The work of artist Michele Basora is mesmerizingly strange. Female figures, animals, and plants become one in her lush, fantastical visions. Birds sprout from women’s mouths; owl’s wings turn into breasts; and dodo birds mingle with flowers. It looks like the work of an enfant sauvage, or at least someone raised in the woods by hippies. After seeing her solo show at Gitana Rosa Gallery’s new Chelsea location, I sought the artist out to learn about the woman behind these mysterious paintings and drawings. It turned out that my own fantastical vision of her origins couldn’t be further from the truth. Just as Henri Rousseau was known as Le Douanier, because of his day job as mild mannered civil servant, Michele is a refreshingly down-to-earth artist raised in the Bronx, educated at the Art Students League and Cooper Union. I spoke with her about the inspiration behind her work, and her day job as a textile designer.
Q: Can you talk a bit about the imagery you use in your work? In your drawings especially, there is such an interesting blending and morphing of forms. Women, animals, and plants become one. Is this drawn from your dreams or a specific philosophy you have about lifeforms?
A: I often find that I am drawn to the most primal instincts: desire, lust, need, nature, religion. The purest forms of inspiration really. We are all connected to nature and desire, as well as the obsessive nature to procreate. But my dreams have always been the inspirational beginnings to much of my work. Since I was a child I have always had very intense dreams; some of which seem to have sequels for many years. They are like unconscious whispers for things to come.
Q: How much do you want your work to be an enigma, and how much do you want viewers to draw something specific from it?
A: I want there to be complexity and ambiguity in the work. I want the viewer to be invested in the process of exploring the work.
Q: Is there a certain style of art you are influenced by or any specific artists?
A: I feel I have always been drawn to the obsessive nature of the pattern in Islamic architecture, and of course have always been influenced by the surrealists.
Q: Do you find yourself drawing inspiration from other sources as well?
A: Having been brought up in a primarily Latin household (later to know that my father was also of Lebanese descent) my museum was the church as a child. While never feeling religious myself I was raised by devoted believers and this is something that will always stay with me.
Q: You also work as a textile designer, which seems quite apt given the frequent use of patterns in your work. How did you get into that line of work?
A: I have been designing textiles since I was 22. It was suggested to me by a friend and fellow artist Inka Essenhigh. She was designing textiles and so were many of her painter friends. It all made sense. The obsessive nature of the “repeat” in textile design is something I always been drawn to. It is a historical fascination for me, and how many images and motifs in fabric design have been used over and over again for many centuries and transitioned into contemporary art.
Q: You have two shows up at Gitana Rosa Gallery right now. What other shows or projects do you have planned for the future?
A: I will be participating in two group exhibitions later this year in New York– one at the Skylight Gallery called “The Presence Of Absence” which will open in April, and another that will be called “Terrible Beauty” at the Manny Cantor Center which will open this summer.
Out of the Sea and Into the Woods is on view at Gitana Rosa Gallery’s Chelsea and Williamsburg locations through April 13th.