Alot of lines.”
This is the simple description Michael Slagle offers of his art, but the reality is much more complex. Delicate clouds and bright colors are interrupted by bold black lines, combining flatness and volume to alter the perspective from something recognizable to something more abstract. From bridges to flowers to farmlands, where most people see something ordinary, Slagle sees potential for art.
Slagle grew up in Lakeland, Minnesota, and returned to his childhood home in 2013 after living in Brooklyn, New York, for nearly a decade. Surrounded by the picturesque St. Croix River Valley, Slagle needn’t travel far to seek inspiration.
“[My paintings are] very much inspired by where I live,” Slagle says. “I feel like there is a connection there between growing up in this neighborhood and coming back and making these paintings. It’s a way to reconnect, a little bit.”
The move from New York back to Minnesota prompted a virtual about-face in Slagle’s subject matter. In New York, his primary inspiration came from city maps that he would print, shred, reassemble on top of one another, and load into Photoshop. Then he would paint. The resulting pieces were mind-bending images of fine lines intersecting with bold splashes of color—a transformation of ordinary maps into perspective-altering works that distort one’s realities of up and down, far and near.
While it wasn’t exactly Slagle’s intention to go anti-urban with his work upon returning to Minnesota, the evolution of his art reflects a clear transformation from the helter-skelter of city life to the open spaces and natural beauty of the river valley. “It’s easy to feel claustrophobic in New York and I think this had a direct impact on my paintings,” Slagle says.
Regardless of his muse, Slagle’s bold aesthetic comes through in all of his work. “It’s definitely inspired by what I’m doing with my life and where I’m at with my job, but also it fits into this evolution of my paintings and these different ideas aesthetically of what I’m doing,” he says. “There’s a continuum there that I find to be interesting.”
By day, Slagle works in sales for the Pioneer Press, which regularly takes him on the road. Whenever something catches his eye, he pulls over and takes a photo. At home, he uploads the photos and plays with the lighting and shadows, figuring out how he’d like it to look on canvas. His process is considered and deliberate, while still leaving ample room for curiosity.
“It’s really a fascinating exercise to do,” he says. “It’s an investigation into this aesthetic I’ve created. What would the next one look like? The second I can see what I wanted to see on the paper, on the canvas, is really fulfilling.”
Though his method remains consistent, Slagle consciously leaves room to experiment with different techniques. Still, he says he’s careful about putting anything down on canvas before he can fully visualize how it will look.
“For me, that’s an evolution of ‘okay, I can work that in somehow, maybe 10 paintings down the road, but I’m not quite ready to wrap my head around that quite yet,’” he says. “It’s always evolving, but very slowly. We’ll see how it looks in a year.”
Slagle’s current exhibition, “Lake Land” at the Ames Center in Burnsville, wraps up in mid-September, and he says he’s looking forward to taking some time to paint for himself before looking toward the next big project. While he is successfully juggling a full-time career, a family, and moonlighting as an artist, ideally Slagle sees himself eventually being a full-time artist. “To wake up in the morning, go to the studio, paint all day: that would be my dream.”
Name: Michael Slagle
Hometown: Lakeland, MN
Currently Resides: Lakeland, MN
Medium: Oil on canvas