Michael Horswill is happy to let materials, ideas and process lead him to new artistic discoveries

click to enlarge Michael Horswill is happy to let materials, ideas and process lead him to new artistic discoveries
Carrie Scozzaro photo

All who wander are not lost, to paraphrase fantasy-adventure novelist, J.R.R. Tolkien. For artist Michael Horswill, ambiguity is a familiar place, one he embraces in his artmaking.

"I have some pattern or process that I kind of go through to make something," explains Horswill, a professor of art at North Idaho College. "But in the process of making it, I often don't know the results so I have to kind of keep moving through it and being with it and playing with it before it starts to reveal itself."

The result is artwork that has vaguely familiar images, objects and forms. His 2010 renderings for the "Drawn to the Wall IV" installation at Jundt Art Museum, for example, remind of concept illustrations for the set of Alien. Work from this series depicts a confluence of organic and mechanical forms with titles like "Outpost" and "Tending the Machine."

Although Horswill worked as a freelance illustrator in Seattle and eventually the Inland Northwest, including for the Inlander, he transitioned out of illustration and has spent the past 20 years working mostly sculpturally, including paintings with sculptural elements.

click to enlarge Michael Horswill is happy to let materials, ideas and process lead him to new artistic discoveries
Carrie Scozzaro photo

Horswill grew up in Bozeman, Montana, where he prowled the town's alleyways for all manner of castoff stuff to ignite a young boy's imagination. He also immersed himself in the rugged outdoors of southwestern Montana, and remembers family outings to explore the region's ghost towns.

Those early memories, an inquisitive mind and such influences as the otherworldly sculpture of Lee Bontecou shaped Horswill's approach to artmaking, which leans toward abstraction.

"I think I get my excitement from noticing things in day-to-day experience," says Horswill, who is drawn to mechanical things, architecture, and objects or systems that depict the "human agency to control our various activities."

Although Horswill has done numerous public commissions himself, including a series of colorful totems titled "Trilogy" in a roundabout adjacent to North Idaho College, most of his artmaking is designed for the interior.

Horswill's Hayden-area home studio is two-part. He does his welding in a garage space, above which is another space that overlooks the garden and rustic woodlands surrounding the home he shares with Laurie Olsen-Horswill, a fellow professor at NIC.

Inside the studio, Horswill works at a central table, pulling from fabric, paper, wood, glass and other materials as well as parts from old machines. Not only does Horswill let the materials and process suggest the next step in a sculptural work, he's also trying to stay open to the mystery about its final iteration. He compares that to being a traveler who turns down an alley and experiences a frisson of excitement.

"I want that kind of feeling when you come to the [artwork], like it's kind of familiar, but it's kind of not," Horswill says. "I love that sense of mystery that you may have to contend with."

Horswill looks for this in his own life and tries to instill something similar in his students.

click to enlarge Michael Horswill is happy to let materials, ideas and process lead him to new artistic discoveries
Carrie Scozzaro photo

"I think it's getting them to be comfortable with the unknown, because so much of it has to be driven by something that's recognizable for them to make sense of it," Horswill says, noting that students are in the early stage of developing art skills and tend to stick with what they know. Part of his job is to expose students to artwork across different mediums, cultures, styles and time periods.

"You never get to the point you know everything," he says. For Horswill, that makes the journey and joy of discovery all the more interesting.

See more at michaelhorswill.com or his current works page at theartspiritgallery.com.

Dancing with Life: Mexican Masks @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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About The Author

Carrie Scozzaro

Carrie Scozzaro spent nearly half of her career serving public education in various roles, and the other half in creative work: visual art, marketing communications, graphic design, and freelance writing, including for publications throughout Idaho, Washington, and Montana.