NEW YORK—Michael Anderson, the New York-based collage artist, passed away at his home on the Upper West Side this past July. He was only 52 years of age. Born and raised in the Bronx during the borough’s absolute worst of dire times, Michael, a third-generation Bronxite, took great pride in the place that shaped his urban-inspired art and larger-than-life personality. In conversation, he always enjoyed pointing out that ‘the Bronx is the best’. And he’d argue his point home, too: “What do you got? You’re from Queens. You got the Mets. We got the Yankees. Please.” If you tried to counter with: “Yeah, but in music, we got RUN DMC, Nas, Q-Tip, 50 Cent and….” And before the sentence was finished, in typical Michael Anderson fashion, he’d reply: “Yeah, that’s cool. But if it weren’t for the Bronx, there’d be no hip-hop at all.” This, followed by his ever-present smile —of victory.
His friend, Bucky Turco, from Animal New York, where Mr. Anderson was an arts editor, said Michael was, on first appearances, ‘loud, obnoxious, a bit pushy, and often, saying really awkward shit that could silence a room.” But he, like all those who got to know him, would eventually learn how warm a soul Michael truly was and with a heart of pure gold that wished only well on his colleagues in the art world.
Michael’s start in art-making happened by chance while studying International Relations at SUNY, New Paltz. He began tearing down street posters for the simple reason of decorating his room. His first collage took shape on his bathroom’s wall. The idea of creating blossomed further when, after taking a drawing class at school, Michael realized an art-life was calling. And, “after reading every single art book” in the school’s library, concluded that through collage a chance at doing something big and important in the canon—alongside the likes of Picasso, Braque, and Bearden—was not an impossible dream.
From 1996 and until 2004, he was a participating member of and organizing curator at, GAle GAtes et al., at their massive, 40,000 square-foot space in DUMBO. He partook in prestigious art residencies worldwide in places like Mexico, Athens, Berlin, and here in New York with Chashama. His first gallery show, Post No Bills, was with Paul Rodgers in Chelsea in 2002, a turning point in his life. Roberta Smith, for The New York Times, wrote: “This talented self-taught artist reconstitutes and rearranges scraps of street posters to often dazzling effect, borrowing from the French affichistes, traditional collage and graffiti art to make dazzling mosaic-like images that fluctuate in optical pattern and cultural reference. His compressed faux graffiti writing, as in the eight-foot-square “Lucha Arena”, is the best.”
Between 2005 and 2016, he held court at his Harlem Collage Shop up on 136th street. Upon entering, it was reminiscent of when Jennifer Connelly’s character in “A Beautiful Mind” walked into the garage of her genius husband played by Russell Crowe, witnessing firsthand his true obsessive madness: countless clippings and scraps of paper strewn about and tacked to the walls. Or in Michael’s case, folded and shelved waiting to be ripped and glued.
Michael would always make it a point to say his work was not at all autobiographical. That there was something more to share with the world than his thoughts and feelings. Yet, he was a biographer none-the-less —of his hometown and the environs he visited. He was a chronicler of the street and the myriad cultures therein. He was a historiographer of pop culture and an archivist of contemporary life. Through his compulsive collecting of ephemera and via his arrangement and repurposing of thousands of fragments of advertising materials gleaned off the streets, of the over 40,000 graffiti stickers collected and saved in notebooks beginning in the mid-90s (a rare and worthy collection for the Smithsonian Museum), Michael realized his goal of taking collage to new heights and proffered to the world a fascinatingly original and arresting version of itself. His multi-layered collages of Nicole Kidman, Britney Spears, Bob Marley, Mike Tyson, and other cultural icons are true time capsules of our times. Construed together with glue by a sage before their life’s purpose expired and made entirely anew in a vernacular uniquely his own to purposely “show what it’s like to be alive today.”
In his customary Dickies shirt and pant suit, and his Yankees ballcap tilted on his head to one side, Michael was always on the move, always out and about and always quick to sneek-up from behind at a gallery or art fair to surprise and delight asking: “Hey, what’s going on? What should I go see?” He was the embodiment of the New York art world who had a very endearing gift for speaking in contrasting sentences: “That was a cool show, mine is a lot cooler”; “You’re strong, but I can assure you I’m a lot stronger” (and I can assure you, whoever you are, he was a lot stronger.); or, as he relayed to his pal Anthony Haden-Guest most recently: “I’m growing sunflowers from seeds….my pear tree passed away. ”
And with it, a beloved man. You and your art will be remembered, Michael. Eternally.