In a story often told, a steadfast dreamer leaves his Podunk town in search of bigger and brighter things, and in this case, he found them. Carl Myers, the designer of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, both our Miami Design District flagship restaurant and its sister in Grand Cayman, has another story to tell, this one through his portraiture. This Thursday, while we say thanks, eat, nap and then eat some more, the walls of MGFD will undergo an artistic transformation showcasing the newest installation of Carl Myers’ work, just as our Magic city transforms into the contemporary art and design mecca it becomes annually the first week of December. I sat down with Carl last week to catch up since we last connected, and talk art, inspiration, Mennonite heritage and Miami’s evolution.
You’re a Harvard Man turned artist, how’d that happen?
I was just a nerd out of high school, I studied really hard. I came from bum-fuck Virginia, and I never wanted to go back there, so I wanted to go to really good schools. I follow my heart a lot. Literally picking up and moving to another state or country, I closed a 15-person business in a day just because my heart wasn’t in it anymore.
What’s your heritage?
Born in Illinois, and raised in Virginia. My family comes from hearty Mennonite stock. They started out being schoolteachers for Amish children in central Illinois, and then decided to come back east near they’re families, but not too near so they could be more modern and cool. They had a phonograph but they never had martinis after work. My dad was a “Black bumper Mennonite”, he painted all the chrome black. My grandmother wore the traditional clothing until the day she died.
Are you religious?
I used to do a lot of pictures of religious icons. I have a collection of colonial carved statues of saints. I had a crown of thorns made, and I would put it on my friends and take pictures of them. I’m just fascinated by these forms, they are statues that people revere and worship. I’m not conventionally religious, but I find them fascinating. It’s a fascination with how other people treat them.
You’re living right now in a pretty religious place, (Guatemala) do people like it?
They do, but funny enough, I don’t think they buy it because it is religious, I think it’s more because they remind us of a place or time. People have even asked me to lay off Jesus a little bit because I would become a Jesus freak, you know him and his mother. So it became more about portraiture, the feeling of the person in the piece.
I use these religious images as inspiration, in a non-conventional way, but still using.
What else do you use for inspiration?
Love in my life. The people that are really important to me. All the people and things I did in this series are my boyfriend, my car, the dog, the views here. I was feeling mushy, sensitive and emotional. I had taken time off to do some architectural projects, but I decided to take the time and do the pieces and put a collection together for a show.
It was an intention to make them in a way that other people could appreciate and like and find something of their own in it, by things that I was inspired to make.
What I really wanted to do was do a portrait of Michael. I’ve always wanted to do one of him, I did Tamara and the kids in Cayman, but I don’t know why it never came up.
What is your technique for creating these pieces?
My technique is quite simple. I photograph living people and sculptural facsimiles of people. While travelling I also take hundreds of photographs of ancient and contemporary figural statues and busts. Then, I digitally manipulate and modify the photos to create pixilated images. Each image becomes a figure ground study comprised of 10,000 to 30,000 pixels. The final images are ‘constructed’ in a variety of mediums: coins, dice, beads, lead shot, straight pins, paints and metal leaf. I continually search for new materials and methods. I am not attempting to capture an image. I am trying to create images.
With the religious references I want to explore the line between the sacred and profane, the real and unreal. Sometimes I only want to memorialize, and other times I want to manipulate. The result is often an image that is recognizable from afar, but when viewed close-up becomes distorted and indiscernible.
How did you end up in Guatemala?
I was working for a hotel as their design director, traveling like a mad man and working 100 hours a week., so I said I was going to take a month off. Back at Harvard I took Spanish classes, because I’ve always had this pull towards Latin (Spanish) culture. A neighbor took me to Guatemala and to this day all my friends there are still my friends. Then September 11th happened and all my hotel jobs were canceled and so I decided to go to Guatemala and start doing furniture.
Obviously Miami has changed, and you were here for most of that. What was it like?
I think the quality and creativity and design in restaurants in Miami has flourished. There’s a lot more talent in Miami now, there’s this energy to explore, not so much by the book, but to go out of the box and do different things.
I had an art gallery on Lincoln Road with 3,000 square feet of space and $900 and we still couldn’t afford the rent. When that started to change and people got upset, I was so happy. I try not to spend time with people who keep change from happening; I like to roll with the punches.
And things are changing in the Design District now.
Is it working? Are people actually shopping at Cartier?
It’s good, because for a while Miami was looking pretty bleak.
I moved to Miami in the late eighties when all we did was have so much fun and you could buy a one bedroom in south beach for $8,000. It was so cool. Lincoln Road was like a wasteland. It was a playground.
[All I see are scenes from the Birdcage] Have you exhibited at Art Basel before?
No, I haven’t, I haven’t actually focused on it as much before, as with the last two years. And I’m not exhibiting at Basel, but I’m having a show at Michael’s during Basel. But two years ago during Basel when someone saw some of my pieces at Michael’s was when it really started taking off.
There is this esoteric side of the art world, and that’s really hard for me because I don’t really speak the language. But I try. I use a $10 word every now and then.
Here’s a sneak peak of the new work as Carl and Michael Kump unpack the first crate yesterday!!