About Michaelfire

What follows is almost certainly much more than you care to know. Still, as Blake said, "You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough."

Michaelfire is what I call my studio where I make paintings and music, design furniture, and waste time on Facebook.

A little history... My parents couldn't stand the smell of turpentine, so I quit oil painting when I was a teenager. I tried acrylic but it didn't work for me. I was lost without the ability to push the paint around for days—the time it takes oils to get too dry to work—rather than seconds. Oil painting offers the equivalent of about forty layers of undo in Photoshop. I make a lot of mistakes.

I was a geek for math, electronics, physics, chemistry, carpentry, and anything I could do with my hands, brain and materials, and I ended up going to college on a music composition/opera scholarship (well, it was supposed to be a math scholarship, but I bombed out in higher math early on). Science, math, music, painting... in 1970s rural Oklahoma, it was a curious thing for somebody with all of those bandwidth leaks to insist on being able to squirt all of them at once. But I had just discovered theatre! College was a small school (Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma), so it was possible between breakfast and dinner to write music, act, sing, dance, set lights, build sets, paint scenery, arm pyrotechnics, wear makeup, and strut around talking funny in tights.

But unfortunately my scholarship was in music. Music only. Music period, and don't let us catch you screwing around in the theatre department. I started taking auditions anywhere I could find them, dropped out of school, and set out on a directionless but frequently paying career in theatre, as as an actor/singer in the beginning, doing summer stock, tours, pickups and such. When I couldn't get paid, I did community theatre and got paying gigs in tech. I started writing and performing incidental music, then doing scene painting and lighting design, then production design, and later, after a small inheritance made it possible to get some semi-real musical equipment, writing full musical scores for ballet, musical theatre and film projects, always on the lookout for conceptual art opportunities and ways to make any kind of art in the wrongest way.

Of course, I also had to make a living, so I've done stints as a machinist, store manager, technical director, sales director, web designer, development director (fundraising), and executive director of nonprofit organizations, and more recently running a little software company of my own, and another little company on the side. Sprinkle those liberally around the page.

I moved to Tulsa with an acting assignment at a curious construct dubbed Discoveryland, to perform the role of Ali Hakim in the musical Oklahoma. I had been following whatever theatrical opportunity I could find, and, having gotten several contract offers at the Southwest Theatre Conference auditions, I chose Tulsa. Young wife, new baby, let's stay close to the old homestead. Well, I got fired from Discoveryland because I had been leading the singing on the cast bus, teaching others my favorites, like "Rock Around the Cross" and "Plastic Jesus," and , as I soon learned, Discoveryland was a fundraising scam run by a superchristian group by the name of "World Changers." They fired me, but David Valla at Theatre Tulsa put me in a show within weeks, and soon hired me to direct the first theatrical production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella. You saw it on TV in the 1950s if you're old enough, but there had never been a stage production at that time. Theatre Tulsa was celebrating its 60th anninversary as the oldest continuously-running community theatre that year, and they had convinced the Oscar Hammerstein Trust to let them do it. Cool. I directed it, with a few minor edits.

Sketch for installation at Space: Lift-Off event. 1985.Self-portrait, age 27In the mid-80's I jumped into a hapless but very serious-minded mini-movement to promote contemporary art space and events in Tulsa. I started a newsletter boosting our happenings (The Eidotrope), and wrote a monthly column for Uptown News (local alternative rag of the day, which makes the current right-leaning Urban Tulsan look like used tissue, by the way) titled "Emissions from the Art Lab." I helped to form Tulsa Artists' Coalition (TAC), served on the city's Cultural Facilities Task Force and some related stuff, and got involved with promoting the idea of an arts district in the area bordering the Old Lady on Brady. TAC and some others were interested in creating an art space with performance, studio and gallery facilities in the brick warehouse area of downtown.

