In today’s episode, Painter Michelle Doll shares how she moved with her 8-year-old son from Ohio to New York City to pursue her dream of getting an MFA at the New York Academy of Art. In a story that feels like it is straight out of a movie, Michelle learned how to make it in the city as a single mom in art school learning from her heros and doing whatever it took to succeed including hauling huge wet paintings along with her on the subway.
After grad school, Michelle worked as a studio assistant and was surrounded by peers who pushed her and helped her dream, while the demands of her job helped her develop her craftsmanship as a painter. After painting from her experiences of loneliness was accompanied by a fading desire to be in her own studio, a therapist encouraged her to paint the feelings she wanted to have, feelings of intimacy and connection. Michelle describes it as an “aha” moment when she invited a couple she knew into the studio to model for her. Now, Michelle has a full body of realist paintings focusing on the intimate touch of couples, mothers and children, and families.
I am struck by how the more specificity is in the paintings, in the details like the hair or the tattoos that would normally be hidden, the more they are able to open up to something that is universally understood. This push and pull from the individual to the universal manifests in gestures of touch that call to mind feelings of another’s breath or the warmth of their body. We discuss how the themes of joy, hope, and love in her work are often dismissed or devalued in the greater art world, but how every type of subject matter is worthy of artistic exploration.
It felt so validating to hear that Michelle’s son, now 26, is happy that his mom always had something she was inspired by in her work and felt that this gave him the space to grow into himself as a person in his own right. Michelle’s story is a reminder that we can strive to excel simultaneously as mothers and artists, even if we have to go halfway across the country along the way.
Biggest Art Crush: Mary Cassat
Dream Trip: Italy and Spain – the entire Mediterranean
Film or book: The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav and As Man Thinketh by James Allen
Favorite meal: Salads with protein
Shout-out: Fiance Jason and son Evan Dibbs
To see more of Michelle’s work please visit her website and follow her on IG @michellelynndoll
The Artist/Mother podcast is created and hosted by Kaylan Buteyn. You can see more of Kaylan’s work on her website or connect with her on Instagram @kaylanbuteyn