Michael Norman Gute


If I don’t like the way my life looks for a particular moment, I remind myself that I am privileged with the freedom to get up and do something different.

GJ: Michael, thank you for joining me today. I am honored to have you as a featured guest in Gary Jonathan. Tell me about your place of origin?

MNG: I grew up in a relatively isolated environment in Michigan. My parents named a ranch in 1993 where I spent the bulk of my childhood. I remember many moments where I was left to myself -often surrounded by nature. These quiet moments went on to inspire much of work. Solitude enables creativity. After a childhood with several difficult hurdles including homelessness and substance abuse, I relocated myself to Grand Rapids, Michigan where I attended Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, and eventually to Detroit where I live and work today. Detroit is a great place for me to experiment and refine the work I am currently creating.

GJ: Let’s break the ice a bit, give me three words that describe Michael Gute?

MNG: Disciplined. Intuitive. Trusting.

GJ: When did you start drawing? Tell me about your first drawing that started your creative journey?

MNG: The first drawing I can recall as meaningful was of a wheat field in a storm. Even then, I drew with a brush. While I have studied graphite and ink, I am most comfortable brush-in-hand. I enjoy dancing between drawing and painting. It is the push and pull of the materials and the activity I like. I often refer to myself as a mark-maker.

GJ: At what point did you know that you were purposed to be an artist?

MNG: I knew I had a talent in my teens. But, I also knew I wanted a traditional career, and for too long I told myself I couldn’t have both. I went on to attain a master’s degree which propelled me into non-profit administration. I currently work for Wayne State University in Detroit where I am also slated to graduate with a master’s in business. I do all my painting around these endeavors. I have found that the professional development and education I’ve gained has made me a stronger, savvier artist. The stability gives me freedom and that freedom empowers my work to grow authentically. It has been a tough ten years. But, I found a way to have my cake and eat it.

GJ: I’ve always been fascinated with the creative mind and how each creative has their own unique way of functioning. How do you define yourself as an artist?

MNG: I think true artists are always at battle with themselves. Every morning is a fight to create something worth looking at. I know I’m on to something when my mind turns off. That is, the voice that criticizes and makes decisions. Intuition takes over and my true self comes to the surface. That’s how you make authentic art. I also don’t think artists understand the process very well either.

GJ: When creating art, you’ve stated that your approach is really being interested in the process or the journey it requires to create. What is that process or journey?

MNG: I am so interested in this. This is all about those three descriptive words; Disciplined, Intuitive, Trusting. I must be in the studio for a few hours most days. I have to show up for anything to happen at all – sometimes it’s great and other sessions can be torture. It is the discipline of showing up every day that moves me through the tough paintings. I think that lesson’s a good one for life too.

Intuition is so important to creating pictures for me. Without it, I am totally bored and wouldn’t paint. I do not start with detailed pictures –just enough of a framework to build from. A narrative forms while I work and that’s great excitement for me to watch unfold. George Condo articulated this really nicely when he equated drawing to taking a walk through the woods. I love that.

You can see why trust is so important here. When something isn’t unfolding the way I had hoped, I assure myself that it will work out. It always does. Sometimes paintings take good form early on and others really put you through the wringer before they start pleasing you. This is a very taxing way to approach work but it is rewarding and spontaneous.

GJ: Michael, your work is so uniquely different. It drew my attention. How do you explain it?

MNG: I think you might feel that way because I rely on intuition so much which I believe reflects the true self. It’s been said that intuition alone is not enough to make an artist great. But, I think it’s enough to make an artist special. It’s not lost on me that in a world filled with great artists, being myself is the only way to contribute in any meaningful way.

GJ: In my reading and trying to find out more about you, I found a quote of yours that is, in my opinion, quite profound. “Life is a verb. God is a verb. I have to show up and do something different this time.” Tell me, how did this originate? What does this truly mean to you?

MNG: This is how I get through life. I am filled with love for a God of my personal understanding. I remember recoiling when people around me talked about God. I assumed people who enjoy close relationships with God were born with it or they were somehow special, lucky, raised “right”. I didn’t think this part of life was for gay people –no one ever told me it could be. For me, a connection with God and the personal strength as a result, takes a lot of commitment. Faith is built over years of paying attention to the world around me. For too long I chose to see life as something passing me by. But, it is something I have to get up and participate in. If I don’t like the way my life looks for a particular moment, I remind myself that I am privileged with the freedom to get up and do something different. God is for everybody who wants it.

GJ: I love the fact that you as an artist have a triumphant story to tell regarding your past struggle with substance abuse. Tell me more about your story. How do you feel or think your past struggle has made you stronger as a person and as an artist?

MNG: While I have a supportive family today, I struggled with homelessness as a teen and fell into alcohol abuse for several years. I medicated that painful sense of isolation and “otherness” that all gay people understand. I functioned academically. Emotionally and socially, I bottomed out by 23 shortly after I lost a partner to substance abuse. I chose to keep living despite the feeling it wasn’t worth it anymore. I sought treatment and support. Going on seven years sober, I’m engaged in the sober LGBTQ community and I visit universities to speak about my experience.

GJ: Tell me about your community involvement? How important is community to you?

MNG: Detroit thrives on community. I’m lucky enough to have a day job where I connect young men and women of Detroit to opportunities in higher education.

GJ: What is next for Michael Gute?

MNG: I am working on another show coming up March 17-April 26 in Owosso, MI at the Shiawassee Arts Center. I want to finish my master’s degree and find another exhibit opportunity where I can really blow the roof off the place with some larger paintings!

GJ: Where can people find your work?

MNG: Visit my website Guteworks.com to see my work and contact me. Mngute is my Instagram which is the best place to see my latest pieces and inside my studio.

GJ: Michael, any last words?

MNG: I’m a lucky and grateful guy to be here. Thank you.

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