When thinking about Burning Man, a stark desert background, interactive art, fire (of course!), bizarre costumes, and larger-than-life sculptures come to mind. And among these pieces of 3D art are some giant structures whose scale leaves you humbly looking up in awe–these are the types of sculptures Michael Christian is known for creating.
Burning Man, which started merely as a summer party at Baker Beach in 1986, and has grown to be a mecca to some, a life-changing experience for many first-timers. As the event has grown, it has impressively stayed true to the “leave no trace” policy. All to be left behind are tiny glimpses of the journey, the “you had to be there” type of stories, and photos of the people and the extraterrestrial pieces of art, created, constructed and de-constructed by mere mortals.
It is a dream for many creators to be able to have a project come to life here. This year, the Burning Man Arts funded approximately $1.2 million worth of art-related projects, including sixty projects that fell within the 2016 Black Rock Honoraria Art Installations grants. Five artists were highlighted as returning artists to watch for–among them was Michael Christian.
One of the most iconic Burning Man artists is Michael Christian. He has been involved with Burning Man since 1996–before the multi-day event was a celebrity destination and when it only cost $35 to attend. This year, Michael Christian will have completed his 20th Burning Man sponsored grant. As he humbly puts it, “Twenty years is a long time. I’ll just say I’ve been contributing long enough that the work I do is often referred to as ‘Burning Man’ like.”
While Christian’s style is synonymous with Burning Man, he also paints, draws, and does other 3D art pieces and commissions outside of Burning Man. In awe of the time, effort, logistics, and imagination involved, we asked Christian to tell us a bit more about his work, as the countdown to Burning Man (August 28 – September 5) begins.
Do you have a team who helps you move these pieces out to the desert?
No large scale project in general ever gets completed without many sets of helping hands involved. It says my name [on the final piece] but it should really say ‘Michael Christian and friends.’
Do you stick around for the entire festival?
I like to when I can . It can be a lot of fun. This year, I unfortunately, have to leave after installing to do another event.
This sculpture pictured above at Burning Man (Photo 1), was moved to Hayes Valley (Photo 2) and now lives in Toronto, Canada.
What happens to the sculptures after Burning Man ends?
The latest piece for the upcoming Burning Man is traveling to Symbiosis in September, then possibly to an event in Mexico in December. Some [sculptures] have permanent homes, some travel and others are just recycled into new ones.
You mention some of your past pieces are traveling or have gone abroad, can you give more specifics?
Sculptures have gone to Europe, Canada and Australia…now possibly Mexico this fall. The size and logistics, plus the expense involved in installing pieces of this size, often limit the distance it can travel.
Any advice to aspiring artists?
I’m not sure I’m in a position to give advice to anyone…I always try a take a new adventure with every piece — stretch my boundaries in some way. I try to have fun and learn something new about myself and how I exist in the world, etc. It’s all about the process for me. The actual resulting created piece is secondary, to be honest.