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Art & Life with Mike M. Mollett

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike M. Mollett.

Mike M, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.

Where does an artist start “the story” when one has been creating for more than 50 years? Where is a beginning- the beginning- of art’s story? How about… My story(s)? It’s existential–I’ve wondered for years … asking myself consciously WHO IS THIS PERSON? Let me explain.

I’m a 2nd generation Los Angeles native, the oldest of two kids. Having met at UCLA, my parents were polar opposites in many ways, Fortunately, liberality from my mom generally held sway thru the house.

I grew up a rather solitary, introspective, insecure, skinny middle-class kid with a sense for adventure & a love for all sorts of living creatures. We found, collected, raised, & inherited more than the usual cats & dogs. This love & nurturing of living things lead me to study biology at a nearby university. But science just wasn’t my thing. I was writing poetry & would soon publish my first book, but I didn’t know that I was a poet. “I write/ therefore I am.”

Turning in my senior project, a wood rat behavioral study, I innocently took off into the middle of a European winter with hostels in out-of-the-way castles closed for the winter. This was pre-internet. I knew no one. I was on my own: hitching rides, eating, drinking, lodging & living simply (& not always legally) for nearly a year… THIS WAS MY ODYSSEY OF SELF DISCOVERY! On about $3.00 a day! The people who I met on the road of life, traveling through 8 countries with borders so much easier to cross…these adventurous travelers from all over the planet were creatives on their own paths of discovery. It was then as a vagabond that I realized I AM AN ARTIST. This was the unknown path I had to travel. I was 23.

Returning to L.A. I scored a job in a commercial paint shop. Found a cottage with a high-roofed horse stable studio. I began to paint. I enrolled in a painting class to meet artists. Ha. I realized even more that I just had to do what I had to do. My way. My bubble. My learning curves.

This was the end of the 60’s & early 70’s. I was exhibiting & selling. I was writing poetry. I self-published my first book. But something didn’t feel right. Painting didn’t feel right. I stopped painting. & this is another story…

During a short non-art making hiatus I discovered conceptual art & the sense of Dada. I accepted the truth & validity of found objects. & I was meeting more artists also on the wonderful edge, making art for art’s sake. Riding the energy. I thought I was crazy, happily.

This in a nutshell gets us quickly through the first 1/3 of this particular life line thread adventure…

Discoveries & explorations in the visual arts, & especially performance & poetics, plus plenty of odd jobs with plenty of dirt under the fingernails, would line up for the next couple of decades…but let’s not jump the gun…


Can you give our readers some background on your art?
What I do is create. With eclectic interests & an often wild, rough style…With a wayward sort of ADD mind. Call it eccentric. Iconoclastic. Call it art/life with so many possibilities…

Speaking simply about the “product’ of my creative life…I write. I make things. I collect. Thoughts & feelings, interests & necessities materialize creatively.

Check it out.
I write Poetry. Small books & zines. I don’t actively submit for publication, but I’m in anthologies, journals, online, & spoken…YouTube, etc…. I’ve toured as a performance/poet & worked with a group. (More info on this a few paragraphs down. Thank you…) The poetry is personal, punk, passionate & funky, rhythmic into sharp & toasty. There’s often a dance to it. What?

I’ve delightedly cranked out Non-sequiturs intermittently over the years – 1,000 short mind warping provocations & twisting’s so far… To hopefully open & liberatwindows & thoughts into insights. With one in your hand…mind temple, green tectonics, tweets of windowpanes, ridge work the shooting stars, maybe edible carpets too, so on… This is one aim of my work: to help let the walls of our minds & emotions expand or disappear.

In the making of objects, sculpture & things, I use all sorts of materials, media, modes, & methods. I may employ paper, pencil, graphite, markers, paint & glue, staples & tape, etc. Materials found within our walls, collected from the garden, given to me by neighbors & electricians… seen in the news, gleaned from a pop-up… I wrap & tie, twist & combine wires, ropes, cables, twines, tubes, pipes, sticks, bamboo, & poles, et cetera, etc…., Yes. I collect lint, product caps, containers left-over from consumption. Put them into containers, bottles, cylinders, weaved balls. Each with its own story. What it takes to live…

Most recently, I’ve been combining hand lettered text with graphite & colored pencil drawing with & visual wall work. Poetic texts on random newspaper columns collaged onto canvas—text works, I call them. The “HE/SHE Stories, Vol. 1” are minimal, sort-of poetic relationship pieces with a non-linear narrative. Newer text works utilize poems of mine lettered, etc. onto larger canvases. They’ve got a hook. Is this a gigantic book?
Take a look. You… Take a look.
Along the way I continue to gather, wrap, twist, & bundle no-tech “green” sculptures (Time-Twists & Balls, Weaved Archaeologies) and create installations using found and repurposed mostly linear materials, man-made & natural, my work with linear materials essentially document our place and time on this planet as the material is all gleaned for my immediate environment. A collaborative suspended sculpture, a ball, “The Migrant World”, created from collected artifacts discarded by migrants, was just accepted into the permanent collection of the Arizona Historical Museum in Tuscon, AZ.

