Michael Alan’s “Survival Things” A Penetrating Look into our Times from a Singular Vision
"Same" image courtesy of Michael Alan
Michael Alan is an individualist, an artist who speaks to us today in a way that comes along once in a generation. The work is a way of seeing that has opened my eyes and given me a new way to look at things. The paintings combine a funky street perspective with classic skills. A lot of current art depends on ironic concepts or memes and can be read in a moment. It can be cold and minimal and even boring. Michael’s work is the opposite. It seductively lures you in, inviting you to partake in a visual orgy. Alan’s art rewards your attention with layers of intricate beauty and deep underlying meaning. It vibrates and resonates on multiple levels and provides the heart with the energy it craves.
As curator Bruno Massa says; "Michael is the power of being alive, he survives things. He is dramatically an icon of the new absurd world we live in. A new star who is every day reborn as a native New Yorker and who stands up to the present and so absurd pandemic of fear among the world, and the new system of the ‘Great Resentment’ that our leaders want to have for us. Being a revolutionary artist is the way Michael constantly goes ahead."
Galerie Bruno Massa is presenting a curated survey of the artist’s work with the Artnet platform, allowing you to zoom in, explore, and see the vast amount of details that make up each piece. You can see the show for yourself here, and view more work on Instagram.
This showing of 50 pieces is Alan’s artistic response to our chaotic now, along with curatorial picks of heartwarming iconic images that have been turned inside out, while still providing some familiarity. We have all been thrown into a state of turmoil by the frantic unfolding of current events. Alan shows us a way to process these complex new realities. The show also includes some older works selected by the gallery, making a comprehensive and impressive survey. Massa says, ”As a worker on paper, he is probably one of the best of his generation. Despite my knowledge in art, business and fine arts as far as I am concerned I have never met such artworks, so detailed and so harmonious in terms of colors and shapes.”
Each piece reads first as a brightly colored explosion of different elements, harmonized in an incredibly satisfying overall composition. My eyes were delighted by the forms and faces glimpsed inside swirling fields of ever-changing lines and color, and I was drawn in deeper. Figures emerge from fields and planes of color and tones, and at a point the meaning of the image becomes clear. Going in deeper, we can see the different parts that make up these worlds are still more complicated, and are worlds within themselves. They make us question, “what world are we actually living in?” At the deepest level we see that there is an astonishing variety of elements. Hatching, variations of pointillism, strange surfaces, odd mark-making, bursts of pure pigment, and most of all sinuous, looping, playful and dancing lines, forming a visual mathematics that ties everything together into an individual dynamic whole. Intricate as mandalas, but still street and punk, Alan’s style is unmistakable.
Then you add the back story. These are not just works that exist to be eye candy. Alan is an on-point, clear-eyed observer of our times and makes pieces that are not afraid to address the big issues of the day, speaking his truth to power, anger, corruption, and control. He also makes positive themed pieces that express delight in the beauty of the world, cultural icons and nature. He has a super-wide range and draws anything and everything.
I have written before about Alan’s story and his ongoing efforts to create, non-stop in spite of personal hardship.
I’m going to take a step back and step into some of the works with you to share my thoughts and perspectives on a show that is important, trenchant, and beautiful.
"Toxic American” image courtesy of Michael Alan
“Toxic American” 2021 is a fierce commentary on racist Americans that are full of toxic racial rage. Using a base of the Troma studios character the Toxic Avenger, Alan reframes the movie anti-hero as a frightful insurrectionist, throbbing and pulsating with anger. Painting a horror theme for the recent storming of the Capitol bearing banners, this hulking figure brandishes a mop/banner labeled “skum”, with an antenna on his head receiving blobs of negative information. His eyes stare psychotically in different directions, and he’s backed by a field of patriotic stars. I read this piece as a warning of the power of hate. It warns us against simplistic thinking that can turn us into negative toxic creatures poised by lies of the government, living us living in horror.
"Essential Workers" image courtesy of Michael Alan
On the opposite end of the American spectrum, we have “Essential Workers” 2020. A tribute to the anonymous health care workers that continue to struggle to save us, in the face of the overwhelming obstacles of dealing with a relentless plague. This piece is one of the most moving tributes to them that I have seen. They stand, masked and ready. Alan has individualized each one, with an expressive abstract face drawn over each mask to represent the soul of each individual, and halos on their heads. You are pulled in by the soft wash of hospital colors and captivated by Alan’s individualization of these anonymous heroes. It’s a subtle testament to endurance and strength.
“Urban Decay" image courtesy of Michael Alan
A testimony to the power of mother love to sustain in a harsh environment “Urban Decay” 2020 is an icon of positivity. Making subtle use of the classic religious icon structure it depicts a mother and child locked in a timeless embrace as mysterious energies swirl around them. They are bathed in a pool of light but they are also surrounded by the abstract shapes that remind me of a decaying cityscape. Alan, a true son of New York is willing and able to find the beauty hidden in decay. He looks deeper and effortlessly captures the energy of an environment that he knows so well. He knows that growth can arise from the ashes as long as you have hope.
“Systemic Language, Enhanced Culture’’ image courtesy of Michael Alan
“Systemic Language, Enhanced Culture’’ 2020 to me is a masterful example of pure abstraction. It can be approached from any point of view, and once you engage, the elements of the composition pull you in on a roller coaster ride of visual pleasure. This work appears to be designed for prolonged viewing and multiple engagements. Alan pulls out all the stops, using every tool in his arsenal of mark-making techniques. These tools and proprietary techniques have been developed by Alan over years of intense and devoted studio practice. He makes some of his own tools and is constantly testing and evaluating new ones to add to his expressive range. I can’t for the life of me figure out how he pulls off some of the expressive techniques he uses, all I can do is marvel at them and enjoy the results.
“Witching Hour” image courtesy of Michael Alan
These techniques are flowering in full effect in “Witching Hour”, a mysterious and dynamic portrait of a woman. She sits, tall and relaxed, looking at us but also seemingly seeing into hidden worlds. Her body is composed of earthy tones, pulsating patterns and structures of delicate and interconnected lines and colors that break away and dance around her in prismatic fields. She is intimately connected to her environment, composed of it and the essence of its energy, like an astral being created from pure ideas. She is a true queen, real magic in action and made flesh.
Alan is the real thing, a soulful artist creating full speed at the top of his powers. He brings his singular way of seeing to focus on our now and creates dynamic art for everyone. We need artists like Michael Alan to continue to push the envelope of what is possible, putting their souls out there to enhance our culture, and adding meaning and joy into our lives. Michaels dedication to his practice is stupendous. I’ve seen him working on IG Live, moving at crazy speed and his pens seem to never leave the paper. He pushes forward without reservations and is truly an artist for our times.
To see daily posts of Michaels work you can go to