Interview with Mike Habs, a Punk Rock Abstract Artist that Goes Big

Mike Habs is a contemporary visual artist originally from Chicago’s south side. Currently based in Los Angeles, CA, his work leverages color and contrast to interpret the angst of punk rock music with vibrant abstraction. Each series of Mike’s explores how various techniques and approaches can transcribe the lyrical and conceptual aspects of the music which the pieces are named after.

Mike Habs creating his painting ‘Empty Room’

What inspired you to start painting?

I am originally from Chicago, but my first time leaving home was when I moved to Montreal, and the city itself really introduced me to the world of street art. I loved how it brought the enthusiasm of art to people and helped brighten up their everyday life. Later on when I moved to Los Angeles, I kept practicing and challenging myself to continually produce better work. When I started posting the progress on social media, and saw the joy it brought people, that really helped me strive to keep taking it to new levels.

Seven years later, I am very thankful to have work archived in a museum, many featured exhibitions, and hanging in many homes across the United States.

What makes your artworks unique?

In my paintings, I work to leverage color and contrast to abstractly interpret songs that have had a meaningful impact or have helped me gain perspective throughout various points of my life. The overlying theme of my artwork is working through and communicating “the intrinsic value of punk rock”.  The paintings are my way of transcribing the enthusiasm, inspiration, and conceptual aspects I receive from this music, and the work then evolves as I continue to explore new techniques and approaches.

Each song’s lyrics, metaphors, and themes are analyzed and help shape the paintings’ design and aesthetic. My main series the “Open Spaces Coalition” are multi-layered works, where the lyrics are written as graffiti, and when they are painted over become a subconscious element and help shape the overall impact of the piece or feeling of the song.

How do you come up with innovative art ideas?

Many aspects of my environment help shape the pieces and help me identify new ideas. Music is often the main inspiration, but learning about new materials, artistic concepts, and even just living in Los Angeles and being exposed to the vast variety of culture and art here helps keep the ideas flowing.

Provoking thought from the viewer, and encouraging them to question what they’re perceiving, rather than prescribing what to think is a very important element of my work. The more I continue to learn the more I believe these ideas will keep coming to fruition.

What materials do you use to paint your artworks?

Great question – materials became an increasingly important element to my works. My earlier works were on canvas, but I have now migrated mainly towards working on wood panels. It’s important to me to capture color as vibrantly as possible, and through experience I became adamant that the methods I have developed for treating the wood helps maximize this impact for the viewer.

I spend a lot of time exploring materials. Recently I even went so far as to make my own paints from scratch. The best way to describe it would be that it expands my vocabulary and allows me to express exactly what I am trying to convey and remain adaptable to exploring new territories.

The two main elements I prioritize while I am working with materials are visceral impact and sustainability. I place a lot of importance on capturing color vibrantly, and then ensuring that it will stand the test of time for clients and collectors.

Your paintings are quite large, why did you decide to go with this format?

I enjoy painting large for many reasons – at the beginning, I felt like the large scale better reflected the enthusiasm and excitement I was channeling into the paintings. As the years have gone by, I have been able to continually adapt my tools and processes towards growing these large works in different directions. Large paintings also create such a captivating presence in a home – I feel that they create a unique energy and increase the opportunity for them to become accessible to many kinds of people

How do you decide what size a painting will be, and what is the typical size of your artwork?

The concept behind my work usually derives the sizing as well as colors, format etc. For example, the “Open Spaces Coalition” series is my most well-known style and is large-scale panel works, where color, energy, and visual impact are explored. However, my “(gas)Lit” series from 2018 was a much more concise conceptual series, where the theme was more accurately emphasized by using patterns of small items, so it made sense to make these smaller works.

“Pepper” – Essex Fest – San Antonio TX – 2019

On average, how long does it take for you to create an artwork?

There is a variety within my styles regarding time, but overall, I would say it takes about approx. 36-75 hours for an average painting. My earliest works used to take a day or two while I was discovering my style, and now some pieces take months to fully come to fruition.

Which paintings sell better, larger or smaller?

Painting size seems to depend a lot on the collector. I have been asked for many of both, but it’s funny because size can be dependent on so many uncontrollable variables, like if someone has only one short wall to hang work in their home. I tend to let the concept drive the sizing and then be open to adapting elements when necessary.

What makes your art profitable?

Overall, the work itself needs to lead the dance. My experience has been that long-term business profitability ultimately stems from quality of the artwork and the experience of the client in their home. The idea that quality will resonate through many different dimensions has really helped shape my business approach. I also believe prioritizing the work’s visceral experience above short-term details, even if at times it has come at my own expense, will pay off in the long run.

Throughout the years, ensuring that my clients receive a vibrant, long lasting artwork has led to a lot of additional opportunities, and I am very thankful for my clients and collectors who have supported me along this journey. Their enthusiasm and encouragement has really helped keep me going and work through the difficult times.

How much does your art cost and what is the most expensive painting you ever sold?

There is a range of pricing within the series / availability / size etc., but overall, considering how much time is spent during creation the standard originals have typically been around $2,000-$5,000. I often do limited print runs as well which can be about $200-$400 per print. Most expensive painting so far sold for $12,000.

How do you sell your art? Do you have to look for clients or do they find you?

Work is sold through my website and limited representation. I manage a lot of the business elements internally and with my team. Social media and the new digital climate has enabled most of these clients to find me.

Who buys your artworks and from what countries do most of your clients come from?

There has been a huge variety of clients. It has been really encouraging seeing people enjoy the work from all walks of life. A lot of interest and purchases do seem to come from new homeowners, art enthusiasts, and art collectors. Majority of my artworks are in the United States, but a few are also owned in Sweden, England, and Germany.

What is the average age of your buyers and with how many clients do you work with on a regular basis?

Many clients are usually in their mid-thirties to late fifties I suppose. It depends on project stages and scope sizes, but at a given moment I can usually be working with anywhere from 1-10 clients.

How do you deliver your large art to clients?

I have shipped a lot of work throughout the country and have a great shipper close to my studio whom I work with for most of my processing. For exceptionally large scale works or multiples I work with a local carpenter to crate ship the works. Since I have a standard large size for most of my works, I’m able to include the shipping cost in initial pricing so the client can have a total end of the day expectation.

Have you faced many risks and liabilities when starting your art business?

Absolutely – there have been a significant amount of trials and tribulations throughout the years, but learning from these experiences has continued to help me grow and focus as an artist. Financial risk and liability will come along with many ventures, but focusing on the good, and using these experiences to improve my work helps keep the momentum moving in a positive direction.

What is your overall outlook on how the art market is changing and developing?

The art market continues to change at a rapid pace along with many of the advancements of technology. Overall, this will inevitably lead to growth and additional exposure to the field which I think is a great thing. It has inspired me to adapt and helped find new ways – both digital and physical – to enable my audience to interact with the artwork and keep it as engaging as possible.

How has COVID impacted your business and what changes, if any, did you have to make?

COVID has been such a very tough experience all around, and I have been so excited to see the vaccinations ramping up, seeing things hopefully coming back to normal soon. Overall, it really forced me into a year and a half of seclusion in the studio, but I tried to make the most of it and used that time to streamline a lot of my workflow processes and migrated towards many more digital based interactions.

However, I am so excited for things to finally be opening soon! I can’t wait to get out in the world to meet more people and paint many more projects!

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