I don’t necessarily create in a linear fashion. & not what can pigeon-hole or gathered together into one bag of logic? Sure, if I’m planning, a festival, let’s say… DADAFEST L.A (1980). –a wild, crazy sprawl of events, shows, dinners, lectures, performances (just a few wimpy fights- how about the Dadaists vs. the Surrealists?) across the city: a parade on the Venice boardwalk, changing installations w/ coffee & donuts in a storefront window downtown, performances & exhibition at a State mental institution. One did wonder at the Norwalk institution, “Who are the Dadaists & who are the live-in patients?” Can you learn about life or reality, philosophy or nonsense? & isn’t it just fucking fun?

Art. F/ART. With irony & good humor, I made this a rubber stamp. And stickers. Along with L. Alien (I felt that we all were.), LIFE-ART / TAKES RISKS (Go out on a limb.), WHO IS THIS PERSON? (A flip-flopping creative identity), etc. This was during my Mail-Art (snail mail, postal art) period. Along with plenty of photocopy prints (Xerox in the day…), gig flyers, postcards, zines, books (Cheap Art & others), stickers, & stuff. Another story overlapping another story. Life weaving as a fabric with colored & textured with me, friends, & the social creative milleau of the moment. The moment. It’s a process…the moment…

Wanting to express myself verbally, poetically, in a more direct out-going way I explored the open mic reading scene; it was & is alive & varied. I met 3 similar minded & styled poet guys, Michael L. Bruner, S.A. Griffin, Doug Knott, at a coffeehouse. We connected. Became a troupe, the LOST TRIBE, and over 4-5 years into the late 80’s, gigged scores of times mostly in LA- clubs, bars, galleries, parties (Get ready David Letterman!) – with rehearsed material & bold props. We published books. We won on the Gong Show. I joined AFTRA.

The Tribe morphed into the CARMA BUMS with the addition of Scott Wannberg (RIP). (The Beyond Baroque Literary Center library is named after Scott.) Dumping the traditional rehearsal concept, we hung out in prep for each gig- 3/4 improvisation with usually 1 memorized poem each in a dicey uncertain mix. Not for the staid or locked-in scholarly we were an edgy socially conscious tour de force when it worked; mortification when it didn’t. We actually relished both sides. We’ve gigged a hundred times in L.A., toured the Southwest twice, & the Pacific west coast into Canada. Viggo Mortenson bankrolled a documentary film on one of the Bums’ tours. We published “Twisted Cadillac: A Spoken Word Odyssey” (Find it on Amazon) & other smaller chapbooks. Joining geezer nation, we’ve continued to perform together every few years. Most recently we hung out in the Ozark Mountains (the Bible Belt) to let go as writers; a book of essentially unedited material came out of this adventure–“The Hideous Bible”.

Needing more from my performance art/life & revealing itself nearly simultaneously with the founding of the Carma Bums, I discovered a new performative mode of expression- the L.A. Mud people, the flip-side to the testosteroned Carma Bums. This was late 1988, a landmark year in my life. I continued to organize the ever-changing tribe into non-performance. Over the years we evolved into a slow, silent, curious L.A. Mudpeople. I realized that I was the leader, with all the muds, rugs, gear, toys, & mudstuff. What do the L.A. Mudpeople do? We hang-out, transform, & mud-up at least annually. When the head is donned we don’t speak, move slowly, check out wherever we are, we have no goals. We make discoveries, Explore. It’s a transformational process. About 50 people have mudded -up over the last 30 years. STAR ALERT! Leonardo DiCaprio mudded-up twice as a teen-ager, appearing unannounced as his dad was a Mudperson. We’re the new tribe of the L.A. River. It’s changed my DNA. You could be an L.A. Mudperson too! Let me know. Want to make a head (mask)?

