Reign Upon Sonrise: The Spiritual Path of Michael Carini

Michael Carini for the Reign Upon Sonrise exhibition, courtesy the artist

Michael Carini transmutes his medium through what he describes as a poetically alchemical process based upon the principles of equivalent exchange. Carini received his artistic training in Los Angeles, studying at Loyola Marymount University while simultaneously serving as an apprentice under respected artists Jane Brucker and Roland Reiss. Carini currently lives and works in San Diego, CA.

Deianira Tolema:  You describe your artistic process as Acrylic Alchemy.  For those who don’t know, alchemy was the protoscientific predecessor to chemistry with the aim of transforming matter, usually in the hopes of creating healing elixirs or precious metals. Can you expand on what Acrylic Alchemy means to you in the modern age and to your art practice?

Michael Carini:  I look at it from a broader vision. In order to obtain, there must be sacrifice. I utilize my struggle as a sacrifice of equivalent exchange in the transmutational creation of something beautiful and positive to share with the world. Sometimes very specific items, or even completed paintings, are the sacrifice. I have burned several paintings in sacrifice to utilize their ashes as a symbol of recreation and rebirth. In doing so, they give new life and tell stories like that of the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes.

I pay close attention to both process and the contents of my paintings. Nothing is overlooked, and there is always more to it than meets the eye. Not everyone will understand, see, or be willing to see. That’s okay though. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing. When you believe in what you’re doing, the right people will believe in you. I truly believe I am doing things that have never been done before and I will continue to do so. I am always growing and transforming into a better version of myself. I will do so until I expire…and even then. Perhaps one day I will be the sacrifice of one of my paintings. In that manner, my energy and legacy can live on forever.

Michael Carini for the Reign Upon Sonrise exhibition, courtesy the artist

DT:  While studying art at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, you also worked as an apprentice under artists Jane Brucker and Roland Reiss. Much of Jane Brucker’s work relies on sculpture, installation, and performance; seemingly a far cry from your painted pieces. What lessons did you learn from working with her that you were able to translate into your two-dimensional paintings?

MC:  Jane is my primary mentor and the only painting instructor I ever had during my studies. All of my technical painting abilities, concepts, and knowledge of color were brought to life by Jane. She taught me how to be a successful artist, how to present myself, and also introduced me to her mentor, Roland Reiss. I owe Jane absolutely everything. Without her, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing and I wouldn’t be who I am. I wasn’t even supposed to be focusing on painting. I was going to school for Graphic Design. Once I started working with Jane, everything changed.

DT:  The influence of Roland Reiss is clearer in your work, particularly when looking at Reiss’ painted abstract floral compositions. Did his mentorship contribute at all to the development of your ‘Acrylic Alchemy’ painting technique?

MC:  My working with Roland was critical for my overall development and to see what it is like to be a successful artist as I assisted him in the penthouse of the Brewery Complex in Los Angeles. At that time, Roland was not yet working on his floral pieces. Around 2005-2006, he was working on clear acrylic. The works were a beautiful blend of organic/inorganic elements, color, and whimsical play with light & shadow. It’s interesting that many of those materials and mediums, which I did not yet know, would become a big part of my future as I transitioned into the sign industry. He definitely instilled within me a comfort that would allow me to cultivate my own voice, which would later grow to become Acrylic Alchemy. Working with such a kind artist that has that magnitude of influence in the history of art is an incredible experience for which I will forever be grateful.

Michael Carini for the Reign Upon Sonrise exhibition, courtesy the artist

DT:  Your paintings used to be more representational, as evidenced by your The Lost Shepherd series from 2005-06. What spurred the desire to switch over to entirely abstract work?

MC:  In my early years, I was not a huge fan of abstract art. It wasn’t until I studied Art History and the arts of the world (cave paintings of Lascaux, Modernism, arts of Asia, Middle Eastern patterns and tessellations) that I learned to appreciate abstract art for what it is and what it represents…how it pushes the boundaries of the mind and opens up worlds not yet previously explored…how it can be universally symbolic…a language that can articulate more clearly than all other languages. Abstract art allowed me to create my own world when I felt this one didn’t have a place for me. It allowed me to capture the physical manifestation of energy and tell stories that could seeming capture past, present, and future in a single compositional narrative. Before that, however, it was imperative that I cultivated my technical abilities and work them to a masterful level on par with the masters before me.  I wanted to study and replicate the works of classical masters like da Vinci and Caravaggio. I wanted the strongest foundation of fundamentals…line, shape, color, value, texture, and form. It was only once I felt like I could replicate anything that I could truly create anything… and that is when I decided to take the next step of moving into the realm of abstraction.  There are still figurative and representational elements in my work if you look closely.

