In anticipation of Recognition opening this Saturday, August 8th
Interview by White Walls Gallery
© Arnie Svenson
The Confederate flag is most often used as a tool for oppression, yet one artist working in the Chelsea district of Manhattan is turning this around. Michael Holman uses the Confederate flag for a higher purpose, exploring the many facets of his family history and personal identity through this loaded symbol.
Whether through film, music, collage, or paint, Michael Holman is an artist of many capacities. In the 1980s, Michael first made a splash in New York creative circles by playing music with Jean-Michel Basquiat and hosting of the hip hop television show, Graffiti Rock. Twenty years later, he still takes a non traditional approach to exploring his identity. Read on to discover why Michael left Wall Street, how he befriended Basquiat, and why the Sons of the Confederacy are not on his A list.
Design by Phase II
Name: Michael Holman
Hometown: New York City
Current status: single
Word to your: mother?
Last time you used a pen: made list of exercises I vowed to do today (did them all).
If your show were a color, it would be: the colors you see when you get bopped on the nose for asking impossible questions.
Last book you picked up: The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
Beverage of choice: good red wine, or pomegranate juice mixed with Perrier soda (a drink I invented: 1/4 juice, 3/4 soda).
Coffee or weed: yes
Neil Diamond is: a solitary man (seriously, at moments, has been a sweet, soulful part of the soundtrack of my youth. But I’m not feeling his look/gear).
Justin Giarla is: in the short time I’ve known him, has proven to be one cool mother fucker/unflappable.
© Ben Lui
You have had your hand in many industries throughout your career. Are you a person that always needs excitement and a challenge?
YES!!! Very much so! “Keep it coming baby, that I like!” (said by Tony Montana to Michelle Pfeiffer’s character when she gives him shit on the dance floor in Scarface)
Did you really start out as a Wall Street banker?
What was the basis of your friendship with Jean-Michel Basquiat?
It started with our art/noise band, Gray, and all that that bandmate stuff involves. But then there was also the camaraderie of being two of only a few Black cats on the early 1980’s New York Art Scene.
What work have you done in the film industry?
I wrote Schnabel’s Basquiat and I helped produce Beat Street. Those are the “Hollywood” films.
I’m much more emotionally involved in my own art films: Stilwend, Catch A Beat, and Vincent Gallo as Flying Christ.
What was the fate of your great great grandfather, Dick Holman?
He died old and poor, but I hope not poor in spirit and memory. Who knows.
How is your new body of work different than what we’ve seen so far?
I’ve started a series where I matte medium copies of relevant family documents and copies of family photos that date back to the nineteenth century. The documents include Dick Holman’s confederate pension papers along with his father’s papers (a white man who also owned Dick) that document his fighting in the war between Texas and Mexico.
Years ago I was approached by The Sons Of The Confederacy, South Carolina Chapter (they’re mostly college history professors and the like). They were pleasant enough, recognizing my connection to the Confederacy, and they even wanted me to join their chapter.
Contained in their press kit was a super cool bumper sticker that reads “Native” in white letters on a red background, and for the first time, I’m making a painting out of it. I love it! “Native.” it’s so arrogant!
What are your feelings toward the Sons of the Confederacy?
Mixed. When they claim to be strictly a historically oriented and concerned organization, I find that disingenuous. But I’m glad they exist. Any person or group that respects and protects history is cool by me. But history is a slippery thing, isn’t it?
How does your family history impact your personal identity?
In some ways completely, in other ways not at all. Like most everyone else, I am a genetic and environmental product of my parents and their family histories. I use that in my art and everyday life, but I’m also a unique, creative being of this Universe, and what that means I have no idea.
How did you get your hands on so many historical documents about your family?
Texas, like Utah and Virginia, keeps excellent records and they’re cool about sharing them.
How do you respond to viewers who take offense to images of the Confederate flag?
I understand it. What surprises me more is people who have no reaction at all because they don’t know what it is. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful the simple symbols are to people, myself included of course.
Why is mixed media/collage the most effective medium for telling your story?
It’s not the most effective one. I haven’t found that medium yet, but I’m looking. However, mixed media/collage is great for exploiting those family documents that the State of Texas was so kind to preserve.
Have you explored artistic mediums outside of mixed media and collage?
I use whatever tickles my fancy, for example, I did a series of branded flags. I had a friend, skilled in metal work, forge for me two metal brands; one of a star, the other of a “v.”
After attaching squares of cattle hide to wooden backs, I heated up the brands with hot coals and used them to burn the Confederate flag into the hides. I did this in the dead of winter, in the backyard of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club on E. 3rd Street in Manhattan.’
Don’t miss the opening reception of Recognition on Saturday, August 8th from 7-11pm.
Please contact the gallery for inquiries.