Mathematics and Computer Science at Berkeley, my father encouraged me to
pursue my art instead. He had done the same, when as a young man he left his
Chemistry studies to become a professional violinist. All in all, I’d have to say if it weren’t for the love and support I got from my parents, I would probably be a millionaire today.

2. What was your favorite experience studying under David Leffel?

It’s difficult to single out any one experience, because that whole time in
my life seems like a wellspring of fun times. I particularly loved being
David’s assistant at the Art Students’ League in New York for his summer
workshops, and watching him in action at his old post there. After class it
might be a trip to the Met to talk shop, or back to his apartment to watch
the NBA finals. To see students fall under his spell was always a treat as
well. I once saw David go up to someone in class and ask him, “Do you think
Rembrandt would have worn that Hawaiian shirt?” Not 5 minutes later, the
student was back in class with a determined brow and a plain shirt.

3. Why are you drawn to the “chiaroscuro” style of painting?

“Chiaroscuro” is often translated from the Italian as “Light and Shadow.”
This calls to mind the dramatic lighting of Rembrandt and Caravaggio. It can
also be translated as “Focus versus Mystery” (Chiario = Clear, Scuro =
Obscure). This is really what painting has become about for me. Let’s face
it, life is dramatic and mysterious! Where besides art do we get a chance to explore this central core of our experience?

4. What techniques and materials do you use to create your paintings?

I think of painting as a sculptural language, as opposed to drawing which is
linear. For that reason, brushstroke becomes paramount as far as technique
goes. Maroger Medium and Italian Wax Medium are central to my work, because
they allow for the most versatility in brushwork. I always make sure to use
the best materials. Painting is hard enough without fighting bad supplies. I
use Old Holland paints and Innerglow Panels or Triple-Lead-Primed canvas.

5. You have a very dedicated following of students in your classes. How do
you keep each class fresh?

I try to tell new jokes.

6. Your wife is also an accomplished artist, what is a typical day at your
house?

We share a studio in our home, so often we are painting side-by-side and critiquing each other’s work. Neither of us has a competitive streak, so we help each other quite a lot. I’ve heard artists say that looking at your painting in a mirror will always show you if something in the painting looks odd or asymmetrical, but I find that the easiest thing is just to ask Kyla.

7. What advice would you give your students who want to become successful
gallery artists?

Gallery success can be very elusive, and artists can easily lose themselves
chasing after the siren’s call. My advice is to concentrate on learning to
paint for painting’s own sake. The more you try to follow a current fad, or
to stand out with flashy technique or style, the more your work will suffer
and any success you might achieve will likely be short-lived.

8. If you weren’t an artist, what other career would you have chosen?

I would love to have been a classical musician. Over the years, I have
studied the piano, clarinet, harpsichord, and now the organ. I battle having
two artistic passions, and perhaps they both suffer for it!

9. You have taught at LAAFA for several years. In your opinion, what makes the LAAFA community special?

LAAFA is the perfect fit for me. They have beautiful studios, with natural light and dark walls. The staff is always a pleasure to work with, and the students are eager and committed to art. LAAFA is not a crafts and hobbies school; it’s the real deal for real artists.

10. Please tell us about a person, place or thing that always inspires you?

I have always drawn inspiration from those people who have understood things at an incomprehensibly higher level, and who have a bigger view of the world. They don’t have to be painters. Bach and Beethoven probably have inspired me more than anyone, because they are always teaching me how much you can get out of life and art.