June 21 2012 12:00 AM

Once-reclusive artist embraces Downtown and its people

Micheal Carini's studio overflowing with art that will be on display tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. at White Box Contemporary downtown, 1047 Seventh Ave.
Michael Carini
Earlier this week, I wrote about Michael Carini in survival mode: jobless, without a studio and on the verge of having to leave San Diego for good. Knowing nothing about him before seeing a flyer for the Boy in the Box show happening today at White Box Contemporary, I read Kinsee Morlan's article from January 2011 and decided that a follow-up was in order.

At the time of Morlan's report, Carini was struggling with a number of health issues but persevering through his art. In just over a year since that piece ran, Carini found himself immersed in a 20-day residency program at one of the edgiest contemporary fine-art galleries in San Diego. Alexander Salazar, Carini said, offered him additional time to create; typically resident artists are signed up for 30 days, but since Carini joined 10 days into April, the gallery owner made it up to him. He wasn't expecting an additional 30 days, but that's what he got, and he took advantage of every waking hour to create an impressive body of work that's unlike anything he's made to date.

Carini needed 50 days in the "box"-a tight studio space with a large window so passersby can see in-for more reasons than one, the most pressing being that he was without the job that previously funded his art habit. Secondly, his neurological problems were steering the direction of his highly technical work. He was a recluse with extreme OCD. The box offered hope on all fronts; Carini had a place to work, be seen and, ultimately, shed his mental shackles. All of that happened and more. 

Morlan's article leaves off with Carini exploring what it means to "let go"-at a strip club, no less. He compared being an artist to being a stripper and related to what it felt like being exposed and on display for everyone to judge, so he felt comfortable in the company of nude dancers. 

This past April and May, the box was Carini's stage, where he was visible to all. The man who previously painted with precision found his style changing drastically-he describes it as "dancing with a paintbrush." Each of Carini's 30 works is inspired by his time Downtown and the people he met there. To hear these stories and then view the art makes for a powerful, colorful narrative. Since Carini was nearly homeless at the time of his residency, there were many days in the box that he didn't have any food. He said he was amazed, and touched, by all the caring people Downtown. Folks, including the homeless, would share their lunches with him. In return, he talked to them about art, gave small pieces away, including T-shirts he'd paint right there. And, each piece of his art represents a relationship he formed with passersby. 

One of those people is local musician Astra Kelly. She came by the box one day and gave Carini a CD. After listing to it, he got started on what would be his final piece in the program. "Astranomaly" melds the singer's name and the word "anomaly"-a titling method of combining people's names with a word that best describes them and his corresponding art. From far away, the largest work Carini has ever painted looks like a gigantic eyeball; up close, it's extremely detailed but in his new style of painting that employs natural motions, inspired by the music he'd listen to and conversations he had. Colors of the rainbow swirl in an almost psychedelic, intergalactic scene with the eye's pupil looking like a black hole. Kelly's album cover depicted space, so the influence is clear. Carini says that everyone he met Downtown is represented with a color in the piece. 

While the artwork Carini produced during his residency is impressive, the personal hurdles he's overcome are the greatest victory. He went from being uncomfortable around people to embracing them with his open-door policy. He's hoping to find another space Downtown to continue creating in the environment that inspired his latest body of work. He feels at home there.


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