Half Empty, Since 1998

“For me, it comes down to companies that don’t poison the earth or its inhabitants.”

Commissioning Street Art: Michael DeFeo

Michael DeFeo, Wooster Collective. April 4th, 2004

Street art by Michael DeFeo

Street art by Michael DeFeo

Street art by Michael DeFeo

WOOSTER COLLECTIVE: So what’s been your criteria for taking on a commission? What elements need to be in place before you’ll commit to a project?

MICHAEL DeFEO: Well, I guess it depends on who the commission is for. Is it for a corporation or for a personal patron? I suppose what I’m asking for is the intent of the work. It’s quite different selling sneakers than a painting. Or is it? I haven’t done any, but if I were, the overall concept needs to be strong … it needs a good foundation.

WOOSTER: So are there brands that you would love to work with?

DeFEO: For me, it comes down to companies that don’t poison the earth or its inhabitants.

WOOSTER: Have you ever turned down a commission? What were the circumstances?

DeFEO: A beer company approached a gallery owner I was showing with to find out if I was interested in working with them. They basically wanted to use my flower design to sell their beer … I wasn’t interested but I never got the chance to say “no” because the project fell through the cracks.

WOOSTER: As an artist, looking at work that has been done recently, are there examples where you thought a commission worked really well? Examples where it didn’t?

DeFEO: Dale Chihuly, a glass artist, has done numerous successful commissions. His chandelier for the lobby of the Bellagio in Las Vegas is incredible. I’ve always loved his work and this piece is truly beautiful.

Arkitip has done some great collaborations. I also like the limited series done by artists featured in Parkett.

WOOSTER: What advice would you give to other artists who are approached by brands for commissions?

DeFEO: Be true to yourself before you think about your wallet.

WOOSTER: When it comes to a commission, is it always about the money? Can a commission help a career in ways outside of money?

DeFEO: If you’re paired with something you really believe in, it can be rewarding for both parties. Listen, we all need to eat, and choices can be tough. I’m not interested in calling people sell-outs or whatever. Labeling is lame, and therein lies the difficulty. On both sides.

WOOSTER: Has you perspective on commissions changed over time?

DeFEO: I’ve never regretted dropping my major in advertising back around 1992 at the School of Visual Arts. I guess that’s why I became a teacher. I mean, how could I live with myself if I had to advertise things?

Commissioning Street Art

(Included in Half Empty #2)