Artists We Love: Michael Vickers

INTERVIEW BY Gina Dionisio PHOTOS Artists Own

We dive into the captivating world of artist Michael Vickers, where the landscape becomes a canvas for memory and emotion.

Through gestural oil paintings and mixed media explorations, South African artist Michael Vickers captures the essence of the wilderness, inviting viewers into a realm of shifting light and spatial variance. We caught up with him to find out more about his artistic journey, signature style and plans for 2024.

Michael Vickers

When did you start creating art?

I have a few vibrant memories that promoted my development as an artist, particularly when I started hiking during my teenage years. I recall exploring with my camera and capturing endless images in every direction, noticing the atmospheric shifts of light, and being overwhelmed by the natural world. I had numerous unsuccessful attempts at painting during school. It was only when I visited the landscape and allowed those moments to take over my mind, that I found the desire to start representing these memories and explore why they gave me joy. I had to first establish a concept by which I would be an artist, and it became the landscape. I remember when I first brought my journal with me on one of my hikes, in the Baviaanskloof area of the Karoo, drawing viewpoints of the hills and shrubs – it was a vivid memory because it was the first time I had ever intentionally drawn from life. I sat alone near a rocky cliff for hours, deeply engaged with the scene. The image stuck in my mind from observing so intently with pen and paper. From that moment I was hooked, and I can never get enough of revisiting the landscape through my work. 

Can you tell us a bit about your style and artistic process?

I work with oil paint, printmaking, drawing, and photography. My process involves capturing reference images and taking field notes. I then take these references and develop their concepts in the studio – so it’s about extracting those wilderness feelings and observations of light and inserting them into the processes of the studio. My style can be described as gestural – I enjoy creating a sense of movement in my work, a rapid blur technique that I brush in – as well as wiping away with a rag. My work often has texts scratched in or placed along the edges, and they act as an interstitial space that attempts to organise and grapple with memories of shifting light, mist, and spatial variance.

What is your favourite subject matter?

The landscape is my focus, and my favourite subject to paint from, along with writings, field notes, photographic materials and a few key objects from the studio as well. I am also obsessed with streetlamps, overhead wires and fences – because they heighten my sense of what lies afar.

Do you have a preferred medium that you like to work in?

Oil paint is my preferred medium. I worked with acrylics for over a year at the start of my studies and never truly enjoyed the process. I remember when I could first afford oil paint, my first experience with it was a huge success. I use its easy-shifting nature to enhance my concepts that respond to varying light. 

What does a regular day look like for you in your studio? 

Studio work starts with a nice shot of espresso or gentle cortado – reading scripture prayerfully, while my paints are lined up in their precise order. I then move on to what I call the formative gesture – where I sort through my reference imagery and decide on a composition and tonal range. I then draw out a small set of visuals that help me further my concept. After brushing in the lines on my hardboard panel or canvas, I am at the wall easel for most of the day, painting away. After my outdoor lunch break, I look intently at what I’ve blocked in and find my way to the end of the painting – sometimes paintings overlap to the next day or continue for the week, but most often are complete by the end of that day. After exercise, I visit the studio for an intense brush clean so that I am ready to continue the next day. Other working days include preparing my surfaces, working on charcoal drawings, packaging and sending out orders, and the admin tasks like casual research, networking, invoicing, updating my monthly catalogue, creating content for social media, etc. 

What inspires you?

Street lamps, misty weather, EDM music (ambient, melodic house), standing at the edge of an expanse, reading scripture, and coffee.

Any local artist that you admire?

I enjoy the work of Karin Daymond, Kristen McClarty and Bevan de Wet – all of whom share intriguing imagery that engages with surroundings in a way that inspires me. 

What are your plans for 2024 – any shows coming up or special projects you are working on?

I will be showcasing a body of work at Workshop 17 in Rosebank, Johannesburg around May. I’m working on numerous projects in the studio, particularly a new set of works called Studies on Light, Grain and Exposure, as well as two larger projects: Edge of Expanse and The Quiet Sublime.

Where can we buy your art? 

Sales are direct and simple, send me a DM or email to purchase artwork from my catalogue (request catalogue at link in Instagram bio). Invoicing is quick, payments are through EFT and delivery is included in the price. 

I also have work available at four Workshop 17 locations – Kloof Street and Newlands in Cape Town and Rosebank and Sandton in Johannesburg. You can also find my work at The Art Room in Parkhurst. 

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