Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

{carlos michael finn}

enter gallery here

When I arrive at his studio, Carlos Michael Finn is wearing a mechanic’s jump suit. It has paint splattered artfully all over it. With street access in the Santa Fe Art District, Finn’s studio is a respite from the freezing weather and sloppy streets. His workspace, which doubles as his gallery, is neat – with his work hanging on the walls and his sculptures scattered about on shelves.

As he greets me, he is standing in front of a monster painting. The piece is 8 feet tall, silver and has a crude drawing of a girl with gigantic fingers on it. It’s called, “Hannah’s hands are too big for her pockets”. As Finn and I talk, this painting is the backdrop for our conversation. And as I come to learn more about this painter – this work is the centerpiece for my understanding of all the layers of what Finn imparts to me.

Carlos Michael Finn’s work is rough, primitive, childlike. It has a sense of humor to it. It’s playful and bright. And while many artists play in this same field – Finn’s work is both a meditation on the childlike component in all of us – just as much as it is also a study on how children view the world, and adults. In this I find Finn’s dialogue on the importance and relevance of this style of work refreshing and insightful. And while it would appear, topically, that this style of painting would be the easiest – think again.

Finn has always been attracted to kid’s art. He’s always seen the genius in their work. And while many paint with a childlike stroke – the complications in this kind of production are more than kinesthetic, they are philosophical. One crucial apex of this mode of production can be explained in the phrase, “learning the unlearned”. For an adult to paint, truly paint, like a child – one has to unlearn the habits and lessons that they’ve embedded in their matured skill sets. These habits and ideologies are those that we’ve cultivated since the loss of innocence; that inevitable movement away from childhood.

This same movement of “learning the unlearned” can also be seen as moving from the concrete back to the abstract. The way that children draw humans and other animals is predicated on the abstract. Adults typically struggle with illustrating the essences the way that a child does. Adults work more in the concrete, identifiable construct of objects. Children typically work in the abstract – emphasizing the elements of importance to them, unabashedly and without restraint: big, bulbous fingers, simple faces – a smiley face to illustrate happiness, vibrant colors to explicate the emotion.

For these reasons and more, Finn’s work is important. And beautiful.

In style and content, Finn’s work is predicated on the work that he has performed with children. From his undergraduate degree onward, he has intermittently worked with children. To this end, he has had a laboratory at his disposal. He’s used it diligently and the lessons he’s taken with him have certainly impacted his work.

Another important element to Finn’s work is that of spirituality. From early on, Finn used his time to paint as a respite; as a spiritual place for him to grow. As a ritual. Often he prays or meditates before he begins working for the day. The transference of spirituality into his work has come in the form of influence. And it shows: Finn has studied and taken many elements of composition and illustration from African art, to Aboriginal art.

With such a collection of influences ranging from Basquiat to Pollack and de Kooning to indigenous cultures around the globe and children of all shapes, sizes and predilections – one struggle for Finn has been making all of these ideas coalesce into his own voice and own work. But now after working for several years as a painter, it seems that Finn has found his voice.

He works with paint. His subject matter and compositions are varied. He also works with found objects – which he collects, and over time pieces the objects together. In this he has found a located a certain premise and brilliance as well. For his found art sculptures, Finn is always keeping his eyes open. When he finds a piece that is aesthetically intriguing, he keeps it. He may hold onto pieces for a long time – and it is only when he finds a new found object that he is able to pair items together. Most of his sculptures are anthropomorphic. The idea behind this is to take uncommon, sometimes unfamiliar objects and turn them into objects that we recognize: objects that have eyes and a head and limbs.

In composition and even in process, Finn’s work is truly childish. And if you don’t find any explicit meaning embedded in Finn’s long titles or paintings, then you will find it in his process alone. In beginning a painting, Finn starts by laying canvas on the floor and simply “pushing paint around” with rollers and brushes. In an attempt to create that childlike impression he’ll even use his off-hand, his left hand. He’ll use sticks and barbeque skewers to draw and etch into his canvas. He uses rags and scrapes the surface. For this there is fortune in the fact that Finn begins work on his canvases on the ground – because he’s aggressive with them. He beats up his thick canvases. Then, once he’s found a moment on the canvas that he’s strewn paint over – he cuts it and stretches it onto a frame that he’ll build to size.

And owing to the traditions before him that are more primitive and raw, Finn also paints on scrap pieces of wood. In conjunction with his style, this proves to be a perfect extension of his voice and everything that he is saying with his work.

His work, on it’s own is gigantic: Sometimes in size, but mostly in composition and texture. His work is loose. Owing to this skill set of “learning the unlearned”, Finn’s work is not rigid. And it is on account of this that there is supreme virtue in his paintings.

While Finn has been around Denver’s art scene for some time now – with being a partner in a Santa Fe gallery and exhibiting his work for several years – it feels as though this is the beginning for Finn. It feels as though he has found confidence in his voice and knows his direction now. Keep your eyes open for Finn, his gallery on Santa Fe and upcoming exhibitions, for they will prove to be big.