Q&A with Mike McMath

AIR Michael McMath

Q&A with Mike McMath

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Martin Shallenberger Artist-in-Residence series, Cheekwood is proud to present the melodic work of artist Michael D. McMath as the Cheekwood artist resident of 2021.

McMath is an innovative painter taking much inspiration from ancient art practices. Over his career, McMath has completed countless murals, faux finishes, trompe l’oeil paintings and gold leaf projects commissioned across the United States. Working in the centuries old artform of Venetian plaster and encaustics, or hot wax painting, McMath has revived these ancient Greek and Roman techniques in the 21st century. The creative techniques he employs in each work require an air of freedom given the untamable nature of the medium. The method of encaustics takes control from the artist’s hands and creates lovely unforeseen results. McMath finds great joy in the aesthetic accidents produced by the medium, which in turn pays tribute to the unruly and innate beauty of nature. Receiving inspiration from horticultural surroundings and architecture, McMath is eager to discover endless sources of beauty that will inform his imagery from the bountiful environment throughout Cheekwood during his residency. Mike McMath will be creating onsite in Cheekwood’s second floor galleries through August 27 and an exhibition of his work will run through October 17.

Where do you draw your inspiration for your artwork?

It’s a combination of “composition” and “the process”. Something has to catch my eye! Whether it’s something in nature, architectural or the human form, composition is key. Once I have passion for that image everything becomes about “the process”. I love the act of creating. There is a constant battle with the chosen medium to achieve the image in my mind.

How did you decide that you wanted to draw from ancient art practices?

I was drawn to Venetian plaster and encaustic because of their illusion of texture. Venetian with its many thin layers of color and skim coating appear to have great texture but in fact feel like polished stone. Encaustic had such depth simply by the colors melting together. That translucency is what drew me in.

How long have you been creating art and what made you start working in different mediums?

I have been creating works of art for as long as I can remember and loved graphite at an early age. It was in college that I started working with oils and other traditional mediums. It was after collage that I started a faux final company after seeing someone doing a marble effect. I didn’t know how it was done but I knew I could do better. I fell in love with the Venetian plaster effect we were putting on walls and was asked to paint a mural on the Venetian with Venetian. Encaustic intrigued me much the same as the marbling that I had seen years earlier. I didn’t know how it was done but I had to try it!

Why did you want to be this year’s Artist-in-Residence at Cheekwood? 

It is very hard to make a living as an artist solely on your work and I see the air as a great opportunity to do just that.

What does Cheekwood provide to an artist that he/she might not find elsewhere?

Inspiration! The architecture and the natural surroundings are all I need to start “the process”.

Describe what the visitors will see when they see your work on display at Cheekwood.

My goal is to bring the outside in. Inspired by the architect’s original intent to create a synoptic balance of structure and landscape I intend on doing the same by filling the gallery space with color and texture.


See McMath’s work on view at Cheekwood through October 17!

Hero image courtesy of Michael D. McMath.


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