Michael Carini for the Reign Upon Sonrise exhibition, courtesy the artist

DT:  You’ve said that when viewing your work, you want your audience to “completely lose [themselves] within these labyrinthine experiences, only to discover a new sense of self and emerge reborn.” Is this rebirth the same experience that you have while making the work? Or do you feel the artistic practice and the viewer’s experience of the work are mutually exclusive?

MC:  I love to help people lose themselves only to find themselves, for one cannot find what is not first lost. I would like for each individual to have their own unique experience with my work. I put out work that is vulnerable and honest and I believe each person will connect and relate with that shared experience in their own personal way. My hope is that they can take something positive from the experience to help them with their journey. I find that often times what people take from my work is learning to let go of something, thus further illuminating the often-paradoxical nature of my creations. For some it will be one thing, for others several things. Even nothing is a thing and that too is a valuable lesson. What people take from my work may vary, but what is given does not. I give everything in my work and you are welcome to take as you please. But please, share what you take.

DT:  You’ve experienced a great deal of hardship in your life, from living with debilitating illnesses to surviving assault and the suicide of your father. Yet you manage to remain so optimistic, even referring to these experiences as ‘enlightening.’ How is it that you are able to transform all that pain into positivity?

MC:  It’s easy when your choice is to accept death or keep fighting. It has always been a fight for me, so that’s all I really know…finding a way to survive and thrive. If that lesson can benefit someone else and spare them from having to go through some of the things I have had to go through, I am happy to share it. I want my legacy to be of someone that spared others the pain I have had to taste. If you can find a way to run through unimaginable obstacles and do it with a smile, you win. It’s not always easy, but nothing great in life is. I’m learning to not only be glass half full as I grow, but also how to refill my cup and the cups of those around me. Acrylic Alchemy is all about utilizing my struggle as a sacrifice of equivalent exchanges in the transmutational creation of something beautiful and positive. That’s why I’m the Acrylic Alchemist.

DT:  In 2012 you were on the brink of homelessness after losing your job when you landed an artist residency at Alexander Salazar Fine Art. I can only imagine what a major turning point that must have been in your life and career. What was that moment like for you? How did it alter the direction of your art, if at all?

MC:  It was a breath of fresh air and the first I had for a long, long time. That period was the lowest I have ever experienced and it really, truly felt like rising from the dead. That period taught me to take absolutely nothing for granted and to utilize every little resource I have. It was also the birth of my series Beautiful Accidents (based on the Japanese aesthetics of Wabi, Sabi, and Shibui), which are composed of the recycled remnants of my palettes. I feel much of my drive and urgency was fueled by that experience, because I know I never want to go back there and I now fully understand just how valuable time and opportunity are. I am forever thankful to my friend Alexander Salazar and Alexander Salazar Fine Art for that gift.

Michael Carini for the Reign Upon Sonrise exhibition, courtesy the artist

DT:  While so many artists choose to leave their work untitled, the titles of your paintings are very expressive, and often combine multiple existing words to create new ones. It is almost as if you are creating a new dialect of English exclusively for your painting titles. What do you feel the titles of your paintings add to the viewing experience?

MC:  Whether people pay attention to my titles is completely up to them. Some love the titles, and some don’t even notice them. I used to do a lot of writing and poetry, and I now let that manifest in the names of my stories and the titles of my work. Like the work, they are abstract composites that convey the story or experience at hand. I feel it is only appropriate that the two work in unison to create a complementary harmony. If some of these words or concepts were to work their way into everyday language, I certainly wouldn’t complain. I feel they do convey new and unique concepts and emotions.

DT:  Since the titles of your work are clearly embedded with a great deal of meaning, let’s talk about one of your more recent bodies of work, The Boy in the Box. What is the significance of the name of this series?

MC:  As part of my residency, I literally was “The Boy in The Boxfor two months in Downtown San Diego. For an introvert that doesn’t venture out much, it was quite the experience and culture shock. All of the pieces created during the residency are named after people I had experiences with during the duration of my stay. Most are single word composites of a person’s name and my interaction with them. Some of the most powerful are Blutiful, Reconstruction of the Chimera (Zachericle), and Astranomelly. The stories for all three can be found on my website under the piece descriptions.

Reconstruction of the Chimera (Zachericle) tells the story of the mythological phoenix while also incorporating personal narrative elements and concepts of the ouroboros & chimera. Created during my 2012 artist residency, it was inspired by a young man named Zach. Zach would stop by on a daily basis to grab a piece of candy from the bucket I left by the door for those passing by. One day, Zach decided to step in a little further than usual which led to a deeper conversation. I handed Zach a print of my work for stopping by, at which point tears welled up in his eyes. It was at that time that Zach told me he had been living on the street and was just accepted into a program where he would have a bed to sleep for the first time in a long time. My print, he said, was one of the only things in his possession that he could call his own, and the first thing for him to hang above his bed. By the time I finished this painting, Zach had stopped coming by. I don’t believe he ever saw it and hopefully that’s because he’s doing well. Sometimes we just need a chance to start over.

