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Tying the Knot With Michael Gabrielle

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Michael is an artist working in rope and fiber art, woodworking, and illustration, based in Providence, Rhode Island. He likes to make beautiful things that maybe we don’t need but feel happy to have. Find him on: Instagram or at michaelgabrielle.com

Tell us a little about your creative journey – how you got to the work you’re doing.

I’ve always loved to knit and crochet - my grandma taught me when I was little - and I started making macrame and rope art about a year and a half ago when a boy I was dating sent me a photo of a wall-hanging and asked if I could crochet something similar for him for Christmas. While I was making that first piece, I remember thinking “oh geez, I will NEVER do this again” - it was tedious, I had blisters and rope burn up and down my wrists and fingers, and then the boy and I broke up and I was like dang, well that was a bust. I decided to give it another go though, and I eventually found the beauty in the process - there’s a meditative repetition in tying thousands of knots. Since then I’ve mostly been working on commissions, facilitating workshops, and looking for new opportunities to make big work and installations. My wrists and fingers are still all fucked up and callused and burned, but you get used to it after a while.

Was there a moment in time when you you realized you were an artist?

I’d say my first large-scale installation was when I was maybe 6 or 7, when I took a hot pink permanent marker and drew one long, squiggly, zig-zagging line all along the white walls of my house, starting in my bedroom and making my way through the halls, down the stairs, over the cabinets and drawers and circling around the living room a few times before getting caught pink-handed (luckily my parents and I can laugh about it today, it was a sore subject for a while). I’m honestly still working on being totally comfortable calling myself an artist, but confidence is something we work on building every day, right?

Is there a relationship between your identity (queer/gender/otherwise) and the work you make?

As a queer person living with mental illness I’ve spent a lot of my life hating myself, secretly carrying tiny galaxies of shame and pain. I have struggled with my mental health - depression, anxiety, eating disorders - for almost as long as I can remember, at times in very serious ways, and still every day I have to take up the challenge to take care of myself. One of the ways I do that (along with lots of walks and a bunch of therapy) is through making art. I have a lot of big feelings, and the meditative, meticulous nature of my art helps me create space to sit with those feelings in a way that feels safe. I make art that is gentle, filled with teeny reminders to pause and breathe; art that asks you to get lost for a moment; art that is sometimes painful to make but is worth it in the end.

For a long time, I was scared to be alone with myself. Spending hours in my studio knotting and tying, drilling and detailing, mindfully, mindlessly making has been a lesson in learning to love myself, to be okay by myself. Often, my art comes out of deep, dark times and deeply sad places, but I’ve been learning how to make art from a place of love, too.

Tell us about an exciting and/or new work/project/thing you’re working on; how did it originate? How is it related to other work you’ve done?

I’ve been flirting with some new ideas that I’m excited (and nervous) to dive into - mainly, combining macrame, aerial arts, and rope bondage to make some weird performances/installations/photographs. I love being in the air - I used to teach lyra + acrobatics for an aerial arts club - and the whole idea of being tied up is drenched in trust, vulnerability, and sensuality in a way that gets me all tingly just thinking about it - such a beautiful and terrifying array of feelings! Right now I only have sketches and ideas, so we’ll see if anything blooms - though I think the fact that I’m putting it out into the universe means that I sort of have to do it now. Fluide fam, hold me accountable on this project!!

What is next for you? Do you have any hopes, dreams, plans you are excited about?

Dreams! Dreaming of: attending artist residencies; writing a weird book; traveling to and kissing boys in different states and on different continents. That’s mostly it right now.

What is inspiring to you right now – other makers/artists/musicians/ideas/cultural trends?

I’m thinking a lot about the ways we tell stories. I’m right now reading What The Living Do, poems by Marie Howe that hurt, that are fucking with me in the best way possible, and The Lonely City by Olivia Laing which is maybe one of the most important books I’ve ever read. I also can’t stop thinking about the David Wojnarowicz exhibition at the Whitney called History Keeps Me Awake at Night - Wojnarowicz was a queer artist who made so many things, he made everything, before he died of AIDS complications in the early 90s. He funneled his rage and all this passion into his art to give voice and visibility to the HIV/AIDS crisis and the challenges of being a queer person existing in a straight society//with a government that’s trying to erase you. The show is absolutely stunning, violent and beautiful and overwhelmingly heartbreaking - if you’re in NYC in the next few months, definitely go check it out.

Who are your fashion/beauty icons? Whose look inspires you?

Picture this: Ilana from Broad City in her tiny red zip-up meets that one time Lenny Kravitz wore a whole-ass afghan as a scarf, meets Lena Waithe at the 2018 Met Gala. Does that make sense??

What was your first “makeup moment” and what do you wear today?

When I was little, I didn’t understand who I was and didn’t see anyone else like me. I used to try on my mom’s makeup in secret, feeling all sorts of overwhelming shame and excitement. Today, makeup for me is another way to express myself and show the world I’m not afraid to love myself. I’m all about glitter everything - cheeks, lips, neck, everywhere. It makes me laugh when people say they don’t like glitter because “it gets all over the place and you can’t get rid of it” because duh, that’s the whole damn point. I have a theory that everyone looks better with a little glitter and so far I haven’t found any evidence that proves me wrong. ⚡️