Lately I’ve been spending time with artists and creatives across the country to see what makes them tick. I’m an art collector, but I’m just as interested in the process as the finished product. People who can make something out of nothing, who can dream it and do it — that’s what I’m drawn to. I’ve always believed that if you want to know what’s next — whether it’s a city’s next great neighborhood or a new way of thinking — go find an artist.
On trip to Philly this summer, I met sculptor Miguel Antonio Horn and Mike Robbins, a D1 athlete who’s making his mark on the canvas. These guys are hardworking, creative and defy convention.
Miguel challenges the way we look at the human body, playing with space and scale. The viewer is at the center of the experience. It’s familiar, but somehow feels different and even a little jarring. His studio is an old trolley warehouse in West Philadelphia that’s been converted into an artist collaborative called Traction Company. It’s a pretty sick space. It’s also an ideal spot to create the kind of large public art projects that Miguel’s known for.
There’s a massive (maybe 15 feet tall?) head of an old man currently in his studio. It’s an unfinished work that may stay that way; Miguel likes how it appears to drip towards the ground, an unintended consequence of drying plaster.
Miguel has a mobile studio that he literally uses a forklift to bring in and out of the shop. Seems crazy, but it’s insurance in case this area is the target of neighborhood gentrification. Which is pretty likely. Like I said, if you want to know what’s next, follow the artists.
Miguel is classically trained, but he’s using the latest technology to take his work to new heights. At NextFab, which is a cutting-edge makerspace and incubator for creatives, I got to see how Miguel is using digital tools to model his most recent project — a massive installation that’ll turn a Philly bridge into a commentary on the power and struggle of everyday people. He’ll definitely be stopping traffic with this one.
If you’re in Philly anytime before October 28th be sure to check out Miguel’s new show, Dissonance, which explores the boundaries of power, powerlessness, oppression and resistance with found objects, plated planes and recorded sound. If you go, you even have a chance to bang some pots and pans in the spirit of street protests from his family’s native home of Venezuela. Miguel also has a show opening November 2 that will highlight his designs for the bridge project and other works.
Mike’s story is one I can relate to. He just graduated from Temple where he was a member of the men’s basketball team and found time between daily practices, a full college course load and a D1 schedule to follow his passion as an artist. No hesitation. No fear. Creating his own definition of what an athlete is supposed to be.His work is curvy, colorful and surreal – like a window on a dream. There are elements of pop culture, like his painting of Travis Scott, which has a deeper meaning that you’ll have to check out on Mike’s Instagram. Travis is actually a pretty good friend, so I sent him a pic of Mike’s piece. Anything can happen at the night show… Mike’s studio is his North Philly apartment. Not bad for a recent college grad, plus he never has to worry about art for his walls.
Mike’s studio is his North Philly apartment. Not bad for a recent college grad, plus he never has to worry about art for his walls.
I love what Mike says when people ask him if art is an escape from basketball. To say yes would imply he is escaping from something. He loves painting and he loves the game, there’s no escape — this is who he is. For now, he’d love to pursue art as a career, but no matter what he’s the kind of kid whose creative talents will shine wherever he goes.
Plus, he always has that Temple degree to fall back on.
Mike and Miguel confirmed what I’ve heard about Philly. It’s a city of originals. These guys are getting it done and doing it their way. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
You can find Mike on Instagram @mm_robb1ns
You can find Miguel on Instagram @miguelantoniohorn