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Q&A: Ben Michalsky talks Anderson Ranch Arts Center, dual-degrees

Ben Michalsky poses for a portrait on a wooden stool.
Photo: Ben Michalsky

Ben Michalsky’s U‑M experience is dedicated to an interdisciplinary artistic approach that bridges fine art and mechanical engineering. Between the Stamps School of Art & Design and the School of Engineering, Michalsky has explored his evolving practice in both areas. Recently, Michalsky’s commitment earned him a week-long residency at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in July. In this Q&A, we delve into Michalsky’s artistic journey, his residency, and his insights into the relationship between art and engineering.

Stamps School of Art & Design: What kind of art do you create, and how would you describe your artistic practice and mediums?

Ben Michalsky: My artistic practice is very interdisciplinary. I work in painting, sculpture, and installation, and my choice of medium depends on how I conceptualize an idea. I really center my practice around research first, and then the making comes second. My interests in my work are really all over the place. I work a lot with identity and the Diaspora – I’m Jewish, so it’s a core part of my identity. My interests are diverse, spanning identity, being in a diaspora, consumerism, political and religious ideologies, and more. These elements often come together in my work, and I find myself continually exploring new conceptual frameworks.

Lighted sculpture with stand and glowing hands in a circle.
Dispersion” (2023) by Ben Michalsky; Dimensions Variable, slip cast porcelain, sand, tealight candles

You’re pursuing a BFA at Stamps School of Art & Design and a degree in Mechanical Engineering. How do these fields work together in your practice?

I view art and engineering as being very hand in hand. Engineering offers a different approach to making, particularly in terms of sculpture and installations. I always give people the example of a public sculpture. If you build something giant, you need somebody to make sure it’s not going to fall over and crush someone. I don’t turn engineering into art; rather, the way I think as an engineer informs how I approach my art-making process.

You just got back from the week-long residency at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center. Could you describe your experience and projects?

At the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, I was able to experiment on an abstract level. I was able to better see how painting could fit in with the rest of my broader art practice, which is very sculptural. While I was at the ranch, I was doing a variety of experiments, preparation, and early stages of a larger painting. 

And it was all just very idyllic – all I was thinking about was painting, and all of the people around me were just making art. There was a dedicated building for print, painting, and drawing. I had my own dedicated space that was mine to work in.

Studio space with artwork hanging on wall and easel with in progress painting.
A look inside Ben Michalsky’s studio space at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center.

What were some key takeaways from your residency experience?

I think the biggest takeaway was a sense of clarity and direction with painting that I want to explore, both aesthetically and conceptually. Also, I had a greater sense of self-assurance. Being in a supportive community of fellow artists allowed me to overcome the anxieties that often come with being a student artist. I also gained clarity on how I wanted to integrate painting into my practice.

Anderson Ranch entrance at night.
Photo: Ben Michalsky

Looking ahead, where do you see your post-graduation path taking you?

I see myself somewhere in the design sphere after undergrad. I’m really trying to find a marriage between art and engineering – this tangible mix of aesthetics, utility, and function. So maybe something in that sphere of furniture design, consumer goods design, and industrial engineering. Down the line, though, I do want to pursue an MFA, so I definitely plan on still maintaining a fine art studio practice after school and hopefully showing my work wherever I end up.

3 oil paintings featuring a boxer with audience.
For Maxamillian” (2023) by Ben Michalsky; 60“x90” Oil on canvas and board

Any final thoughts or people you’d like to thank?

I owe a big thank you to Joyce Brienza, who was my painting professor, and she nominated me for the scholarship residency. Jim Cogswell as well – he was my painting professor and is the one who coordinates between the Stamps School and the Ranch. A lot of thanks and gratitude to both of them for making this possible.

To view more of Ben Michalsky’s work, visit his Instagram at @benmichalsky.