The ashes in this piece are from a painting I burned titled The Transmutation of Miss-Tere and the cut fragments are from a piece titled Sacrifices and Second Chances (The Day Eye Made The Devil Blink).

Blutiful was one of the first paintings of my Summer 2012 artist residency. Inspired by a conversation with a homeless man I met named Blue, it is a reminder that beauty can be found in even the most difficult times and the most unlikely of places. In times of darkness, make life “Blutiful.”

Astranomelly was the culminating piece of my artist residency in Downtown San Diego. During the months of April/May ,2012, I spent 50 days painting on Broadway Avenue, generally averaging between ten and twelve hours per session and never taking a single day off. Basically, living in the studio as I found myself on the precipice of homelessness, this climactic creation measures 6.5′ x 10′ and is representative of my collective experiences as The Boy In The Box. The culture shock of the residency experience made this both an artistic opportunity and a sociological experiment as I found myself imbued with the regionalism of this foreign community and was indoctrinated into their culture. The individuals that visited and shared their stories during my tenure in the box were all incorporated into the painting, their names inscribed in the underpainting that surrounds the iconic vortex (or black hole) that is simultaneously a symbol of the outward eyes looking in at me as I poured my soul into the canvas. The concept for Astranomelly came to me on a car ride home at 3:30am as I listened to the track Battling the Sun by local musician Astra Kelly. I had met Astra earlier that evening when she stopped in during a rare San Diego storm. The rest of the story I now leave with you.

DT:  Now that you seem to have conquered the fine art world, you are venturing into the realms of fashion and home décor, with your designs even appearing on luxury yoga leggings. How have these new endeavors broadened your horizons and altered the way you think about your art?

I try to share my visions with the world any way I can and I am a big supporter of collaboration and balanced reciprocity. I love partnering with artists and entrepreneurs (particularly local vendors and small businesses) in other fields. If we help each other grow, we all win. I’ve learned during my journey that the business of art involves much more than simply the creation of art. My main focus is and will always be on telling genuine and vulnerable stories through my creative process. If I can find other platforms to share that, I am always open to new and unpaved avenues. I’m always on the lookout for new business partners, investors, and sponsors. It always comes back to the painting, but I have to be growing at all times and open to trying new things. Otherwise, how am I an artist? The more people your voice can touch, the more people you can reach and the more lives you can change and impact for the better. You can still be true to yourself while expanding into other realms. Some people call this crossover selling out, but I really see it as the opposite. I’m fully committed and invested in myself. I’m on a mission to show other artists that if you’re willing to work hard, you can be financially successful as an artist. We’re often told at a young age that it’s a ridiculous dream. I’m out to prove it a beautiful reality. I want to keep the dream alive, or resuscitate it, for those that follow me.

D/RAILED:  Can you tell us about any upcoming projects of yours we should look out for?

Reign Upon Sonrise

June 2-Sept 22

Martha Pace Swift Gallery

2820 Roosevelt Rd.
San Diego, CA 92104 United States


San Diego Festival of the Arts: June 10-11

ArtWalk @ NTC Liberty Station: August 12-13

Kaaboo: September 15-17

Art San Diego: September 28-October 1

La Jolla Art and Wine Festival: October 7-8

Spectrum Miami: December 6-10

Additional Exhibitions with Sparks Gallery (San Diego), ADC Fine Art (Cincinnati), and ArtBlend (Fort Lauderdale)

DT: Are there any exhibitions or art shows you’re looking forward to in a near future?

MC: I must admit that I don’t see a lot of art these days and the reason why is that I’m creating my own. When I was more focused on my studies and fundamentals, I spent a lot of time looking at art and going to shows. Now, I focus more on my personal studio practice. I find that if I’m working on my creations and looking at other work, it infiltrates my thought & creative processes, if only on a subconscious level, and affects my work. In an effort to keep my work as authentic as possible, I require a level of separation. My knowledge of art history is still there, but there is enough distance that I can still maintain my own personal and unique voice. I generally have seasons for looking at work when I’m in between my own personal projects. There’s a reason I chose to become an artist and not an art historian.  Both have their value. I appreciate what others do and what has come before, but my primary focus will always be on telling my stories and working to create my own path.  Sometimes (often times) that requires me to put on my blinders and bury my head with a relentless work ethic not everyone will understand. That is a sacrifice I make for my legacy.


The Carini Technique-As every story has a past, present, and future, what may at first glimpse appear to be non-objective abstraction is in fact segmentations of energetic imagery interacting through the boundlessness of time and space.

Deianira Tolema

Deianira Tolema

Deianira Tolema is an Italian writer based in Salerno, Italy. She's intrigued by culturally, historically relevant and meaningful contemporary art that challenges conventions. Her goal is to explore everything innovative and out of the ordinary concerning the socio-psychological and conceptual aspects of art-making.

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