From the Depths Artists: An Interview with Multimedia Artist Michelle Dugan

Posted by Stephanie Crumley on

michelle dugan painting

Today, we are honored to have Boston-based artist Michelle Dugan (@heartbeasts) contributing to our upcoming show, "From the Depths," opening Oct. 6 at Ars Memoria Art Gallery. Dugan is a multimedia artist with a foundation in printmaking. Currently, she's working primarily in painting (pictured throughout this article) in a brief absence from working as a tattoo artist. We got the opportunity to talk to her about some of her work, her inspirations, and her recent brush with every artist's nightmare. 

What does Dark Art mean to you?

Michelle Dugan: Dark Art is an opportunity to explore and express the parts of human nature that exist in everyone, but is hidden or pushed away by most. I think questioning what we define as good or evil is a crucial look at not only our world but ourselves. There is beauty in light and darkness, there is horror in every sacred place. I find a place between the two coexisting and paint it, for myself to explore and invite others to join.

What inspires your work? 

MD: Oddly enough, religion. I questioned God from a young age, and had trouble understanding why people believed in such seemingly absurd ideas and morals. I began using Satan as a little mascot, an icon of questioning what is suggested to be "right" and "good." Studying the history of Printmaking led me to Albrecht Dürer, William Blake, Gustave Doré, and other masters who illustrated the realms of heaven and hell. I'd often end up sympathizing with Lucifer (especially in Paradise Lost) and other demons, mostly created in or damned to hell for exploring what is right, wrong, good, and evil. Especially now that we're finding out just how awful some religious figures are in today's world. I strongly believe that God relies on Satan to exist, and mankind relies on the idea of both in order to define oneself. 

Dark Artwork by Michelle Dugan

You have a lot of experience with different media: we've seen you do murals throughout Boston, paint, and tattoo to name a few. Which are your favorite media to use? 

MD: I can't really choose there are so many: everything from graphite to tattoos to wood carving. I have a degree in Fine Arts and Printmaking with concentration in illustration from MassArt. Each medium changes the way I create, so my work is truly different depending on what I use. Unfortunately and fortunately I am currently focusing on painting, as it's the easiest on my hands and have been working on a new body of work.

That's right, you have mentioned on social media that you're quite literally experiencing every creator's nightmare. Please tell us a little bit more about that and how people can help support you during this time!

MD: Ah, yes. I injured pretty much every tendon responsible for grip in both hands and wrists. It started as mild soreness, which of course, I ignored. One day it felt pretty bad; the next day I couldn't hold a coffee cup. Now I'm looking at almost daily treatments, breaking up scar tissue, injections, supplements, and most challenging of all, just being idle for the next six months. The huge silver lining in it all is my ability to paint. The mandatory rest has encouraged me to pursue my art and hopefully pay for my recovery with it. I've been taking on a variety of commissions and adding things to my Etsy store as often as possible. Buying art from me is so helpful at this time!

Heartbeasts dark painting

For multimedia artists, we always like to pry a bit further and see why they choose those specific mediums. Can you tell us a little bit about your creation process per medium, why you choose particular mediums?

MD: I lose myself in printmaking. It's such a hands on, physical craft blended with the individual ideas of the artist. Digging a delicate image through strong tough wood feels more like a creation than pen on paper. It also feels like a connection to the artists I am most inspired by, since the practice has changed little since their time. That being said, my wrists have me painting more for now, which is also an easy way to feel lost within a piece. Sculpting a world with nothing but light, dark, and color gives me a lot of hope, for some reason.

Dark cave art by heartbeasts

When did you decide that art is what you wanted to do?

MD: It was never up for debate. I have very limited memory of my life before the age of 15, but I'm told that I was drawing since I could hold a pen. I was told by family members and teachers that pursuing art would be a steep, hard journey, but the idea of forcing myself to do something else always felt very wrong.

Lately, we've been seeing you create magnificent castles and cloudy scenes - the readers will actually be getting quite a taste for it in your interview. Can you tell us why you chose that subject matter/what inspires you?

MD: It's funny, that sort of imagery has been in my head for years and years.  Whenever I meditate, it's where I go. I had no clue that people would be attracted to it, or even relate to it. It's an amazing feeling to know that people find themselves getting lost in them the same way I do. I try to avoid scale and objective perspective, so the viewer can imagine themselves anywhere within the painting. 

castle art blue

Tell us about tattooing! What made you want to be a tattoo artist and what made it possible to translate your style into tattooing?

MD: Tattooing seemed like a natural choice for me: combining weirdos, subculture, and art. I lucked out real hard, right when I graduated from printmaking, the style of engraving/woodcut tattoo became popular across the world. Tattooing demons while hanging out with punks? Dream job for sure. I've met so many amazing people and heard stories from all walks of life. As much as I love tattooing my images on people, it's greatly broadened my understanding of people in general, being in an intimate environment with everyone from people owning their bodies for the first time, to covering up scars and helping someone grow.

michelle dugan heartbeasts artist

When you're not arting, what could someone find you doing? 

MD: I definitely rely on heavy music, both for inspiration and community. I was vocalist in a hardcore band for a while, but also dabble in ukulele. Huge fan of Last Podcast on the Left. I do a lot of personal research in different world religions, philosophies, mythology, occultism, etc. The more I study, the more I believe that the personal pursuit for happiness, truth, and knowledge rely on looking within and overcoming what lies under the surface of everyday life.

Top five inspirations for your work? 

MD: Out of order, as there's no real way I can sort them out:

One of the greatest things in this digital age is the art of discovery on social media. What are five artists everyone reading this interview should follow on Instagram?

MD: Everyone reading this should go check out:

dark clouds by michelle dugan artist

A lot of our audience are creators themselves, some of which are hoping to one day be professional artists. What is some advice you have for artist-hopefuls who might be reading this?

MD: Let art be a tool of growth in every aspect of yourself. 

To support Michelle, go give her a follow on Instagram and check out her Etsy store, and if you can check out her work at Ars Memoria Oct. 6 through Nov. 6.

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