Fresh Face Friday – Mike Southern

My favorite aspects of Mike Southern’s work are the heaviness and depth of his etchings. They feel so rich, compelling, and textured; as if you could soak in them and be joyfully enveloped. I love “Water Cycle.” I remember doing an etching project back in school and to work freely in ink and metal is not easy, but Southern masters the technique. He makes a rigid medium fluid and free. His capacity for expression is formidable and is not just evident in his etchings but in all of his work. Below, Southern discusses the influences and passions of his work. I am really enjoying the work of this artist and I am happy to be sharing it with you today. Enjoy!

To learn more about Mike Southern check out his site:



1) Name:

Mike Southern

2) Website Address:

3) Title/Position or Mediums you work in:

Trained as a printmaker (etchings specifically) but now doing oil painting as well.  I have dabbled with encaustic (wax medium painting), watercolor, and some others.

4) Links to/Examples of your work:

See below

 5) Brief biography:

Graduated with a mix of natural history and art from Hampshire College (Amherst, Massachusetts, USA).  MFA in printmaking from University of Georgia in 1995.  Lived in Portland, Oregon 1995-2009,  2009-2012 lived in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Returned to Portland in 2012.


1) What does wholehearted and mindful living mean to you?

I’ve never considered it consciously, really but I think it should incorporate as much empathy into all the decisions you make.  What does this decision mean for others?  How will it affect the world around me, both intimately and anonymously?

2) How do you practice wholehearted and mindful living?

I vote.  I try to be in as much harmony with the natural world as I can. I try to keep big plans and ideas within the realm of possibility.  For instance, I am thinking of writing a book. I’ve never done that but I love fiction and think I have that capability. Now I have to make that happen. I am an artist and have been for almost twenty years, making art in a world that doesn’t put that into a neat little career box.  I do what I believe is moral, right and earnest and I want my art to reflect that.

3) What or who inspires you?

So many inspirations.  Water and sky are so important to my work so I have to include those two elements.  Fire and earth are there as well so that’s as good a place to start as any.  I love the work of so many artists it’s hard to keep track.  I’ll list a few:  George Innes, Titian, Rubens, James Lavadour, Edgar Degas.

4) Answer this quote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one, wild, and precious life?” ~Mary Oliver

Well, I think I’ve answered about half that question already!  I have a great family, have traveled all over the world, lived for a few years in the South Pacific and am always looking optimistically towards the next great adventure.  I consider myself an idealist and I look forward to making decisions from this  ideological base.  I think everything I do and the decisions I make will stem from my creative self and my role as a father and a husband.  Two personas that don’t exclude each other, as I am beginning to more fully realize.

5) What words of wisdom would you offer to your younger self?

Don’t worry so much about what others think about your decisions.  There will always be conflict in your life and it’s not always a bad thing.  But truthfully, I am happy with most decisions of my younger self.  It was a wonderful time with shortfalls and disappointment but every era of life seems to have it’s own baggage so I can’t fault any of the truly big decisions I made.  I waited to get married until my mid thirties.  No regrets there.  I traveled a lot.  Certainly nothing to fault with that.  So, all in all, I believe my younger self and current me would have a good time reminiscing!  Although current me would be buying the drinks.


1) What is your artistic process?

I am both an etcher and an oil painter.  With both processes I have developed a very technical, labor intensive practice.  I am drawn to technique and process.  I also marvel at the intricacy of natural forms.  Dragonfly wings, the meticulous course of a creek, etc are subjects that attract my attention.  These two things are related I’m sure.  I just follow my visual instincts and try to learn the craft elements that enable me to bring my interests into the light of day.

2) “I need interaction with nature to feel balance, connection and mystery. I see landscape as a metaphor for an ideal place. Painting is the physical act of constructing my home; a place of refuge.” ~ Mike Southern. For many people, their identity is strongly tied to a physical location, be it a neighborhood or country; however, you express a more fluid understanding of place and home. How has this perspective influenced your identity as an individual and as an artist?

Every place I have lived, I have searched out the places that are the most unspoiled by the human impulse to control nature.  I like things a little chaotic and in a more pristine state.  I have also moved westward across the North American continent and out deeper into the Pacific in search of this “place”.  I know it’s not an actual country or state but rather a condition and I try to immerse myself in this place through my work.  It’s as much a spiritual state as a physical place.

3) You moved from Portland, Oregon to Christchurch, New Zealand, given the significance of landscapes in your work how has the change in landscape influenced you?

Change always affects my work.  The New Zealand landscape is so majestic, distinct and young.  I have taken many of these traits and incorporated them directly into the landscapes of my current body of work.  Normally in my painting I have relied on imagined places but I find myself referring to specific locations in New Zealand.  It is, in some ways, that “ideal” place I have always been searching for and I think this is why it has been so overtly present since our return to the US.

4) What do you hope is the impact and meaning of your work?

I want people to be primarily moved visually and viscerally by my work.  I want them sucked into that place and I hope it takes them to their ideal place.  That must be the primary entrance into my paintings, drawings and etchings.  If it doesn’t affect their view of things then I think I have failed.  There are large, broad, conceptual underpinnings to my work but these are less important to convey to an audience.  The audience is going to bring their baggage and meaning to a work of art and I can’t control that.  If they tease out some of the “meaning” then that’s fine but I want the experience to be primarily VISUAL.  It’s a language unto it’s own and it can’t be communicated any other way.

5) What new projects do you have on the horizon?

I am working on a series of larger scale figures in landscapes with a broad mythological theme.  I have two shows scheduled this year so I need to keep working!  Always, keep working.


Untitled 4″ x 6″ 2000 oil on 2 panels By Mike Southern
Untitled 3″ x 4″ 2001 oil on panel By Mike Southern
Twilight Storm 14″ x 24″ 2002 oil on panel By Mike Southern
Tributary II 3″ x 4″ 2003 intaglio edition size: 25 By Mike Southern
Tributary III 3″ x 4″ 2003 intaglio edition size: 25 By Mike Southern
Water Cycle 18″ x 22″ 1998 intaglio edition size: 50 By Mike Southern
Abandoned Dock II 5″ x 6.5″ 2002 intaglio edition size: 10 By Mike Southern