Artist Mike Scarano on work, art and what happens when the two worlds collide

Categories: Art, Q&A

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Photo courtesy of Jerimy Brown
P.W. Herman, screen print.
When people picture an artist's life, they usually envision something romantic: Gene Kelly in An American in Paris, opening the window to his rooftop Parisian studio, letting in the morning light while singing "I Got Rhythm," and dancing out the door to make a living selling art on the streets. In reality, most artists have to learn to balance work and art, and something usually has to give.

Mike Scarano, a Denver artist, knows the pain and joy of being an artist -- he's shown his work at Kaze Gallery, works as a web designer and picks up work designing band art. "Work and art don't go hand in hand," he says. "You have to trade off. You can't really do both at the same time." Scarano took some time to discuss how he deals with the challenge.

What have you been working on lately?

I just recently finished a poster for my friend Ryan Policky, for his band, A Shoreline Dream. I'm also currently trying to plan and am working on a poster for this show coming up for Chris Huth, at Black Cloud Workshop. He has a show coming up soon that is like a literary-based show -- every piece of art is based on a piece of literature. So I've been trying to work on piece for Old Man and the Sea.

You're a web designer. Do you think that job fulfills you as an artist?

I would have to say that I do not think what I do for a living is art -- most of the time, absolutely not. It's all based on method, it's all based on strategy, and it's all based on gathering info on how one uses a site and then trying to make that user experience better. I think that obviously there is a some art to it, like you have to understand colors and design, but I think most of what websites are about is balance or getting someone to go where you want them to.

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Photo by Ryan Policky
"A Shoreline Dream," screen print.

How is what you do for a living different than your personal art?

I think of my art in a different way than work art. It's personal and liberating and very meaningful and very meaningless, at the same time. It's in my art that I can escape and do whatever the eff I want to do. The cool thing about that, rather than doing art as a job, is I don't have to care either way. If it's good, it's good. If it's bad, it's bad. But, it doesn't affect me paying my bills.

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Photo by Jerimy Brown
"Best Friends," pencil, illustrator, then digitally printed

A lot of people probably think you have it made -- creating art for a living and for fun. Do you think that's an accurate assessment? Or are there times where you're like, "Man, this job is sucking the soul out of my art?"

Here's the misunderstanding that a lot of people have about what a design job is, or any job that incorporates art into its form: Art, when you are using it for something that needs to create revenue or a return on investment is not just like, "Hey man, do what you want to do and have a good time," or "Smoke a bowl and see what you some up with." Try and think about imagery that not only pleases the client but also brings revenue to the business. It's almost impossible. There are a lot of manipulations you have to use to get the right effect. There's a lot of fear and self doubt that goes into it, and a lot of hours.

What sucks the most about having a job rooted in art is people think you're some sort of a happy-go-lucky idiot and there is a lot of animosity that's tossed out at you. But it's as hard as any other discipline. It may not be as important as any other discipline fundamentally, but it's definitely as difficult. And, I'm not trying to complain. That's just a part of it.

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Photo by Jerimy Brown
"Hella Knives," oil-based paint markers and spray paint.

Do you feel connected to the Denver art scene?

I wouldn't say I'm a major contender or anything, but I try to keep up on what's happening. I guess my solo show, "Hella Knives," was my attempt to break into the scene a little more. I really have to thank Sandi Calistro for that opportunity. She was really generous with her studio and gallery, Kaze, and I think she really gave me a lot of confidence in the sense that, "Yes, I can do this, and no, I do not totally suck."

Do you feel fulfilled, as an artist?

I really couldn't tell you. I guess the "artist" answer would be, "I'm never satisfied and I feel as though I could always do better" or, "my life is a work in progress, m-aan." Ha, ha. Honestly, I feel pretty good every time I'm making art.

To contact Scarano about his art, email him at info@michaelscarano.com.

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