Tufting the Everyday: In Conversation with Mychaelyn Michalec

Mychaelyn Michalec.It’s not attractive for every use base. 42 x 42. 2021. Hand and machine tufted yarn rug on stretched cloth. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Interview by Adi Berardini

Mychaelyn Michalec is a fiber artist and painter based in Dayton, Ohio, depicting the mundane matters of domestic life and translating the documented scenes into tufted rug tableaus. Her meticulous tufting often features imagery in bed with her partner or her son looking nonchalant with his phone in the background. Addressing the “gendered issues of caretaking addressing both invisible and emotional labour,” Michalec’s work explores her home life with her partner and child and what it means to be an artist and a mother. She is also interested in the influence of life decisions and the ever-present force of technology in our lives, depicting text conversation bubbles and juxtaposing the tactility of texting with her textile work.

Michalec earned a BFA with distinction in Painting and Drawing and a BA in Art History from The Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library and Information Science from the University of Southern Mississippi. She has shown her work internationally and has been awarded residencies at The Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT, the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts Residency in New Berlin, NY, and The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, in Nebraska City, NE. Additionally, Michalec is a 2021 recipient of an Individual Excellence Award in Craft from the Ohio Arts Council.

You capture everyday domestic scenes with your partner and family in your work. Can you speak more about the meaning behind capturing these domestic scenes for you as an artist?  

 I think a lot about Virginia Woolf bemoaning of “the accumulation of unrecorded life” in A Room of One’s Own. Women are disadvantaged by the lack of a comprehensive narrative of their own history. The quotidian is something that drives my work. I took a break from my studio practice that lasted over a decade. For me, the drive for making work again became about the thing that I felt prevented me from making work in the first place, which was everyday life. So, the work is a direct portrayal of the complexities of contemporary family life. 

Mychaelyn Michalec. I thought things were better but they were not. 2021. 35 x 28 IN. hand and machine tufted yarn rug. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I have followed your work in the past couple of years, and how you’ve transitioned from using paint to using textiles as a medium. Can you explain more about this transition and its significance to your practice?

 When I was painting with pigments, I was considering different ways to bring my concept full circle in both terms of material and subject matter. My subject matter, the domestic, the mundane is often critically overlooked, so I feel like craft which is often considered a lesser artform in some aspect is a good pairing for this work. I started looking at different methods and traditions in domestic craft that might suit the way I wanted to create.

I love the immediacy of paint on canvas, so a process like weaving wasn’t an option for me. I saw a video of an industrial rug tufting gun in my searches, and I thought that it looked great, and I could draw with it. I started teaching myself how to make rugs about 4 years ago. Some people see this as a huge transition, but I feel like what I do is still painting. Sure, I am using textiles and technically they are rugs, but I frequently stretch the rugs over stretchers just like paintings. A lot of utility is stripped just from their presentation alone. 

My subject matter, the domestic, the mundane is often critically overlooked, so I feel like craft which is often considered a lesser artform in some aspect is a good pairing for this work.

Mychaelyn Michalec. Mom@work on Facebook. 2021. 36 x 18. Hand and machine tufted yarn rug. Photo courtesy of the artist.

There’s an interesting tension at play since you use textiles and rug tufting to capture everyday life that is often dependent on technology and screens like texting, zoom, and phones, which are more urgent and fast-paced. Can you speak more about this juxtaposition?  

I think something is interesting in the works of artists who take things that are so fleeting and ethereal as screenshots and phone photos and recreate them using processes that are so labor-intensive. It was Berger who said, “We never look just at one thing, we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.” The contemporary nature of carrying a tiny computer around with us always is that we are constantly inundated with the visual and I can’t imagine we give it much thought due to this bombardment. But I do think something interesting happens when you turn these visual castaways into things. I am still figuring out these tensions.

Mychaelyn Michalec.I’m doing a poor job with life at this moment. 2021. 18 x 19 IN. Hand and machine tufted yarn rug. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Can you talk further about your interest in humour in your practice? 

I admire artists who can successfully employ humour in their works. 

I find that it is both difficult to do successfully and a necessary way to express my feelings. There is a duality to my life. I have both chosen a more conventional lifestyle—a partner, children and I also loathe the conventionality of my choices because as artists we [can] see all possibilities. I think humour helps me to address what I love and what I hate about my life.

Who are some artists that you are inspired by? 

I will only talk about living, working artists because the dead ones don’t need more credit. I love the work of Erin M. Riley (@erinmriley), not only is she extremely hardworking and dedicated to her practice but her work is unbelievable. It is some of the most powerful contemporary work about women I have seen. I also think that Meg Lipke (@meglipke) is an amazing artist. Her work is such a fine example of contemporary textile work- it is painting, it is sculpture. Meg is also very generous with her time and community building which is something that also inspires me. Plus, my three friends who I always bounce ideas off and share my failures and triumphs with- textile artist Heather Jones (@heatherjonesstudio), sculptor and painter Bridgette Bogle (@bridgettebogle), and painter Tania Alvarez (@taniaalvarezart).

Do you have any recent or future projects and exhibitions you’d like to mention? 

Currently, I’m the artist in residence at The Object Hotel in Bisbee, Arizona. All That We Went Though was for Nothing, a solo show of my work is opening in December at Sean Christopher Gallery in Columbus, OH.

You can find more of Mychaelyn Michalec’s work on her website and Instagram.

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