Michael McGregor, an artist and illustrator born in Connecticut and currently based in LA, looks towards his immediate surroundings for inspiration. Whether it’s the market, the cafe or something stumbled across in his home studio or found on a glorious morning walk, it’s the smaller things that he finds the most interesting. “Simple things that make me think, ‘Well isn’t that wonderful’,” he says, explaining that flowers are a common presence throughout his oil-based illustrative works. “Perhaps this is because my mother is a master gardener and my siblings and I all worked in a flower store where she worked growing up.”
During his adolescent years, Michael would spend most of his time drawing and painting – at home, at after-school art classes and even after ‘going to bed,’ when, really, he’d just turned off the lights, closed the door and commenced a late-night drawing session with the aid of a reading light. He enjoyed recording the radio, too, with his mixtapes providing a soundtrack to the narratives and scenarios he would create by hand – either pencil sketches in a notebook or marker drawings on perforated printer paper.
“That all stopped in high school,” says Michael. “At the time, I didn’t feel comfortable expressing myself artistically, especially as my peers started thinking about art school and the like.” Art school, in his mind, became an intimidating move. “I reacted by shutting down and not making visual art,” he explains. Instead, he turned his attention to creative non-fiction writing and cinema. “I never thought about ‘being an artist’, or making visual art in my adult life. Those things felt really foreign and frankly impossible to me as a teenager in New Jersey.”
Fast forward a few years, Michael was at the age of 32 and residing in Brooklyn. Burnt out at work and feeling somewhat depressed and “over New York”, he started dating an illustrator. “She encouraged me to draw while she was working on a project. It felt good,” he says. “I was making stuff without any of the teenage anxiety about if it’s cool or, worse, 20-something anxiety about whether or not it was intellectually valid enough to be worth existing. It was simple; I was enjoying it and it felt free.”
Shortly after this epiphany, Michael relocated to Mexico City for three years without a concrete plan. All he knew was that he wanted to create art. Now, currently based in a neighbourhood near the Hollywood sign, his blossoming environment filled with markets, hills and blooming flowers is his catalyst. And when referring to his work, he likes to call it still life: “Regardless of the medium, the aim is simple – to depict something, often something I’ve observed, or perhaps imagined or remembered (or think I remembered).” More drawn towards the universal and the everyday – hence the bottles, the fruit, flowers and bathrooms – and less to the sensational, his work echoes with familiarity and, of course, contains strong hints of David Hockney.
Michael finds it fascinating how there are so many different styles and eras within the realms of art, yet still life has more or less remained the same. “It’s incredible how for the past 500 years the subject matter of still life hasn’t changed that drastically, but stylistically it’s evolved like mad,” he says. This ranges from 17th-century Flemish still-life paintings to the fauvists – Raoul Dufy and Matisse – to pop artists such as Lichtenstein and Tom Wesselmann. “I could go on and on about set design in film too,” he says.
As a whole, Michael is captivated by a story. Perhaps this stems from his background in non-fiction writing and cinema, or the fact that he’s completely enamoured with turning the mundane into a picture of wonder. “I depict moments in life for the same reason we all do: to remind us that we are alive and to try and appreciate the mundane aspects of life,” he says. “A lot of the objects that I depict are banal, everyday – like flowers, beer bottles, fruit, books and ashtrays. But there is a lot of beauty hidden, and not so hidden, in our relationships with these objects.
“As humans, it’s easy for us to normalise things and to take the everyday for granted,” Michael concludes. “In my work, I take nothing for granted. I am just happy to be able to make it.”
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.