Troy Michie’s practice is centered on the American male figure, specifically the complexities of fashioning one’s cultural expression. His subjects are the historically marginalized and oft overlooked. To quote Toni Morrison, “In this country, American means white, everyone else has to hyphenate.” Rather than employ a hyphen, Michie takes a dialectical approach when presenting the lives of men both traditionally fetishized and ignored, both American and the other. No one form permanently overlaps or takes the place of another in his large-scale collage and multimedia works. Instead, bodies intermingle, sharing space while retaining their individual arrangement in intricate compositions.
“People think that the cut is always a form of violence, [but] that was never how it appeared to me,” Michie says, though rarely after the cut have artists taken such pains to put the pieces back together. Swerving between figuration and abstraction, Michie interweaves his subjects, blurs or removes their faces from the picture and layers fragments of clothing over and under historical imagery. Glimpsing an isolated shirt collar amidst photos of men in 1980s niche softcore alongside Latino youth donning zoot suits—as in Los Atravesados/The Skin Of The Earth Is Seamless (2019) from this year’s Whitney Biennial—we see how Michie’s subjects present as dualities, creating “hypervisible” identities through dress while remaining on society’s periphery. The intricate crosshatch patterns that appear in much of his recent work function as an insistence on fashion being a form of communion and protection, and bring to mind the weaving techniques of Mexico’s Rarámuri population near El Paso, where the artist is from.
Michie’s selection for the Whitney Biennial is bookended by his inclusion in “Stonewall 50” at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston last April and the Smithsonian’s upcoming traveling exhibition “Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth.” Greater institutional success for Michie is the result of a deeper commitment to the personal. “The work is becoming more familial. Over the years, I have gone off my intuition. Before, I never trusted it.”