Around that same time in mid-late 80’s, as I was gigging so much in the underground art/music scene I found myself living with one Victoria Loose-leaf. I joined her as co-host & had a run with “Mike Mollett’s Literary Minute” on her cable TV show, “The LOOSELEAF REPORT”. This was early anything-goes cable TV era of LA. On the music side of the scene was edgy New Wave Theater with host Peter Ivers & director & the Aleister Crowley wizard David Jove. I was the regular irregular performance artist, L.A. DADA with & without Neal Taylor. “All-American Dinner” is a classic from the show with father & son & me banally chatting as we “drank” motor oil, & ate money sandwiches. Yum.

The 80’s were MY decade. I was all over the city. Tapped into the pulse, but don’t blink. Life & culture moves on with or without you… I was interviewed by Ray Zone for the cover story on the L.A. Weekly. It was bumped by I don’t-know-what. I was so busy… loving it all, the vitality & more free-for-all non-pretentiousness of that time…. with visual art shows, performances, & readings, & organizing events, i.e.: an artists’ swap meet, an 8-venue DADAFEST LA, & TARGET LA Anti-Nuclear Arts Festival, in theaters, clubs, & art spaces with sets & acting, there was crazy wonderful ZTZU, “the ugliest gallery in LA.”, said the LA Weekly. ZTZU- one of the first artist run spaces. Neal Taylor & I showed 100 artists in wild themed shows (“The Turkey Show” for Thanksgiving, “For Love or Money”- Valentine’s Day… with hand-made catalogues for each show. With the buildings’ tenants evicted & the razing of the corner, the 2 Dada Brothers skipped LA to tour Canada: art, poetry, performance dinners with laundry, multimedia shows while in residencies Vancouver to Toronto.

I continued to be a free spirit, off the grid of the usual. Gardening/maintenance & landscaping paid my bills for more than a decade and then the best job– substitute teaching, elementary, my dear, Watson… I taught the basics, yet there was time with the kids for creative writing, theatrics & voices, visual art exploration, and scary stories…. I had a stable gig, & I could generally fly under the radar, there was/is healthcare & freedom to take off when necessary. I loved the play, so important. This is certainly one of the keys to happiness. I was able to made teaching a creative learning experience for kids needing inspiration. I was the Pied Piper of Hamlin kind of character but leading kids creatively. I didn’t take the job home with me for 25 years. & I was able to continue make art. At 50, for the 2nd half of my life, I moved in with & married Dee. Without her support & strength & regular understanding who knows where & what I would have become.

After what is called “retirement” from the public teaching world, (I do miss the energy, play, & open possibilities of kids), I’ve had a few solo shows & tons of group shows, often 1 a month. I’ve bumped up the public readings. Things have a way of revealing themselves to the world, in strange & natural ways… Bon Appétit.

Any advice for aspiring or new artists?
Art is a very large country without borders, unless we create them, or accept the status quo. Borders, or rules, in art are not necessarily a bad thing, of course. There is structure and focus in limiting one’s concerns & scope of activity. From time to time, however, borders, series (of artworks), methods, & modes (languages?) must be crossed, exploded, or dumped. Lingering on the edges of what we do as artists, as people really, is the opportunity for chance & accident…wonderful, disturbing, surprising chance. As artists, as in life, we must keep our senses awake as new possibilities are everywhere.

Art in my mind’s eye is everywhere; it’s just not yet painted or drawn, photographed, videoed, sculpted, or computer generated, etc. We’re usually just too damned busy, certain, fast, myopic, etc. to notice nuances & opportunities. I’ve wished countless times that I was able to (pause and) really hear sounds, see more colors, respond to a particular thing in a conversation, check out that fresh opportunity & the road not taken. Ha. It’s sort of like meditation, but one is on the move.

An artist, in a sense, is always discovering. Discovery in action is experimentations. Even when we believe we know “exactly” what we’re doing. Surprise! Making it financially as an artist is not an easy thing. A few years ago, I recall a statistic: 5% of artists are able to support themselves with their art.

We need to find our own way in this world, as an artist. Find our particular language. Attend art school if this is your thing. Personally, I can’t recommend it. It wasn’t for me, though I did consider Cal Arts (I loved the modular theater.) as I was coming out of a vacuum, without knowledge of what is considered art. It may have speeded my development as an artist, pushed me sooner into new & different projects. (Aren’t this what friends being for?) There certainly is a way of seeing, talking, acting that is taught in art school–art speak. This probably helps one fit in to the scene, be already sort of in the know correctly. With this background training & the connections, an artist may have an edge, a step up into the art world. Ah, the connections! Ah, correctness!

Make art because you love it!
Make art because you have to!
Make art, whatever it may be, because you just don’t feel right not making art.


Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Weldon Brewster- person photo portrait of Mike M. Mollett
Dee Balson Mollett- The L.A. Mudpeople
Mike Mollett- artwork

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