After nearly 14 years of stepping away from his workbench, painting easel and drawing board, local artist Mike Brieger was ready to come back and make art.
The artist, whose works include sculpture, drawings and paintings, quit making art when his son was born.
“ I didn’t want to come out being a zombie, painting for 10, 15 hours a day,” Brieger said. “I wanted to be a dad. And I wanted to make some money, too.”
For Brieger, leaving art made him a better artist.
“I get better at painting without painting.”
Brieger’s comeback, marked with the celebration of a new exhibit, “Slavery Days,” also hails the return of his muse, and the reasoning behind why he became an artist in the first place.
“Now, to me, it really is like being spoken through. So I’ve been able to shed some of my own bullshit,” he continued. “The less I bring to the painting, like ‘this is what I want to do,’ the easier it is. I can make them faster if I just let that go.”
The new exhibit is showing all new work, and took Brieger a year to create. Unlike other artists who often must “jump through hoops” to get anyone to pay attention to their work, Durango Arts Center Exhibits Director Mary Puller contacted him after seeing his metalwork and paintings.
Peculiar mixed media paintings and institutional sculpture describe the pieces created for the exhibit, all surrounding a theme that has dwelt in the back of Brieger’s mind since he was a youth. Recalling old drawings he created in the second grade that featured “Abe Lincoln and a bunch of slaves,” Brieger himself said it seemed a little odd.
After doing shows in different cities, Brieger once again painted what he wanted to, and the result was a lot of slavery-themed art.
“It’s a theme that just comes from another place,” he said. “I don’t know about reincarnation or not but I feel as though, very likely that I had something going on in one way, or another way that’s making that happen.”
That being said, Brieger takes the approach of letting the paint brush guide him. Just painting and seeing what comes out, he said, causes him to not know what has happened when it’s finished.
“Believe me, I’ve tried ‘now I’m going to paint this thing’ and one or two strokes in it’s like, [expletive] that,” Brieger said. “It’s really just like forcing it.”
He recalled an art critic, who talked somewhat sarcastically about artists being a conduit of the universe, which, in his 20s, Brieger thought was bullshit. He knows many artists who paint with intense intent and vision.
“I don’t want to have intent at all.”
“Slavery Days” opens Friday, and runs until Nov. 21, with an opening reception Friday from 5 to 7 p.m.