In my younger days, I was something of a graffiti writer. Occasionally, I would paint commissioned murals. When a mural is being painted, passerby's fall into one of three categories. There are The Disinterested: these are people who pay no attention whatsoever. You can distinguish these people by their obliviousness to cool things and zombie-like expressions. Next is The Mildly Interested: these people stop and watch for a couple of minutes. When they say something to me it's usually a tepid and vague compliment like "nice work" or "neat." Finally, category three, The Very Interested: these people plop right down on the sidewalk and make themselves at home. They might stay for upwards of an hour or two. Every so often, they'll come up and thank me for letting them watch (not that I had much of a choice). Being thanked is different than being complimented. It suggests that your work is appreciated and that that person has connected with it.
Painting in public led me to a couple of realizations about the nature of art and the creative process. First, painting in public is a performance. Watching a person develop a work of art is a special experience, particularly when the artist is deeply engaged in the creative process and lost in their work. For the artist, these moments are transcendental. The distinction between self and object evaporates. You focus solely on observing and forming the work and, in turn, the work becomes indistinguishable from your internal thoughts. With the sort of freestyle abstract painting I typically make, the work itself starts to guide me and I have the distinct sense that I'm simply uncovering and accentuating preexisting compositions. That's a heady experience. In making it a public act, one allows other people to come along for the ride.
This led to a second and highly related realization: The creative process is almost always distinct from the finished work. Personally, I find the creative process to be infinitely more fascinating and beautiful than the work it produces. The creative process is like an wildly unpredictable onslaught of utter disappointment and fruitless struggle that is made worthwhile by an occasional inspiration and breakthrough. It's simultaneously ugly and beautiful, loathsome and entrancing. Viewer from this perspective, the finished piece can seem static and lifeless.
With this project, I'm attempting to capture and present the creative process as the finished work. The "painting" never resolves, it is in a perpetual state of transformation. The final frame of each video is simply the point at which my hand got tired. I've been working on the same piece since 2006. I occasionally do live shows for which I start and end with a blank canvas.
My name is Mike Stern. Other than working on this project, I spend most of my waking hours as the Visual Design Manager for Apple's Professional Apps Team. My job is to help figure out what Apple's Pro Apps (Final Cut Pro, Motion, Soundtrack, etc.) should look like.
Before joining Apple in 2006, I'd done a number of different things with my time: Painting on walls, painting on canvases, drawing political cartoons, illustrating, making motion graphics and designing t-shirts under the label 0rigin. And, as you might be able to infer from my current job, I've dabbled in interactive and visual design.
I've been published in a few books, painted in a couple of countries (including my own) and have illustrated for a few magazines including XLR8R, URB, and Tokion. I've also painted live onstage alongside the likes of MF Doom, Aceyalone, and the Shapeshifters. My most recent non-Apple work (as of the end of 2006) was a web design for Wiretap Magazine and cover design for Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, the latest book by the unstoppable and incomparable Jeff Chang
I'm very interested to know what people think of this project. If you're so inclined, please take a minute to share your thoughts. Also, I've given a little thought to putting together a HD-quality DVD of this or future work. If you're interested, leave your email and you'll be the very first person to know when it's ready.