Zwangsbeglücker by Michael C. Thorpe
July 1 - August 5
Up until 2017, Michael C. Thorpe was an athlete. Born in 1993 in New York and raised in Newton, Massachusetts, he spent most of his youth and adulthood in regimented play. He played basketball for Emerson College (Massachusetts, USA) where he also achieved a BA in Photojournalism. A shift took hold and Thorpe felt the urge to make something with his hands. One day, Michael decided to experiment with a new elaborate machine purchased by his mother and original quilting teacher. Muscle memory of the craft he learned as a young boy kicked in and he quickly made it his own. Weaving in poetry, borrowed language, and dreams. Michael also experimented with layering of colorful material, scale, and analog movements by hand guiding the long arm of the machine to develop his own personal texture so that his hand can be seen in the quilting.
Quilting is a craft rooted in many cultural traditions around the world, however its Americana expression threads together unique stories and migrations. Mostly considered a utilitarian craft, as women were relegated to the artform in the domestic space. Only in recent history has it been recognized by the Fine Arts community and still has a long way to go in terms of its place in the art world. According to Thorpe, he has had to make a stand for his work to be considered just art, as opposed to always relegated to the ‘textile’ departments of museums by curators.
Americana quilting is also an important medium in heritage storytelling through which many southern Black American slaves documented their everyday lives and struggles. Gee Bend’s Quilters of Alabama being one of the most iconic examples.
At age 29, Thorpe is quite prolific. His way of personal and imagined storytelling through the language of quilting took off like a rocket ship.
In a way, because Thorpe produces so much, it allows him to not be too precious about the pieces he makes. But rather he can commit to his process and just express, not dwelling on what people will make of it or how well it will show. He credits his ‘success’ if you want to call it that, to the trust he has found in the creative community. Whether that be with a curator, gallery, museum, clothing stores, from institutional to independent, Thorpe says “people have just let me rock.” It’s not lost on him that one of his greatest influences, Lorrain O’Grady — pioneering figure working in performance, conceptual, and feminist art — had her first retrospective exhibit when she was 86 years old. At 29, Thorpe has three large museum shows this year alone. In this sense he takes the work seriously, but does not take the art world, the hype, and the perceived ‘right way of doing things’ seriously.
Today, Thorpe’s focus is on walking his own path as a “full body artist” and cites kinship with artists such as Martin Kippenberger, Milford Graves, and Something Else Press, a radical art publication that ran from February, 1966 through April, 1973. These recent references incite permission to “embrace the absurd”. A concept that Thorpe says has evolved his practice and his perspective on how process truly is king. Thorpe has “set up systems to be as free as possible” in his creative expression. For example, in general his practice has involved an initial sketch, then tracing the sketches as large as possible to define scale, he then cuts the pieces out, to later assemble them like a huge puzzle. He still follows that process up until the climax of having all those puzzle pieces cut and scattered all about. Thorpe determined that he no longer needed to sew the pieces to match the original sketch. At that crossroads, he can connect them in any way he feels like. This system of absurdity created true freedom to which Thorpe says “before I was making pictures, now I’m making art.”