Michael Gao

Michael Gao (b. 2002, China) paints to explore digital culture and politics through intense colours and unique compositions. Gao delves into the meme culture in Asia and the United States, examining themes of censorship, technology, and the political climate as represented in the online world.

He blends figuration and symbolism with digital found images, resulting in surprising connections and comical outcomes. Gao captures the absurdity of both the real and digital landscapes, creating a hyper-reality filled with contrasts, satire, and cultural references.

Picture of artist Michael Gao

What did you want to be when you were growing up? And when did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?
From a very young age I realised I want to choose a career that's based in visual creativity. I knew I wanted a certain creative freedom and didn't mind long hours. I dabbled around all kinds of paths. Illustration, graphic design, product design, even UX design. But none of them feels right to me like doing fine art.

Are there any specific artists or movements that have influenced your work?
Right now I'm in love with the post-digital aesthetic, brought to life by the works of Gao Hang, Austin Lee, Julius Hofmann, and the likes. Conceptually I'm really into the discourse about internet art and post-humanism. I believe in this day and age these are very important concepts we need to think about.

How and where do you find inspiration on a regular basis?
Amazon.com is a great place for inspirations. One can certainly make an argument that a daily visit to the biggest e-commerce website is an ultimate pilgrimage in the 21st century capitalist society. 

What does your process look like from ideation to completion?
I don’t control the initial concept. I have a notebook full of ideas waiting to be explored but they come to me whenever they choose to. I record a concept when it’s funny or ridiculous by the sound of it and I will make some sense of it afterwards. When I want to go deep into a concept I would collect images from different sources and make a sketch of some sort. I separate colours out of this phase and only look at the black and white composition. Then I would have a colour scheme in mind that makes the most sense, apply it, and paint it. There would be lots of tweaking and fixing the sketch while I paint.

What emotions or thoughts do you wish to spark in viewers?
I want the viewers to connect and explore deeper into the references, and discover some facts about the world we live in. On the other hand, I want them to see the paintings as a light-hearted retelling of the much uglier truth. Ultimately if they find something that make them go, “ha, it’s funny that…”, I’m happy.

How has your practice or style changed over time?
I think I’ve grown more comfortable in showcasing my own inner style, opinion, and sense of humour now. I used to separate art practice and the rest of my life, thinking the rest was humiliating, embarrassing, and boring to be shown to people. Coming from a culture that is full of sensitivity and censorship, I’ve gotten used to hiding my true self as a protection. Now I’m seeing that as a treasure island, dialling my inner self to two-hundred percent and fully displaying it metaphorically. It’s like flashing, really.

What is a common misconception that people have about artists or the art world?
That being an artist is an easy endeavour. Artists are eccentric alright, but they also have be on top of things to produce works, spread them, and make money. There are great artists who are just out-there. Sure. But they also work tremendously hard with obsession and discipline that the viewer might not see from a surface level.