Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Michael Sweere. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Michael , thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Earning a full time living from one’s creative career can be incredibly difficult. Have you been able to do so and if so, can you share some of the key parts of your journey and any important advice or lessons that might help creatives who haven’t been able to yet?
My name is Michael Sweere. I’m a multi-media visual artist and I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’ve been earning a full-time living from my creative work since 2005. I’ve always wanted to be a visual artist. I can remember drawing pictures with my mother when I was about three years old.Looking back, it’s been an interesting path that I chose to follow.By the time I graduated from high school (I grew up in Owatonna, Minnesota) it was obvious to me that the only career I’d ever be remotely successful at would have to be art-related. I enrolled at Mankato Tech Institute in North Mankato, MN and earned a degree in “Commercial Art”.
Upon graduating, I took a job working as a production artist for a printing factory. After getting some real work experience, I decided to take a chance and move to Minneapolis. Fortunately, the timing was right and I found work rather quickly at a small advertising agency. Over the next twenty years I worked as an art director, designer, illustrator and production artist for several large agencies.
Meanwhile, my interest in fine art continued to develop. I started attending an artist “atelier” (working fine arts studio) taking life drawing and painting classes. Around this time, I was introduced to an instructor named Peter Bougie. “Pete” was an avid outdoor landscape painter (he worked primarily in oils) and he taught me the basics of “plein air” sketching. Once I started painting outdoors, I became hooked – and to this day, I continue to paint outside whenever I have a chance.
Working for large advertising agencies had its perks, and I was able to travel. This allowed for opportunities to visit art galleries, museums and a variety of public art in different cities. This inspired me to keep my passion for fine-art alive, – and separate from my day-job work. At this time in life, I was just starting to get interested in mosaic art – especially in public places like airports, subways and train stations. I happened to mention this to a friend while visiting in New York City. The next thing, we’re off to the subway, heading downtown to Manhattan’s Lower East side. We arrived in the Village and I was taken to see the lamppost and sidewalk mosaic art of Jim Power. Using pieces of broken dinnerware, glass, stones and tile (among lots of other found objects), Mr. Power “bedazzles” everyday street fixtures into public art. Seeing his work changed my life.
I soon decided that I wanted to do something different with my career. I became obsessed with experimenting and creating artwork from non-traditional items. Cardboard, scrap wood, tin, tile and broken dishware – it became a “hunt” to find new mediums to create with. My interests in “commercial art” and “fine art” started to mash-up and I knew I was pushing my “style” into new territories. On rainy days my son, (who was about five or six at the time) and I started making mosaics from cut-apart cereal boxes and action-figure packaging.
As an artist, it was all new and really exciting.
I continued working my full-time advertising gig and staying up late at night working on my own “art projects”. Around this time, through mutual friends, I was introduced to Rosalux Gallery founder, Terry Payne. He and I hit it off and I joined his merry group of artists and started showing my work in a hip, new gallery. (Rosalux is still going strong after 20+ years!)
My “big break” came when an architect, who happened to be designing a pediatrics wing for a well-known health care facility, saw my work at Rosalux. He contacted me with an opportunity to create a large, mosaic mural for his client. Long story short, I accepted the project, (my first big commission) quit my day job, and all-of-a-sudden I’m a self-employed fine artist.
Over the next year, I completed the mosaic mural (fabricated from recycled paper packaging) and I started my own website to display and promote my work. Additionally, I started entering juried art shows and call-for-artists opportunities. This led to being featured in “Arts and Antiques” Magazine as an up-and-coming artist. Things started falling into place. Not excessively, but enough to pay the bills.
It’s kind of hard for me to believe, but I’ve been doing it this way for seventeen years now. I’m not sure if I’d have done it any differently. This mash-up between advertising, fine and folk art is a direct result of my life and work experiences.
If you’re willing to follow your passions, they can take you to wonderful places.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
I’m a multi-medium visual artist that specializes in using recycled and repurposed objects.
Some of my favorite mediums to create with are: ceramic and porcelain tile, broken dinnerware (cups, plates and saucers), glass, tin stone and wood.
Much of the work that I create is tactile and touch-friendly. Consequently, I’ve created numerous public art installations for locations with high pedestrian traffic. My work can be found in airports, libraries, hospitals, schools and stadiums.
I enjoy foraging for materials at thrift stores and salvage yards – it’s unpredictable and it always keeps things fresh.
What do you think is the goal or mission that drives your creative journey?
I hope that in some remote way, my work educates and encourages others to be creative when it comes to recycling and preventing environmental pollution. Not only through the work that I create from repurposed materials, but also in making smarter consumer decisions regarding packaging and excessive waste.
Much of my work is nature-inspired and someday I’d like to partner with other environmentally conscious groups to further promote a healthier planet.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
At some point in my advertising career, I began to question what I really wanted in life. Although I continued to climb the corporate ladder, I was unhappy that my passion for fine arts always came second to my day-job work. I went through a state of depression and I developed a serious problem with alcoholism. I continued to struggle with these demons for several years until I finally sought help – it was the most intelligent choice that I’ve ever made.
In time, I was able to break the destructive cycle that I was living in. My new-found sobriety enabled me to focus on re-thinking my career and to have the confidence to start over. Recently, I celebrated my 21st anniversary of sobriety.
- Website: michaelsweeremosaic.com
- Facebook: I’m on facebook – Michael Sweere – Minneapolis, MN
- Other: PBS/Minnesota Original did a nice interview with me a few years ago: https://www.pbs.org/video/Michael-Sweere-and-Gtcys-27685-2/
All images are credited to Michael Sweere, except the image titled “MJS_Brooklyn”. Credit as: Etienne Frossard Photography