Michelle Lynn Doll was born in Canton, Ohio and received her BFA from Kent State University and her MFA from the New York Academy of Art. She is the recipient of the 2019 Fellowship Grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and has also been awarded residencies at Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation (ESKFF) at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, NJ, Galleri Ramfjord in Oslo, Norway, Eden Rock on St. Barths and received the Prince of Wales Forbes Foundation Travel Grant in 2006.
Michelle was among the top ten female artists in 2019 to receive an Honorable Mention by the Bennett Prize for figurative realism. I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her work, her life and projects for the future.
Michelle Lynn Doll
Michelle- congratulations on your engagement again. Seeing you at the recent Mother and Child show was fantastic as I don’t get to see you regularly. Has being engaged and in love shifted your subject matter in any way?
It was so great to see you too Nicole! Lately I’ve been sequestered in the studio working on the new show so it was a pleasure to get out and see some good friends at Sugarlift’s Mother and Child opening. I loved the concept of that show and it really hit home as much of my work concerns the subject of motherhood.
Being engaged is beautiful! I feel blessed to be with a partner who’s so incredibly supportive and who knows the ins and outs of being an artist. And yes, while my subject matter is essentially the same, it’s interesting how being in love has shifted my feelings in the process of painting. My last body of work reflected a desire to create visions of the intimate connections I was seeking to experience in my own life whereas this new body of work in many ways reflects the feeling that I’ve found what I was looking for. If anything it’s all just been a beautiful affirmation of the loving relationships that I’ve been painting about all these years.
You know I fell for your color palette several years ago at Lyons Wier Gallery. Something about the intense ochre colored paint made me feel as if your subjects were warm to the touch and real. Is that palette your go to color palette or do you experiment with other oils? When I say real- the subject matter felt as if I was looking at an intimate photo. The couples and portraits felt alive.
Previously, I was working with a intense warm, red ochre/ alizarin crimson under painting. It allowed me to initially react to the painting, a sort of intensely warm heartbeat underlying the painting. Conceptually I was hoping that it would reinforce the heated pulse of my subjects. I wanted the under painting and the process to be more exposed and present as part of the structure of the compositions. Recently I’ve been looking a lot at the old masters Mother/ Child paintings (namely DaVinci, Raphael and Rubens) and experimenting with starting my paintings using a wipeout method with a less intense ground. It’s a mixture of raw umber and transparent red oxide. It’s still warm and carries through to the surface but it’s less shocking than the previous ground. I hope the change expedites the approach-ability of the models and makes the themes of intimacy resonate in a more subtle, realistic way.
Speaking about intimate- you always draw the audience into your work through a sense of relatable intimacy. What would you like the audience to walk away with? What is your ultimate intention?
I feel my intention is the same as it’s always been, which is to reveal the significant power of tender and authentic love. This new exhibition is called As Above, So Below but could have easily been called As Within, So Without. By meditating on the beauty of these intimate moments of oneness and attempting to render the vulnerability required to give and receive that kind of nurtured connection, I feel like I’ve been able to manifest it into my own life. I hope the new paintings can inspire my audience to feel a connection to those meaningful moments and that the work resonates with their own intimate desires.
You have had several residencies in other parts of the world. How have those experiences affected what you are working on now?
Well, first of all, traveling has really given me the great opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, see so many of my favorite museums and works of art in person and experience different cultures, and for that I am so grateful. I’m not sure how much the residencies have affected the content of my work but they sure have influenced my approach to process. When I was in St. Barth’s I set out with a body of work in mind and I was pretty strict about the content. I was definitely affected more by the environment emotionally than conceptually. If anything it really gave me a stronger sense of how I wanted to live as an artist and informed many changes in my lifestyle since that experience. The content of my work is really about universal human themes so I’d like to think that wherever I am, the same rules apply.
Is there anything you can share with me that you have not told another journalist before in regards to your work?
I can’t think of anything that stands out. I’m pretty much an open book.
Has there been a particular painting that was especially hard to let go of? If so, which one and why?
Years ago, I made a painting of my son sleeping that I loved so much and I gave it as a gift to a relative. Not only did I feel she would appreciate it but also at the time I was practicing the “art” of letting go and non-attachment. I really don’t think anyone could appreciate that painting the way I do, and I still wish I had that painting.
What is coming up next for you? Are you working on a new series?
I’m always working on new ideas and juggling with a pull towards tighter more refined styles versus more expressionistic and abstracted approaches. I often find that the subject matter dictates my next movement. I’ll continue exploring themes of intimacy but like all working artists, I’d like to think that my next body of work will take on a life of it’s own and show signs of continued growth and creative evolution. As we go through the phases of our lives we all grow and change according to circumstance. However, my next body of work is received, I hope there is a recognition of both personal and stylistic growth.
What advice can you offer other artists that are trying to break into the business with regards of working with a particular gallery? So many artists do not know how to submit nor find the right fit when it comes to a gallery.
I feel like it’s so much easier these days for artists to connect with galleries, collectors and artists via social media but it’s also important to start following galleries that are interested in exhibiting the kind of artwork that you make. My main advice is to put your heart and focus into making a solid body of work. Work that feels consistent and authentic to you. Until recently, I always made a body of work and then an opportunity appeared, and I know it’s silly, but like a field of dreams- if you build it they will come.
Where do you see yourself in five years and what do you think your work will look like? Any big changes with subject matter or mediums?
I have a few ideas I’m excited to develop over the next few years. I’m looking forward to taking some time to allow these ideas evolve before I publicly reveal them… and Nicole, I’d love to have you by the studio for a sneak peak as the new work develops! Whatever the future has in store for me I’m excited for it. And you never know, instead of my studio or in New York, you might find me on an island painting ocean waves, which is funny, right, because that’s the opposite of what I do.