Notorious for his mental breakdown and departure from Weezer, Mikey Welsh opens up about his obsessive love-affair with painting. Welsh's paintings can be viewed, starting July 2, for one month at The Slingluff Gallery.
Hi Mikey. So good to have you with us. You are so often introduced as the ex-bassist of Weezer. Switching careers in such a dramatic way has to be either exhilarating or terrifying. Maybe both. What was that like for you?
It's not exactly fun having a nervous breakdown and then a mid-life crisis when you're only 30, but I did. I knew right away that I was going to be a painter, so walking away from all that fame and all that money wasn't as painful as one might think. I couldn't be more thrilled with how things turned out.
In hindsight, do you feel that having the nervous breakdown was your body's mental & physical way of letting you know you should be pursuing a different career?
I think having the nervous breakdown was my body’s and my mind's way of telling me that I needed serious help. Something was very wrong with me. Maybe it was the excessive narcotic intake, maybe it was having my dreams realized and finding out it wasn’t really what I imagined it would be. Living under a dictatorship? Probably all of the above.
How was your relationship with painting different when you were growing up—with a mother who was an artist—versus how you approach painting now?
My mom mostly drew with charcoals when I was little, and exposed me to a lot of art books. It didn't really have to do much with painting; that I learned on my own when I was older.
Learning to paint on your own is no easy thing. What led you to painting versus charcoal or pencil?
Falling in love with painters led me to wanting to be one. Basquiat, F. Bacon, De Kooning, Cy Twombly, Franz Kline…I could go on forever with the list. It's the specific medium that attracted me, then, needing to do it. All the time.
Do you have any favorite living painters?
Jesse Reno, Gabriel Shaffer, Matt Sesow—in no particular order. They all tear it up.
Can you describe your technique? What compels you to create using your fingers instead of the traditional paintbrush?
I'm not quite sure how I ended up kind of abandoning the brush. I think it was just spending hundreds of hours in the studio, experimenting. I discovered that I could get a really manic look with the paint if I just used my fingertips and different parts of my hand to apply it. I still use brushes once in a while, but only on bigger paintings.
How did your nervous breakdown impact you as a painter? Did this experience alter how you create?
I think what happened to me put me more intensely in touch with my inner-self. It somehow allowed me to really tap in to the darker side of my psyche, and explore it. This skill, if you want to call it that, never really went away. It seems to grow more intense all the time, and I use it every day.
When you say you became more "in touch with [your] inner-self," what do you mean? Did this experience reveal a more honest perspective of who you are?
I just mean it cut away all the bullshit. Everything I was hiding behind. It led me down a sometimes-frightening path straight to my soul, where I can get an honest look at everything going on inside myself.
Is painting a coping mechanism for you?
Painting is a sick-addiction for me. I need to have it all the time. I need to be painting like normal people need air to breathe. I just need paint, and leave me alone.
What is the basis of your show at The Slingluff Gallery?
The show is capturing the last several months of my life, a day at a time. All of the paintings in the show at Slingluff are just daily moods of mine. Pretty severe moods.
You were born in New York, what led you to settle in Vermont?
I grew up in Boston, right in the city. When I was in Weezer, I lived all over L.A. for 4 years or so. What I'm saying is, between that, and all the touring we did, I got heavily burned out on being in cities—at all, really. So when I left the band, I knew I wanted to live someplace quiet where people would just leave me alone. As for Vermont, I followed a girl here.
We are really happy to have you here in Philly. What is it like showing your art professionally?
I just let the galleries I like show it. That's all. I'm interested in pleasing myself and my fans, and not getting caught up in being "professional" it's just nice to have the work out of the studio and up on some clean, white walls. The "pleasing" thing sounded creepy, right?