Michael Pfleghaar: Reinforcing Objecthood

Feb 10, 2012 — Apr 22, 2012

Michigan artist Michael Pfleghaar’s current work explores the paradox that a painting can represent something other than itself, yet it is also an object in its own right.

By integrating elements of design objects, his paintings lie somewhere between representation and abstraction.

Discussing Objecthood

An interview with Cindy Buckner, Associate Curator. January 23, 2012

CB: Where does the title of your exhibition come from?

MP: Objecthood” is a term that critic Michael Fried coined in writing about modernism. Before, people would look at a painting and see it as a representation of the real world, or a window into the world. Modernist painters and artists believe that their work was something new, it had its own characteristics, it was its own object. And so I guess I see my work that way. It is maybe inspired by objects, but it’s now a new object, it’s not really mimicking that object, it’s just capturing the spirit of the object.

CB: You recently completed an MFA degree at the Art Institute of Boston. What prompted you to return to school after working for years as a successful artist?

MP: I came to a point in my work where I wasn’t really content. I felt like I was peddling, just kind of staying in one place. So I needed something to restart that energy and I was looking to take the work to the next level.

CB: Your earlier work was largely representational, but your recent work is at times completely abstract. Do you think your graduate studies were instrumental in bringing that about? Or would it have happened anyway? What made you come to abstraction at this point in time?

MP: I played around with abstraction a little in the past, taking little sections of still life objects and focusing in real close to make them almost unrecognizable. But that would come and go. I think it really took grad school to help me break down my process and what my work was about, to really dismantle the work completely. That is what the format of grad school is for, to make you think about your work and what you are trying to say… So I think it was very instrumental in my complete move to abstraction.

CB: Do you think your graduate studies have led you to think of your work in a larger context? To compare your work to that of others?

MP: Part of my reason for going to the Art Institute of Boston was to get out of my comfort zone, my geographical area, to really go into a city that is more connected to the larger art world, and to see how my work fit in. The other part of the program is very academic, so you are forced to put your work in context. Essentially that’s what my thesis is about. You have to validate your work in the scope of contemporary art and artists.

CB: You say in your blog from 2010 that capturing the spirit of the objects is far more interesting” than representing them directly, and that you were trying to obliterate the literal”

MP: I was feeling that, for myself, representational work is something you see, [in which] your mind attaches words and meaning to the object you see. Whereas in abstraction your mind doesn’t have something specific to attach to an object. So I like that kind of ambiguousness. I think work that doesn’t reveal itself right away is a lot more interesting, you stay with the work longer. I like that it doesn’t resolve itself. But hopefully people walk away with a sense of what it’s about. That it’s about design, it’s about objects, without being so literal.

CB: So you are still inspired by the design objects, as you were working 20 years ago?

MP: Yeah, I think the work has kind of focused from more interior settings to more specific objects or, strangely, more widely just the spirit of design. How the role of the designer and the artist is very similar, because we are designing essentially a picture plane.

CB: So the formal qualities of the objects is part of that, part of what inspires you.

MP: Exactly, the shapes, the form. I like objects that are utilitarian but also are very much an artwork in themselves, things that don’t often reveal their purpose just looking at them right away.

CB: What does the incorporation of slick, shiny, man-made materials do for your art?

MP: Incorporating the readymade objects had a few different purposes. One was just to contextualize my inspiration for the viewer, but also the whole idea of objecthood, and the work becoming a new unique object, it kind of solidified that by taking it to a three-dimensional object. It reinforced that objecthood that I was looking for in the work.

CB: Some of your more recent work is in an installation format-is that a furthering of those ideas?

MP: Yeah, I have had a few chances to display the work in an installation format. I like that the works relate to each other, they are all objects as they would be in an interior room, so they kind of play off of each other. I think they reinforce themselves as objects. A lot of the work uses lamps, so it gives that illusion of an interior space. [They incorporate things] that play with light, and things that I play with in the two-dimensional work, too.

CB: Do you have any interest in working on a larger scale?

MP: Yes and no. I like the physicality of working large. But I think for now 48 x 48 [inches] is a very comfortable large scale for me. I feel that anything larger it kind of loses that objectness that I am trying for. It becomes part of the environment if it gets larger.

CB: What kind of reaction to your current work have you received from the people who have collected your work in the past?

MP: I have received a lot of positive feedback. I think people can understand the leap that I have made. I think my color sense, my fascination with light, and my style is still there, it’s just, I think, a lot more interesting to the viewer.

CB: In the studio I kept coming back to Aha, and said to you that I felt like I hadn’t figured it out yet, that I felt like I needed to spend more time with it. How do you feel about that reaction?

MP: I actually loved it, because it is exactly what I think a painter or a visual artist hopes for — that people remember your work and maybe it’s because it doesn’t resolve itself, it doesn’t reveal itself completely. So it is kind of what I hope for, that it sticks in people’s heads, that they’ve seen this new thing, they don’t have any mental or verbal words to put with the work, so it becomes this new thing, this new object, and that’s what it’s all about.