Mike Campau Deconstruction of America
In creative work, there is a certain aesthetic best described as an alchemical admixture of beauty and ugliness. We love this dissonance particularly when it is paired with certain steely resolve.
Motion in Air Series, Tim Tadder, Photographer with Mike Campau, Digital Effects Artist
And so, this “prettiness” appears not always in the traditional sense, but as a brutalist “kind” of beauty. American culture has a certain visual language, which of course borrows, adopts and steals from various sources, but is essentially absolutely distinctive, irreproducible, despite the mass consumption, and an international adsorption and copying of “American style.”
Portrait of Whitney Cummings, from the collaboration with Paul Mobley, Photographer for the ongoing book series Celebrities + Musicians. Effects by Campau.
One can always tell another culture’s rendering of Americanisms, perhaps these interpretations are too transparent. American taste is a certain golden opaqueness that defies mimicry. I always think of this pictorial vision as Versailles meets the Spartans. Over the top, mythical and impenetrable.
LeBron James, Photographer Atiba Jefferson with Campau, Digital Effects Artist
Portrait of Roger Griffin, Photographer Altiba Jefferson with Campau, Digital Effects Artist
American digital artist Mike Campau is widely admired for his collaborations with leading photographer such as Paul Mobley, Tim Tadder, and Altiba Jefferson. Together the artists have created a series of iconic portraits of celebrities and imaginative high gloss heroic editorials.
The artist has made a name for himself with precisely this way of conjuring of “beauty in the ugly.” As a kind of composite beauty, one could not exist without the other –and the combination means a canonical form of American style. Within the artist’s collaborative and independent work, this dynamic is intended as a somewhat open narrative, allowing the viewer to give meaning through his or her own experience. Testosterone fueled murky film noir scenes supposedly from the margins or the liminal create a tension with the over polished and consumable. Campau’s ongoing collaborative series with celebrity photographer Paul Mobley (and book) has grown into a captivating series of portraits, for the most part, the subjects are male, although female comedians enter the foray here and there, bringing to the forefront the question, is there still an old boy’s club?
Portraits of Chris D’Elia, Amy Schumer, and the Zac Brown Band from Campau’s collaboration with Paul Mobley, Photographer.
Portrait of Mike Tyson Paul Mobley, Photographer with Campau
For Campau, the gloss is all part of his way of working and worldview, technology functions as not only a tool but also a source of constant inspiration. In collaborations with Tim Tadder such as the Future of Sports, the leitmotif of a “futurist” or supernatural landscape aesthetic reflects the artist’s interest in surrealism, and a desire to “make something unbelievable believable. I think that is why I gravitated towards using CGI in my imagery because I’m not bound be reality or physics.”
The Future of Sports, Photographer Tim Tadder with Campau, Digital Effects Artist
This real unreality is something that we all desire, to be transported, whether in visual arts, literature or music. It can really take any form, and work allegorically or as a storyline.
Campau began as a commercial retoucher and in his personal work today there is a certain sense of “seamless” or high finish even in the most disturbing of images such as the Deconstruction of America.
Campau, Deconstruction of America
Deconstruction of America
For some, Campau’s images of charred remains of the White House, echo the last ten years of politics, terrorism, refugee crises, genocide, and warfare, in not only the United States, but also abroad. In addition, indeed, the image brings home the closeness of loss and chaos, revealing that Americans are not immune to these forces.
Deconstruction of America
As well, it seems that Deconstruction responds to the compartmentalization of others, of the constant stream of violence and war, and blindness of one nation to another, this constant of the “other.”
We see in it the destruction of others, and alienation. In the artist’s words: “A living tree is cut down, disassembled logs, and burned to the point where it has little to no value.”
Deconstruction of America
Another sociopolitical informed series of photos includes Campau’s Free Bird — a response to the chaos broadcast across social media — shootings, racial discord, and political unrest, as well as a testament to resilience.
Campau Free Bird
The project grew out of a very ordinary event, as the artist experienced this onslaught of constant tragedy and darkness, his pet parrot “was just chirping away happy on his swing outside of his cage.”
So many are imprisoned by terrorizing circumstances or even the confines of their own fears. The bird is a metaphor the right to liberty for all humankind, and for the urge to release ourselves from societal imposed or even self-imposed cages or restraints.
RB: Can you tell me a little about your technique and process?
MC: Each project is a little different and so my process is fairly fluid. Sometimes the concept comes first and I have to figure out execution. Other times, I create a new technique or visual style and need to find a concept to carry it throughout a series. Once I get something onto paper, I will let it live in the background for a while and move onto other projects to help keep my eyes fresh. I do not put it away completely; sometimes I leave it on my secondary desktop or a printout on the wall. I find that this helps me see things in passing or when resting between projects that I would not think of if I was completely engaged in the image. It is a little hard to describe, but sometimes just having it there visually helps me find connections or changes that I would not otherwise put together.
RB: Do you have any special inspirations –such as a musical piece, fine art, photos, and or designers or even an extraordinary (or ordinary) place?
MC: Like most artists, I love to look at artwork, photography, and sculptures, etc., but I usually do not find my inspiration there. The exercise of viewing artwork helps build my visual eye by determining what I like and do not like. I feel other artist’s work is more of a motivation than an inspiration.
Inspiration usually hits me when I just going about my everyday routine. This can happen whether I am out on a jog, at my kids’ soccer game, driving on a long road trip, or just relaxing by the pool. I find when I let my mind relax and take a break from creating; I am more open to ideas and inspirations that I would not see otherwise. I have come to learn that when I am consciously searching for inspiration it never comes, but if you are out living life and find things that make you happy, angry, and sad, etc. That is where the good ideas come from.
RB: Have there been any personal events that have informed your way of working?
MC: How I work is really a culmination of my 30+ years as an artist. In my early years, I started out as most artists do with traditional drawing and painting. While at the University of Michigan I entered into scientific illustration but quickly moved into graphic design leading to work in computer-generated imagery. After graduation, I started out in a photo-retouching studio and began to fall in love with photography and post production. Today, I use all of these skills to create my images… combining photography, illustration, CGI, and digital manipulation.
Deconstruction of America
RB: How is it working in the commercial and editorial field?
MC: I really love it and I am lucky enough to have new opportunities every day. However, editorial and fine art images are my true outlet. I do these projects because I want to create and tell stories from my point of view. Some of these personal projects have really struck a chord with people and have gone viral within the creative community. As an artist, I find it amazing that I can create something that has stopping power in this crazy 24-hour media filled world.
RB: You earned your reputation through beautiful work and collaborations with and for big industry names, what was the most interesting or creative project so far?
MC: Hard to say, each project poses interesting challenges and its own creative problems. I guess it is not so much a specific project, but more a type of project. I have had a chance to collaborate with some very talented photographers over the years.
I absolutely love working with other artists and the fact that we can push each other to create something that is far better than we could have achieved alone. It’s the process that back and forth and the moment when you have the realization when you’ve created something special like my project The Future of Sports with Tim Tadder –we had a great deal of fun but also to continually push one another visually and conceptually.
The Future of Sports, Photographer Tim Tadder with Mike Campau, Digital Effects Artist