I was producing a series of radio plays by Oklahoma writers for KWGS, the Tulsa public radio affiliate and had need of a studio space when I decided to just haul off and do the art space, and put the recording studio in it. I was frustrated with the years of inaction in developing the arts district. TAC in particular couldn't seem to pull its head out of its ass about getting a building, and they were underwhelmed by the concept of interdiciplinary art or anything else that you couldn't hang from a nail, so I just started raising money on my own, gathered some good and exceedingly generous friends, found a 14,000 square foot building, recruited some insanely dedicated volunteers, and, with their help, designed it, built it, and served as its director. Our pre-Grand Opening event was a concert by Adrian Belew, and we opened Tulsa Center for Contemporary Art (TuCCA) officially on the 200th anniversary of Bastile Day, July 14, 1989. And thus were stormed the gates of the arts in Tulsa. That time; Jefferson said we need a revolution every 20 years...

We did some cool stuff at TuCCA, and I managed to squeeze off two music/performance art pieces, Time Manifesto, a new work, and a second production of The Karmangaen Stories in the big, raw performance space, but within barely more than a year we had gone through all the money (the organization's and my own), having chanced upon no sustainable business model. Worse, I was sick at heart from conflict with some of the artists among our loose band of gifted, if high-strung, creative types. I walked out the double doors onto Brady Street one day and took a job working in a kitchen up the street. (Thanks, Anner. You put food on my family's table for months.) The doors closed on TuCCA in 1991, but we had accomplished the core imperative to jump start a virulent contemporary arts strain in the Tulsa cultural beast, and a reborn Living Arts seemed to spring from our corpse. Finally, twenty years after we opened TuCCA, the Brady Arts District is roiling with art and near art, and contemporary art can now be found in Tulsa outside academic compounds. The TuCCA building has become the city's largest, loudest and least-likely-legal gay bar, Club Majestic. (Did I hear someone say Babylon? One, Two, Three, Four! And everything comes around; Nude 7 is being held there in 2011, and my photorealist painting Second Embrace won Best of Show in Nude 6.) It's across Brady street from three or four galleries in a good month, across Boston Av from the new Visual Arts Center planned by the Arts & Humanities Council, with Living Arts in a huge new space and a pop culture museum said to be going up nearby. Bricktown OKC, eat your heart out—Tulsa's doing it without the skeeze (alas, we've both got a Spaghetti Warehouse and ball field, but OKC alone must bear the shame of a downtown Bass Pro Shop). Bonus Points: Ours started more or less organically, and more than twenty years ago, before the Web and email. Before fucking Facebook. Fella by the name of David Sharp gets a bunch of the credit, by the way. He bought a lot of the district and actively sought arts to fill it.

Portrait of the artist with pocket protector: Boys in the Machine. Photo by Franklin Wassmer. 1987.There were a couple of really productive years before I was flushed into the morass of TuCCA and the ensuing nonprofit administration malaise (can you take Imodium for that?). Between 1986 and 1988 I produced those radio plays, wrote the scores for and produced several ballets and new-music-theatre works collaborating with choreographers and visual artists, wrote and produced a musical for Cityarts, performed as an actor with Tulsa Philharmonic in Tom Stoppard's Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, had a role with Tulsa Opera in Porgy and Bess, organized some artstunts (Teeth People, Opera Slidelite...), had a quintet debuted by the Tulsa Philharmonic Woodwind Ensemble, scored and conducted a re-orchestration of The Threepenny Opera, did a one-man show of electronic and robotic art at Living Arts (Boys in the Machine), performed a sort of one-man folk-minimalist oratorio (New Baboons), designed scenic materials for several theatre companies, collaborated with Franklin Wassmer on a performance art piece commissioned by the Oklahoma City Arts Council titled Citeration, turned in a score for The Harwelden Institute, had a poem published in Nimrod, and began work on several studies for new music theatre pieces.

