Towards Phlatness is a new exhibition by LA native and artist Michael Nesbit. A merging of technique and representation, his series of lithographic prints was printed with the collaboration of master printer Francesco Siqueiros of El Nopal Press.

Michael Nesbit portrait at Jai & Jai by Jasmine Park

Michael Nesbit portrait at Jai & Jai by Jasmine Park

I sat down with Michael at his downtown loft a couple weeks after his first solo exhibition debuted at Jai & Jai gallery, an intimate space in Chinatown run by two sisters Jaitip and Jomjai Srisomburananont. The opening reception attracted a diverse audience of artists, musicians, printmakers, architects, and designers in the LA community, including artist John Valadez, who described the work as “abstract technical.” When we spoke, I noticed how passionate Michael was, not only about his work, but his city in general. “Los Angeles right now and downtown specifically is looking for something. Something’s happening here and it’s going to happen quick.[…] This seems like a very pivotal moment,” he told me. These words stuck with me. As a recent NYC to LA transplant, my knowledge of the art world here is still growing, but I’m convinced that Michael Nesbit is one of LA’s emerging artists to watch.

Ioulia Borealis: You had an unusual start to your art career.

Michael: I played professional baseball for 5 years, the majority of the time with the Seattle Mariners.

Ioulia Borealis: The actual name, Towards Phlatness with a “Ph.” Can you talk about that?

Michael: The idea of phlatness for me is about a collapsing of complexity. It’s about taking complex information and collapsing it into a singular thing and looking at something at face value.

My work is very interested in technique and representation, but I think more importantly, literal misrepresentation. The “Phlatness” as far as with a “Ph”, stems from “phlataphysics” and the “phlataphor,” a theory and concept that I’ve been developing [since my time at SciArc]. It deals with concepts of technique and how we see the world. It is very Heidegger based, and also stems from a British playwright named Alfred Jarry. Jarry developed a writing style based on his own philosophy called “pataphysics”. The root of it was a “pataphor,” which is basically a metaphor of a metaphor. The pataphor creates its own reality.

I think that the “phlataphor” becomes very interested in the technique and the tool of creating art. Every tool that we use will produce a different representation. It’s not about the object that gets represented, it’s about phlatness. It’s looking at the found object in front of you, taken at face value.

Ioulia Borealis: What do you want the audience to experience when they walk into Jai & Jai and see the work for the first time?

Michael: I want people to look at the work and take things at face value. When you look at the lithographs at first, they’re abstract. Then you look closer and realize the intricate maniacal rigor that is probably just engrained from me being disciplined [from my baseball days]. The work is extremely rigorous, conceptual, theory-based, and technical, but at the same time, it’s playful.

Photo by Jasmine Park

Photo by Jasmine Park

Ioulia Borealis: How did the work develop?

Michael: A lot of the abstract work, the ink and acrylic drawings and paintings, happened in my studio where it’s more personal and private. I’m a project designer at Morphosis, an architectural design firm founded and run by Thom Mayne. I take the train everyday. I get half an hour each way where I can have my laptop, and I can work on a drawing. What’s interesting about the work is it builds up. It’s not top down. It emerges, it’s bottom up. It comes together, it’s a piece here, it’s piece there. It constructs, it deconstructs. El Nopal Press became the platform of putting it all together. It’s at the press where it becomes a true collaboration. Francesco is not just a master printer, he is a visionary artist. Between him and the literal press itself, the work truly emerges.

Michael Nesbit & Francesco Siqueiros at El Nopal Press by Jasmine Park

Michael Nesbit & Francesco Siqueiros at El Nopal Press by Jasmine Park

Ioulia Borealis: Are there artists and designers that you admire and inspire you?

John Chamberlain and his folded metal sculptures. The playfulness, the randomness, the operational strategy that he uses to produce his work is really important to me. The graphite pieces in the show have a direct response to Ad Reinhardt’s Black Paintings, and the intent of almost losing the brush stroke.

Photo by Jasmine Park

Photo by Jasmine Park

Ioulia Borealis: Can you talk about your next exhibition, part II of Towards Phlatness, and what’s in the works?

Michael: The next project/showing will be Phlatness in 2015.

Ioulia Borealis: With a “Ph” still?

Michael: The “Ph” gets back to the “phlataphor” and developing [my own] language. I will be doing some silk screen printing. The scale will be bigger, and it’s going to be more playful. I’m going to be using the same drawings as materials. They lose their meaning and I think that’s important in the work. [It’s]important for me to always get very personal with the work but at the same time step away from it and become analytical and not go too far into the rabbit hole.

Ioulia Borealis: I’m looking forward to seeing it. What do you think is happening in LA right now?

Michael: There’s momentum happening. You can feel it in the city. You feel it at the galleries, especially with what’s going on at Jai & Jai gallery. You can sense the energy.

Everyone here in downtown is looking for something and they’re looking hard and they care. Something’s happening here that is not happening anywhere else. It’s going to happen quick. 20 years, 30 years is going to happen quick. This seems like a very pivotal moment for LA. Everyone is coming back to the city.

Downtown was in this abyss. The city grew out because the car, freeways, highways, suburbia pushed it out. So Los Angeles went from this dense thing in the beginning of the century, and everyone went away, and it became this hole. Now it’s coming back and quick. I recognize it, and I’m very grateful of it and that I’m here in the city. I’m an Angeleno. Put me in the river one day (laughs). This is an exciting time to be here and downtown especially. I’m curious what’s going to happen a year from now. I’m curious what’s going to happen next month.

Photo by Jasmine Park

Photo by Jasmine Park

Towards Phlatness runs through June 14. The exhibition is free and open to the public from 11am-5pm Tuesday-Saturday or by appointment. Jai & Jai is located at 648 North Spring Street, Los Angeles.

All photographs by Jasmine Park and assistant William Hu.