Art Identified: Michael Cottone

Photography by Jake Moran

Taking risks is a necessary evil when it comes to being an artist. You push yourself to uncomfortable limits in hopes of broadening your talents and perspective of what art truly means to you. When you continuously go outside of your comfort zone is when you achieve breakthroughs with your artistic approach. You learn by not knowing.

An artist in many forms, Michael Cottone is living this mantra. They’re a photographer, painter, poet and record label owner who learns more about themselves through the multitude of art forms that they employ. At first glance, the phrase jack of all trades might apply to Michael. That is until you see their art and you quickly feel like Michael is a master of all.

I got to sit down with Michael to see how they approach all of these different art forms, what lessons are learned through each one and how freeing it is to not have art be classified or labeled for a specific consumer.

Without further ado, please welcome Michael Cottone to Art Identified.

Jacob Moran: Thanks for coming through. I know you interned for PATTERN as well. What did you take away from your time here?

Michael Cottone: The biggest thing that I took away from being here was learning to kind of take a leap. Not just concerning photography but with art and life in general. Polina pushes you when you work here which is awesome to have that kind of energy behind you. Being around a bunch of creative people will stimulate your creativity. I feel like since I’ve worked here I have uncovered a lot of Indianapolis and that has allowed me to be more free and liberated in terms of how I deliver my art.

JM: You’ve got an artistic hand in many different forms of art. In your own words, what is it that you do?

MC: I don’t think I could narrow it down to one word or phrase. The idea of being versatile has always been very important to me. Having all of the creative outlets that I do allows me to find ways to connect them all. With photography I enjoy photographing things that are very straightforward and not overly conceptual. I approach painting similarly but just in a much more abstract way. There is a lot of thought that goes into the composition of both arts. Poetry speaks for itself. There are words in everything. So that is a whole other artistic form.

JM Being someone who ventures down all of these different paths of creativity, how important is it for you to not be pigeon holed into being ‘that’ kind of artist?

MC: Huge. When I was unemployed this summer I moved back into my parents house. To make that time useful I would wake up and make a creative itinerary for myself. For instance I’d wake and paint until about one in the afternoon. When I’m done I’d maybe write poems for a couple hours. It never feels forced like I need to have that structure. It just helps to sit yourself down and dedicate a certain amount of time into this particular form and that form only. I never want to stop expanding who I am as an artist. So I don’t want to be known as just a painter or just a photographer.

JM: You’ve put out quite a lot of artistic work in the past year. Given the circumstances all creatives have been in this past year, has it been hard to stay creative or has it been something that’s helped you get through this year?

MC: I would say a good deal of both. However in the grand scheme of things it has been very freeing. I mean in the height of the quarantine you were essentially locked into your house for two to three months. There was a day in March where my friend Max and I were in my garage and we had this door that we just went crazy on. It was the first thing that I painted. We really abused that garage for the next two months just painting everyday. At the end of the year we had to get a power washer for the floor of that garage so the landlord wouldn’t get pissed. That time was really freeing for me. Now I have a fulltime job so it’s harder to balance.

JM: I’ve been a fan of your photography for a while. You are very skilled in multiple genres of photography and somehow all of your work still seems linear. Do you get the same level of satisfaction creatively when you do a landscape photo versus a portrait photo?

MC: That is so great to hear, so thank you. One of my photography professors told me the same thing and that is always so reaffirming. Obviously there are different techniques involved in both genres but it is really about how you grid everything. Whether you’re breaking the rule of thirds or following it. It’s all about the angles. As far as satisfaction goes, I think at the end of the day you have the same fulfilment of ‘Dang, I made this art.’. And that is why I do it.

JM: I want to touch on your paintings. How long have you been painting?

MC: I have painted for fun growing up but never took it too seriously. I still don’t take myself too seriously when I’m painting. But I do treat it with more care and willingness to show people what I am trying to say. I’d say about a year ago, right when the quarantine really started. My style has changed quite a bit though. When I started it was very reactionary. Being cooped up, allowing these splatters to be just what they are. Now I have been becoming a little bit more meticulous. Heavy oils straight to canvas. Heavy textures and bold colors. At the end of the day I see my paintings as road maps of my brain.

JM: Being both a photographer and painter, are there certain things that you learn about yourself when doing one that you may not have doing the other? While both forms of artistry are visual they’re very different acts.

MC: I totally agree with that. Photography teaches me to see what is in plain sight. Sometimes you photograph architecture to train your eye to see the little things that have always been there. With painting I am trying to train my brain to unravel the things it sees in abstraction. Converting those images to my hand to paint, if that makes sense. Photography is finding new beauty in things that are already there and in front of me. Painting is finding what needs to come out to be seen.

JM: You recently released a zine titled ‘A long Winter Home’ composed of haiku’s written during the winter of this year. What’s the vibe like for a zine written during one of the most isolated winters in history?

MC: Not being able to see my friends as much produced a lot of feelings of isolation. I moved to a new house in December and have been adjusting a lot. I wouldn’t say it sent me down a weird mental path or anything but it influenced me to write more and specifically haiku’s. Haiku’s can be so simple but powerful. So the zine became this idea of being alone in the winter time, in your house, in your bed. Just writing. I have never published any writing of my own before and I think that was a great intro to that. People can easily read Haiku’s so they’re very digestible. All in all I am extremely pleased with how it came out.

JM: Sauna Suit Recordings is a record label you’ve created. Indy has a fairly robust music scene with all different genres. What does Suana Suit do to stand out and what is the focus for the record label in terms of artists it wants to represent?

MC: We just want to do things our way. It’s a small DIY operation run by Max and myself. We’re just doing what we want to do. Curating talented musicians. Showing people that there are awesome talents here. Little gold nuggets of music from our city that deserved to be shown. Some of that can be conceived as selfish because we’re curating stuff we like, but it’s beneficial for them to to have people behind them pushing their content. And not just people who push it, but people who enjoy their music and believe in it. Right now we are trying to build a catalog of music that we both really like, be good promoters and curators of music because we care about it so much. There is a lot to be done and we are really excited about the future of it.

JM: We’re pretty much at the year mark for quarantine. I want you to write a quick haiku about how this year has treated you emotionally, mentally and artistic you. 

MC: A limitless world

        within the confines of me

        abating worry

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