Emerging Artist | Michael Cutlip

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

A few years ago, when artist Michael Cutlip had a solo show as part of the New California Artists Series at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara, CA, one critic called him “a visual Beat poet for the new millennium.” Indeed, Cutlip’s imagery often seems to spring from a world of free association, a playful universe where elephants carry parasols, kittens push beach balls, and astronauts share spaces with horses. Viewers of these mixed-media pieces, like readers of Beat poetry, are left to interpret the meaning of the seemingly random imagery for themselves. Not surprisingly, one of Cutlip’s paintings is titled EYE OF THE BEHOLDER.

Cutlip’s works often lead the eye back and forth across horizontal planes of pigment and repetitive patterns. This quirky approach suggests imagery that moves beyond the works’ borders and then reappears, like figures in an arcade shooting game. The California-based artist draws inspiration for his whimsical works from an eclectic list of sources: Urban graffiti, papers tossed on the street, and drawings made by his children are among the objects that find their way into his collages. When pressed to cite his artistic influences, Cutlip names art-world giants including Robert Rauschenberg and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He studied at Foothill College and also attended California State University in Hayward.

Nearly everything about Cutlip’s work relates to the principles of spontaneity and immediacy. His best paintings are those that seem to surface out of nowhere, he says. His media of choice? “I like anything that dries quickly,” Cutlip explains. “I can’t even wait for acrylic paint to dry. To work faster, I use a hair dryer.” His artistic toolbox has included stamps, pens, ink, pencils, and even house paint.

Perhaps this sense of urgency is related to the strong demand for his works and his punishing self-imposed schedule. Last year Cutlip, 34, was in no less than four solo shows and five group shows. As this story was going to press, he was preparing for a solo show entitled “Why Not?” at Donna Seager Gallery in San Rafael, CA.

Seager recalls that when she first saw Cutlip’s works, she was immediately drawn to their childlike sensibility and luscious drips of paint. “I like the free flow of imagery that he creates,” she explains. “And I’ve always said that good art promotes multiple associations. He will use improbable colors together, like yellow, pink, and turquoise, that hark back to 1950s appliances. And they are fun and edgy at the same time. They trigger memory and yet they are completely new.”

Donna Seager Gallery, San Rafael, CA; Bryant Street Gallery, Palo Alto, CA; Melissa Morgan Fine Art, Palm Desert, CA; Sense Fine Art, Atherton, CA; Visions West Galleries, Denver, CO, Bozeman and Livingston, MT; RARE Properties, Jackson Hole, WY; Bennett Street Gallery, Atlanta, GA; Melanee Cooper Gallery, Chicago, IL; Stricoff Fine Art, New York, NY; Sopa Fine Arts, Kelowna, British Columbia.

Group collage show at the Museum of Art History, Santa Cruz, CA, through April 30.

Featured in February 2009