Catalog Essay by Laura A. Lindenberger:
Erick Michaud moves between painting and performance, video and drawing to create narratives that are intimately tied to memories of his hometown, a dying paper mill town called Madawaska, Maine. His projects, however, are not just nostalgic recreations of a quiet, snowy home. Rather, he plumbs the psychological tensions that build in that place, both from his memories of Madawaska and from the lives of Madawaska's inhabitants in the fictional characters he creates.
The head coach of the Madawaska Owls, a failed artist, fights a losing battle against time and the opposing teamů he rants at his team in the face of impossible odds. His son (perhaps his own remembered self?) cannot wait to leave home to make it on his own.
At two minutes to midnight, a lone figure trudges through the streets of Madawaska, an axe over his shoulder. As he walks through the empty streets, snow begins to fall, suggesting (with this ghost of a logger) the transitory and fleeting nature of this moment before it melts. His walk lasts the length of Metallica's And Justice For All album.
Death preaches doom and destruction from a hand-drawn thundercloud while a cheap soundtrack screeches in the background. Another manifestation in Michaud's invented mythology: Death is a fisherman, patient and tough, able to wait. Michaud thinks of Death as a comic figure, a kind of clumsy, awkward, and lonely character who has a lot of time on his hands. Poor guy, Michaud says, you can't help but feel sorry for him.
Building the myth of a place and idealizing the lives of its inhabitants is a romantic way to deal with being away from what used to be one's home. Moving to Texas two years ago was the first time Michaud had lived away from the north, after 18 years in Madawaska and time in New York City, Nova Scotia, and Montreal. He is aware of his romance with home; the logger performance is one he staged just for the town itself, with a friend on hand to document it. A painting on his studio walls depicts an outline of a house in the dark blue night. A diagonal swath of glittery snow cuts through the painting. Snow became a recurring theme in his work after he moved to Texas.
Michaud is also aware of the distance between himself and that place. Returning to Madawaska this past winter, Michaud notes how the dark, snowbound days are filled by the glow of television and hopes of an abstract "something better" in the future. Rather than living in the present, he says, the television allows life in such dying towns to pause, hold its breath. It's ironic, then, that many of his performances find their way onto a television screen via video documentation. Other pieces like the basketball coach's rant, intended for television, are so outrageous, or grating, that Michaud hopes their blatancy will both repel and attract his viewers. You're not meant to like them, he claims. But they are simultaneously so funny, personal, and ironic that their humor allows any viewer a foothold.
I recently heard someone describe joy as something highly
personal, pain as shared, perhaps universal. Michaud mingles
humor with pathos, irony with nostalgia in his reenactments of
the myths he makes for Madawaska. His paintings, which can
both stand alone or serve as backdrops for the videos, are
intentionally reminiscent of folk paintings rather than high art.
There's a genuineness in folk art, he thinks, a straightforward
passion for what one makes, that the art world would do well to
understand. His performances and videos act as explorations
into the personal world he creates, complete with tragic and
awkward characters. Place is subjective, Michaud says, it
changes from day to day. Collecting and creating images that
define his own place, Michaud's work makes us both laugh and
want to cry at how far we've come from home.