Artist Michael Cheval Talks About His Ideas, Inspirations, and ‘Explaining’ His Art
Looking at a Michael Cheval painting can be a mind-bending experience.
Once you stop admiring his technical skill, you find yourself drawn into the surreal landscapes and absurd narratives that have become his calling card. He’s a master of the fantastical, and collectors will often spend hours exploring and debating the symbolism in his works.
Cheval recently visited Park West Gallery and was gracious enough to sit down with us to discuss, among other things, the origins of his wildly imaginative compositions. If you’ve ever looked at a Cheval and thought “How did he come up with this?,” you will definitely find this conversation enlightening.
What is your process for coming up with a “new” design? Do you sketch it out before painting? How many iterations do your designs go through before you settle on a final composition?
Everything starts with an abstract concept that I write down prior to really visualizing it. From there, it becomes several stages of sketching to figure out costumes, characters, lighting—almost like I am the director of a play.
It is like figuring out every detail on the stage, and each painting is a new stage. Sketching on canvas, on average, can take around 3-4 weeks, but developing the concept can sometimes take up to several years.
Do you ever get tired of collectors asking you to “explain” your designs?
Not at all! When people have a question, it shows they are interested in learning more and that the artwork captured their attention. I am always happy to explain and discuss my designs.
Allusions to literary great Lewis Carroll—author of Alice in Wonderland—often pop up in your paintings. What is it about Carroll’s works that appeals to you?
Lewis Carroll’s overall vision is an inspiration to me in many ways. It is the bigger picture that appeals to me—the whole style of work in the literature, theater, and fine art that comes from his stories.
Your paintings often feature historical details, like characters dressed in medieval clothing. How much historical research do you do before you start a new painting?
I have a background in theater, which has helped to grow my knowledge and passion of costume. To bring my ideas full circle, I need theater, colors, and fashion to create the language with a meaningful statement.
You capture many of your designs on aluminum through dye sublimation. What do you think that aluminum surface brings to your art? How is it different from traditional canvas?
Aluminum is an amazing medium. That glossy surface helps boost colors and ensure they stay deep and bright. With proper lighting, the artwork on aluminum looks three dimensional and more attractive.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
When I’m not creating art, I love to read, listen to music, travel, and attend Broadway shows. I also love playing guitar. I have 15 guitars (both electric and acoustic) in my collection that I maintain, tune, and play every week.