Michael Marisi Ornstein is speaking…
I grew up in a Jewish-Sicilian family. A lot of yelling a lot of love, a lot of crazy turmoil. Everything was always turned up to full volume all the time. Whether it was absolute happiness or crazy fighting and yelling. But there was always a lot of love there.
1. How did your artistic journey begin?
I guess what prompted me was probably hearing stories from my family. Because
that’s what my family use to do. We use to just get together every day, me in my grandmother’s kitchen. It was me, a little boy, and my grandfather, my grandmother, and my mother and my mother’s sisters. And basically they would tell stories about stuff that happened years ago and this and that. Story telling was always a big part of my life. Also my parents took me to see a lot of theatre, and they also turned me on to a lot of books and a lot of music. They basically treated me like an adult, not like a little kid, it wasn’t always children’s stories. I mean the Little Prince was introduced to me really early in time. And On the Road was given to me when I was a little kid, my dad use to read that to me. I use to listen to Miles Davis when I was a baby. I grew up with a lot of culture. That’s how I feel… why not show [kids] a book of Caravaggio or Miro? It’s the same thing, you’re looking at pictures, there all picture books. Why not read Lorca to them? Why does it have to be a nursery rhyme? Lorca has Gypsy Ballads, something I grew up hearing. So I think that’s what set the depth level for me, maybe, I could call it that. Or it was something like, this stuff is available, and its beautiful and I always loved it. And as I got older my father and my mother both painted, and I use to sit with my parents and paint with them, you know when I was really little. So I always had it with me and I never let it go. I never felt like this is something you do when you’re a kid and then that’s it.
And then I became a story-teller – what I really am is a story-teller. That’s what I’m doing, whether I’m performing, or painting or writing or filming something or just taking still photographs. Or just being a father, you know? I’m just telling stories.
I think that’s where I’m coming from, just communicating.
2. Does your art construct or deconstruct?
I think it lends [itself to the political]. I think there’s very little if any irony in my stuff. And also I never studied painting or writing – I studied acting pretty heavily from a young age – but I never studied anything else. But I did study by myself; I did a lot of reading and art history study, so I really understand what came before me.
I’m not the kind of painter or artist that is trying to take it to a new level or bend it or make a comment on it – I don’t do any of that.
But what I do, is I stick to a place… you mentioned Willy Dickson before, I listen to a lot of very old music, and those guys they weren’t very ironic. They were saying “I love you”, they were saying “I’m in pain”, they were saying “I’m happy today”. If I’m doing anything, and I’m doing this consciously, but what I am doing I’m holding on to that frame of mind, I’m holding on to that tradition.
So I guess in that way, I’m a modern traditionalist, if I’m anything. And I think that in it itself is a political statement.
Because we’re just people and we’ve been here for thousands of thousands of years and hopefully we’ll be here for thousands of thousands of more years. And what I’m saying what’s really important is love and understanding and helping one another and understanding one another, so if I’m doing anything I’m holding on to that kind of troubadour tradition of doing that. If you’re going to move somebody, you’re going to move them simply. Like an acting teacher Catherine Yateley taught me a while ago,
“be simple and discover the world” and I think she attributed that to Dostoyevsky and I was never able to find the quote and I think she made it up, I don’t know, but it really stuck with me. Like be simple.
But with that said, I paint on materials that no one has ever painted on before. I paint on a plastic that is a revolutionary
material that I’m able to do things with, like I’m able to make it transparent and back light it. I use a lot of modern technology for my work, like right now I have a show that is based on Jack Kerouac in New York City and its up in the Beat Museum in San Francisco. And what that show is about I put those little QR codes down in the corner where the description of the painting is, and what someone can do is they can take their cellphone, their mobile phone, and they can scan it, and what happens is that an audio story of the person whose in the painting in front of you actually speaks to you. You hear a piece of writing that I’ve recorded and it goes directly into the persons mobile phone. And that is a revolutionary thing in art that I began doing that no one else is doing.
3. If the world was less violent, would your art be different from what it is today?
Yeah, definitely. Absolutely. I paint people who are in trouble. I paint people who are involved in the turmoil of just being a person. I mean I don’t think that we as a society have ever been totally happy and OK with stuff. 12,000 years ago when they built Tepee’s they painted animals who were trying to kill them. Like can you imagine going outside for a day and having an insane amount of predatory animals trying to kill you, how heavy that was? As artists sometimes, we have to create [angst]. It’s like when I left New York I couldn’t write because it was too quiet, and I had to put on static on the radio. I think people are not content to be happy, I don’t think its part of our make-up.
I think people look for drama, and that’s where we as artists come in to supply it.
And we don’t have to supply it, because there is so much drama that’s happening all the time. Just recently here in Connecticut, I mean how do you…what do you do with that? I mean everyday I go to news sites and I really try to understand what’s happening all over the world. We can do that, we can read international newspapers just click translate and there you go. It’s all very heavy. And there are ways to deal with it, the whole apocalyptic thing. And then the other way is here man, this is how it is and just try to love one another. If everybody around the world meditated on being good to each other, loving each other, helping one another. That’s basically the beginning and the end of religion. If we basically grooved on that, we would be a lot healthier as a society.
4. What do you refuse to ignore?
I refuse to ignore something that’s inauthentic.
That’s what I’m battling against, 100% all the time. I’m just trying to keep it honest, keep it real, and keep the show out of it. Keep it down to earth, and keep it boiled down and simple and real. And doing that I’m battling anything that’s showy or anything that’s full of shit basically. I do try to in the middle of painting I think “Oh this would be interesting” and most of the time I enjoy doing that, and then I re-paint it and get rid of that aspect of it, because it doesn’t ring true to me. I always do that with cooking. All of a sudden I will throw some spice in that has no place in anything I’m trying to do with the cooking. I was just trying to be clever. I paint outside, because I don’t have a studio, so when I paint I have to use waterproof materials. So when it rains I use spray paint. And I find myself saying, am I just painting this because of the whole street art phenomenon/graffiti movement? Do I want to be hip, do I want to be a part of it? But then I say ‘I don’t give a shit’. I’ve always painted sailboats since I was a kid, because I find them poetic, because they’re solitary things. And then I moved to Cape Cod, my wife and I moved to Cape Cod where everyone paints sailboats so I couldn’t paint sailboats for the longest time… I had to work through that.
5. Why do you think you are an artist?
I don’t know, I don’t know. I think my mother really made it so that I was able to study acting in New York City. She use to drive me into New York City every Saturday and took me to places that were really serious, not kiddy classes – and with Stella [Adler]. If I didn’t have the family I had with a very dark sense of humour and happiness and laughter all the time, and introducing me to what people introduced me to, I would be a very different person – maybe.
But maybe I’m born this way.
Like my grandmother who I named my daughter from, Angelina, she wasn’t an artist and she never did any art – but she was an artist. So I think you’re born that way.
Name: Michael Marisi Ornstein
Artform: Oil Painting; Experimental Film; Actor
Place on the Globe: Los Angeles, California
Where people can find your art: My website, at the Beat Museum until January 2013, and of course, Sons of Anarchy.