Photo courtesy of Michael Summers
Arts Arts & Entertainment Carlsbad Cities

Inside local artist’s colorful world

CARLSBAD — Imagine of world dripping – literally – with color. Welcome to the art of Michael Summers, whose series of multi-colored animals beneath colorful drips of rain will be among his and many other works showcased at the Carlsbad Village Street Faire on May 5.

Noting the fair as one of the most professional, well-organized events in San Diego, Summers said he is thrilled to share his work with an audience that historically exceeds six digits.

“I truly enjoy interacting with the crowd,” he said. “The fair is a unique opportunity to meet longtime collectors and those who see my work for the first time. I love sharing what I’ve learned with others.”

Summers’ artistic education began young. The only son of “nomadic hippies,” he grew up a stone’s throw away from California’s Joshua Tree. Surrounded by a “cavalcade of eccentric artists, social dropouts, idealistic dreamers, and free thinkers,” his unconventional parents had no interest in a “standard upbringing.”

Artistic endeavors were encouraged while direction into the mainstream was politely discouraged. He even attended an alternative grade school. When placed in public school, he was a year ahead of the rest of his class.

“My parents encouraged my art and creativity,” he said. “Plastic toys were scarce but crayons, paper, canvas, and art supplies were always in abundance.”

Artwork by Michael Summers

Surrounded by desert tortoises, coyotes, dogs, cats, nature and wildlife, the artist in training painted animals as “an interesting way to tell a story.”

Summers left home by age 20 and travelled to Virginia, Missouri and Texas until landing in San Diego.

With a bachelor’s degree in fine art from San Diego State University, “thanks to the GI Bill,” the now 44-year-old Oceanside resident dabbled in art as a hobby until he knew he could do what he loved and live well. Balance was however, required.

“I made the leap to self-employment as an artist with no parameters,” he said. “I produced an insane amount of paintings, working some 16 hours a day. I quickly realized that I had to scale back and find balance.”

Ask the self-described history nerd what inspires him and he admits to “loving the crazy vivid colors of the ‘70s and ‘80s Saturday morning cartoons along with its pop culture, comic books, and book covers.”

“The saturated imagery of that era makes me want to draw,” he explained.

Summers sketches, doodles and jots down ideas until he has a clear vision of an image or concept that “he’s happy to paint.”

“Art haunts me,” he said. “Art can keep me up at night. And the only way to stop the haunting is to start painting.”

The illustrator serendipitously began his “Right as Rain” series to explore the “virtues of abstract art.” Unable to relinquish control required by the artistic study, he painted rain drips instead of allowing them to arbitrarily flow, giving birth to work that continues today.

“I painted abstract rain drips the way I thought they should look,” he said. “I stepped out of my comfort zone but I never lost control.”

For most of his work, Summers uses slow-drying acrylics because of their rich saturation. When not painting on walls, canvases, or Masonite, he scavenges for surfaces the likes of tree trunks and cabinet doors.  

Following natural patterns that are “easy to manipulate with color,” Summers strives to make the “impossible seem plausible.” Imaginary characters, animals, robots, machines and humans become mythological symbols.

Artwork by Michael Summers

 Penguins shield themselves from colorful rain with lively umbrellas. Tigers lounge lazily under the warmth of rainbow rain. Elephants, rhinos and big cats, “high on my list of favorite things to paint,” evolve “organically.”

Robots were recently added as a focus along with aquatic creatures on surfboards.

“I create stories full of characters and how they interact with each other before adding rainbow paint around them,” he said. “Paintings vary, but I believe that a viewer’s input on what story the painting tells them is most important.”

Summers said he loves painting large-scale public pieces shared with “huge numbers of people” that afford him an “escape the isolation of the studio.”  

Listing his favorite paintings genres as pop surrealism, Japanese Ukioye woodblock prints, Italian Renaissance and comic book art and anime, Summers encourages everyone to “push the limits of what’s visually expected.”

“We live in an amazing world that everyone needs to appreciate,” he concluded. “We should expose ourselves to all things new. I say surrender to the day and let the paint wash over you.”

“Catnip,” his signature mural that graces the corner of Carlsbad Boulevard and Grand Avenue, will serve as the artist’s backdrop on the day of the fair.

The Carlsbad Village Faire, celebrated as one of the largest one-day street fairs in the nation, will host over 850 artistic and retail vendors and 50 food booths in the heart of Carlsbad Village. For more on the artist, visit www.michaelsummersart.com

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