artists or movements or techniques. there was no context. i might have heard of some of the big names like Picasso or da vinci, but had no information about them, and definitely no instruction about their process/methods. i was beginning to come into my own at this time and was ready for new knowledge and a challenge. i “borrowed” a book on Michelangelo from the library and started to copy his drawings as my way of learning line, form, anatomy and composition. this was late into my junior year of high school. i spent the summer with this book copying nearly every page. i was in awe of his technical ability and sheer output because i had never seen anything like that before. the renaissance produced giants. During my senior year i had the opportunity to travel to italy and see many of these works in person like the sistine chapel, David, and the Pieta on a school trip. i might not have known at the time, but looking back, i believe i was drawn into the drama that can be conveyed with the human form. in a time when most people were illiterate, paintings were used to convey stories, myths, proverbs, and history.
Michael rousseau interview by Harryet Candee photography of Michael by Lee Everett
Michael, you have studied art a rISD, studied oil painting on your own, and have had the opportunity to travel to europe in search of ways to gain knowledge, study and follow techniques and skills in visual art. at some point you discovered Michelangelo and the Italian renaissance period. tell us how you came upon your interest in the Old Masters of this time period? What exactly drew you into some of the styles and history of this often thought of as dark, richly ornate, religious period in time? Michael Rousseau: ok. let me put this in order, because that sounds so glamorous. i discovered Michelangelo in
20 • FeBruary 2016 the artFul MInD
high school at the library, on my own. i still do quite a bit of my learning and research at the library. after high school i attended three different colleges and graduated with a bFa in illustration from rhode island school of Design. Fast-forward to 8 years ago and i started to teach myself oil painting and art history in depth. i decided to begin at the renaissance and work my way forward. Four months ago i traveled to europe to see some of the paintings i so admire. i’m still learning and discovering new painters and artwork all the time. how this began? in high school, my art education was very basic and i do not recall learning about art history or
Did you find any interest or value in listening to music or learning about composers and musical instruments akin to the renaissance that helped round out your art making palette? Did you enjoy reading any works of literature related to this time period while journeying? about craftsmanship as apposed to fine art? Or in religion, philosophy and science? What discoveries did you make that you can account for? Michael: lots of questions here. i’m not particularly interested in learning about composers or musicians of the renaissance, nor literature written at the time. i find the paintings, sculpture and architecture to be the subjects that speak to me the most. i enjoy reading biographies about the people who made these pieces. craftsmanship is very important to me and i am constantly on the search for information about the working methods of painters i admire, both living and dead. For instance, i now prefer to use Walnut oil as a medium in my paint, something i learned from da vinci, because of its stability and consistency. i also adopted a limited palette with mostly earth tones because they are stable and produce a warm tone, which i really enjoy. i learned the science and alchemy of pigments and colors. any piece from this time period is now 500 years old; there is definitely something to be learned about longevity and craftsmanship. craftsmanship is the art many times. i have always been interested in philosophy, science and religious iconography; i believe they reveal the state of human understanding at the time. how did you enjoy the experience of painting the same way they did during the renaissance? I understand it wasn’t just copying; it was serious undertaking of dissecting layers in which the masters worked. What were some of the techniques you learned that fascinated you? Michael: i am not working in the same way. i am working in a modified way that fits my ideas. this modification came rather quickly. For instance, i do not grind and mix my own pigments, nor do as much underpainting as i used to. old Master style painting is only one way of using the medium. the magic of painting is all of the varied ways that it can be applied to reveal new ways of seeing and describing our world. the way John singer sargent painted was completely different and just as informative, but in a new way. My aim is to learn as much as i can by absorbing and applying many different techniques. some of it is “just copying” because i am trying to learn from it. it is a methodical dissection though. the same way a musician learns by playing a piece of music note by note. What i learned? how to build stretchers, how to stretch canvas and linen, how to prepare the surface for painting, underpainting, fat over lean, color stability, mediums and their properties, glazing, varnishing, chemical structure of pigments, brush differences, layers, fugitive colors, optical mixing, bravura strokes, warm and cool, etc. this could go on and on, but it is what you do with it that matters.