Hartford, Connecticut artist Michael Madore imagines a future of migrating species and global warming, without leaving his home.
Michael Madore is a naturalist—fascinated by details, taxonomies, and science—but one who can hardly bear to go out into the world.
His work is filled with nerve bundles, climbing tendrils, meticulously cross-hatched fortresses, densely rendered surfaces of swelling water, floral bursts, crystalline structures, careful lettering, birds, and systems of coils and whorls that link and blanket everything. His pieces are jam-packed, teeming, in a way, but with plenty of space and breathing room.
Seemingly conflicting signals and storylines get balanced out in Madore’s work and life. A bit of both outsider and insider, he has Asperger’s Syndrome. His work has an obsessive aspect to it; his artistic practice, he says, is a means of coping with the overload of distractions and information that bombard us, imposing order on a world that’s always unspooling. With an MFA from Yale, Madore also can talk about his work from a critical-historical perspective and make all kinds of connections to theory.
“It’s almost biological, just the need to make work,” says Madore. “It is my way of coping.”
Madore was born in Hartford, to a French-Canadian family. French—Quebecois French—was his first language. As a kid, he was embarrassed about his background and his mother tongue. The family moved to Maine and Quebec for a time, eventually settling back in Hartford. With an unpleasant home life and undiagnosed mental-health issues, Madore took to drawing schematics, using diagrams from household appliances and other sources as a means of creating coherence. “As a kid I always drew, but very secretly. I drew maps,” he says. “I grew up in a really chaotic household. My father was a really bad alcoholic. We were relatively poor.”
Madore got a scholarship to Trinity College. He majored in English and minored in Art History before heading to New York City in 1977, where he worked in bookstores and as a proofreader for a time. With a day job in SoHo, he visited some galleries that featured outsider art and work by the Chicago Imagists, and Madore took an interest in it. “I was attracted because this was not the kind of art history and mainstream narrative that I learned at Trinity and kind of dismissed,” he says. He liked the fact that this was non-New York, non-minimalist art that didn’t have an overt meta-art quality. “It lit a light bulb in me,” says Madore. “I said, You don’t have to do art about art.”
His path to the academy led through the clinic. He moved back to Connecticut, this time to New Haven, in 1983. It was a psychiatrist at Yale—Madore says he’s had “an on-and-off relationship with psychiatry”—who encouraged him to apply to grad school after he was concluding time as a patient there. He got his MFA in painting in 1990.
Madore’s work is more engaged with the natural world, despite the fact that he says going outside is too much for him. He thinks about, reads about, and studies nature, but mostly from books, illustrated guides, movies, and online. “I’m not a nature person,” says Madore. “It’s just overwhelming, the detail. The idea of going into a forest is a nightmare.”
Travel, in general, is something Madore avoids. “I’m a horrible traveler,” he says. “I can’t stand arriving or departing.” But his work is a kind of time and space travel. It takes him to remote regions and imagines distant futures, when people and their peculiarities and depredation are maybe no longer a factor.
Madore is working on a series based on Labrador in the future. Labrador is the remote peninsular region in northeastern Canada, with forests and mountains, stretches of exposed bedrock, and plenty of mostly undisturbed wildlife. Envisioning the coming decades, a piece like Labrador 2088 imagines plant and animal species displaced by climate change and man-made environmental flux. “I hesitate to call it a metaphor for global warming, but it is a way for me to project what are some of the changes that will affect boreal forests. Birds begin to migrate, and plants as well,” says Madore. “For me, it’s just a kind of way to pursue my interests in flora and fauna and mutations.”