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Meet Michael Van

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Van.

Michael, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Art had always been a hobby for me. But a very serious one – from scribbling with crayons as a kid until painting in my adulthood now. I studied it informally from elementary school through undergraduate education as electives, and started an MFA program. And while I took the study of art very seriously, I never considered it a realistic career for me. Instead I took a crooked path from a degree in Physics to working in an art gallery, an outdoor kitchen retailer, and now finally in a marketing and public relations position in the hotel industry running eight years. In my spare time is when I can paint. And I think because of having job security, health insurance etc. I can so much more freely paint. It doesn’t matter if they sell. I don’t have to have cohesive work. I’m going to paint it anyways.

Turns out they do sell. My commercial art began in 2009 when I started showing in coffee shops, wineries, and events in Portland and the Willamette Valley. I created a shop at the infancy of Etsy, and my paintings of my pet duck Popeye popularized. Over the course of a year I painted and sold over 100 portraits of a pet duck. I thought that was pretty awesome.

My subjects have shifted, but what I aim for in creating a painting remains the same. Something emotionally visceral and real, subtlety. depth. This could be a muddied-pastel suburbscape of a family by a pool cast in late afternoon sunlight – like a vintage 50’s photograph. Or a de-kooning-esque harshly-scrubbed -into-the-paper portrait of someone from my imagination.

Again, they are finding relative popularity – 18 sold in April and 35 in May – these are all-time highs for me. I have several commissions going, lots of repeat patrons, a couple group shows… but mostly people are finding the art through my Etsy shop and on Instagram.

I think the recent success is in large part due to people being on lock down in their homes and wanting something interesting to look at on their walls. And also, perhaps because of the hording mentality we’ve all regressed to – some people may be buying up art to fulfill that reptilian nut-burying desire. And maybe my art is simply getting better.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It hasn’t. Artists have many struggles. There are economic stressors, bouts of writer’s block, a need to try to be unique in a saturated art world. I think the biggest challenge is staying true to yourself. People buy the artist as well as the artwork. They are inseparable entities. So, when your artwork suffers, it can often make you question yourself and your own value. Of course, conversely, there are great highs and esteem that come with the successes.

I personally struggled with an eight year combination of depression and alcoholism. It wasn’t pretty. My self-value and motivation hit rock bottom. And now after rehabilitation, drastic behavioral changes, and almost three years of sobriety, I am still recovering that lost ego and passion. The painting certainly helps. It is catharsis in problem-solving. And it releases a small valve in my subconscious well. Painting is cheap and effective therapy.

I will say that the obstacles in life add depth to the art. In my paintings, a highlight on an object is meaningless without the dark shadow behind it. And so, it is also true with the contrasts in the emotional spectrum of life.

Michael Van Studio – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I am a studio artist. I work out of my garage painting acrylic paintings on canvas and paper. Lately the subjects have been of retro photography of people in interiors, at motel pools, in suburbs. I would describe it as a suspiciously-idyllic Stepford Wives white suburbia. They are definitely on the melancholy side though. It’s difficult to describe what sets me apart. But I would like to think it’s an effortless, painterly, loose, and honest observational style. I am a one stop shop. I paint the painting, digitally market the painting, ship the painting, and provide customer service throughout.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I define success as finding happiness in making other people happy. Lots of patrons are great, but patrons who love you are better. So, my greatest successes are usually text messages saying “OMG I Love this” “It’s so much better in person” “I couldn’t wait to frame it I had to put in on my wall” “I look forward to seeing what you paint next”. Those little comments bring monumental value to my ego. The second greatest successes are the rare paintings that I am so in love with that I can’t part with. There are only three of them.


  • Paintings range from $90 – $1,600. I do not sell any prints.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Michael Van

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