In 1991, The University of Tulsa commissioned a score for a production of Euripides' Hecuba for the theatre department. I think David Cook, the theatre chair, knew me well enough to know that I wouldn't just be turning in some strummy lyre tunes and flute riffs to cover scene shifts. Even so, the score grew beyond what either of us expected and finally got staged as something my old composition prof, Gene Ulrich, told me should be called a "proto-opera." Perfect! I had written an opera and didn't even know it! We won some awards, including "Critic's Choice" in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

Logo for The Mint FM software packageFamily issues derailed the music career right after Hecuba. I needed a real job, but all I really knew was art. Well, that and raising money for art, about which, clearly, I yet had much to learn. I got a job as the development director for a United Way agency that had nothing to do with art but everything to do with raising money and awareness. Then I moved to upstate New York (family things again) and did DD duties for a multi-county arts council and arts facilities organization, The Arts Center. Three years of that, then back to Oklahoma, where I took the Development Director job at Tulsa Opera. Having had about as much fundraising as I could stand for awhile, I started a little software company, Lanthropy, that offered a commercial version of the software I had written to do my fundraising work. Now I was raising money for my own company, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

I managed to get a few customers with Lanthropy, but it was a hell of chore keeping up with the whole operation on my own after still more family stuff, so I took another fundraising position, this time as DD at the Price Tower in Bartlesville, about 45 minutes north. Living in Bartlesville wasn't unpleasant per se—my unconscionably cool split-level office was located in Frank Lloyd Wright's only skyscraper—but I was spending as much time back in Tulsa as I could. I was newly in love. This time with two people at once. They were already a couple, so we just arranged ourselves into an equilateral love triangle. The three of us have been together eight+ years now. Boy, did my work suffer! Soon I had the distinct honor to be offered the job of Executive Director at Tulsa Oklahomans for Human Rights (now OkEq), one of the nation's longest-running LGBT organizations, and now the fifth largest LGBT center in the world. These days I'm just a volunteer there, working with my partner Allie to organize the annual MOREcolor exhibition and helping out at the OkEq Gallery.

Detective work published as nonfictionMy partner Marty started a consultancy in healthcare IT consulting and I threw in with him. Partner Allie was our CEO and finance administrator. As a consultancy we did research and analysis on the health IT movement, healthcare technology capital development and health information exchanges, among other things. We published several health IT and health policy-related media properties, including a highly-respected blog, email newsletter, webinars, videos and publications. We developed a pretty impressive client list. I built out a slew of internet assets for HITTG, and we began developing properties for other companies. In 2009 the current company, CarePrecise Technology, was born when HITTG closed, and took with it the NPIdentify brand. A new brand targeting the medical marketers market, MEDICAlistings, launches in 2011.

Musicians Five. 2007. Canvas, 16x36 inches.So, I had sold off my piano, keyboards and lots of other studio equipment years ago, and I hadn't raised a brush to canvas since I was about 18. Having strayed so far away from painting that I couldn't smell it anymore, I figured it was safe to start up again. But now I could use new tools that didn't stink (except for the operating system—I'm running Windows). I was never quite able to justify dropping hundreds of dollars on Photoshop, but I began using The GIMP, a free, open source graphics program, and learned how to build plug-ins and whatnot for it. I also use Fireworks, a very easy drawing and painting program originally designed as a web graphics platform. I paint in the computer, using essentially the same techniques I had learned for canvas. I paint "from scratch," starting with a blank screen, sketching bezier curves with the mouse, tweaking vectors until the basic drawing looks right, then painting in color, blending, and producing the giclee original on canvas. I hadn't shown visual art since the Living Arts show in 1987; my first show of paintings was at Club 209 in 2007. Another show, Verisimilitude, ran July 1 through August 2, 2010 at OkEq Gallery. And the art sells; what's not to love?

Somewhere back in the middle of all that I had a couple kids, and now have two grandsons whom I adore, a table saw, weekly yoga, two brilliant lovers, and a life in art, design and all the obsessions that simply must be indulged.

No, it's NOT a photo! Sheesh.
Second Embrace, 2009.








"My paintings are an invitation to look somewhere else."
~ Robert Rauschenberg




Michael Christopher

Share |

Works linked from this page may contain material with varying copyright dates and owners
Terms of Use