Downtown Condo Guys

Michael Carini and his feline ‘assistant’ Braska (Courtesy photo)
Art, University Heights

‘Don’t Be Afraid to Be Different…Be Afraid to Be the Same’
Tapping into the Philosophies of Acrylic Artist Michael Carini

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

He is idealistic, driven and wildly creative, which are key attributes for anyone choosing to produce art as their sole livelihood. Such is the venturesome life of Michael Carini, whose visionary paintings have become his full-time hustle.

Carini’s super-colorful works hang regularly at two local art houses in Little Italy and the Gaslamp Quarter. They are among numerous pieces he creates from his two-bedroom condo in University Heights. Each tells a personal story. Some capture triumph, and others frame tragedy such as the serious car accident he recently experienced on a San Diego freeway.

Either way, his paintings are intended to play with our senses and illuminate the human condition, as summarized in some of his marketing materials.

We spoke to Carini about the trials and tribulations of being an independent artist, and how working with acrylic paints and other materials became a full-time labor of love.

Downtown Condo Guys: For how long have you been making a living producing art?

Carini: I went to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles for this and have been doing it since getting out of school in 2006. I tried combining it with a day job for a while. But around 2019 I looked at that job as a parachute for fear that I would hit the ground without it. I realized what that parachute was doing was preventing me from flying. The job was doing sales in the sign industry, which was a creative industry at least. It served its benefit, but…

Downtown Condo Guys: Was creative painting in your blood from an early age?

Carini: Yes, in a variety of forms. I was attracted to anything art-related. I didn’t really have access to paint as a young kid, but I would take whatever I could get my hands on to make art.

Downtown Condo Guys: Do you work exclusively with acrylics?

Carini: Predominantly, but I use whatever is necessary to get the job done. My illustration teacher had taught me that art and illustration is using and doing whatever is necessary to get the job done. Right now I’m working on a piece using acrylic and broken glass from wreckage of my recent car accident. Acrylic is my base, but I’ll use unconventional things to tell the story.

Downtown Condo Guys: Was it a serious accident?

Carini: Yes, it was a violent collision on the freeway that caused head trauma. It left me with some physical and financial struggles, but I can’t say anything more about it right now [because of legal issues].

Downtown Condo Guys: What are the advantages of using acrylic paints over oils or watercolors?

Carini: I don’t think acrylics are better than the other paints. But they dry fast, they’re easy to work with, and they’re versatile.

Downtown Condo Guys: Is there a general, common theme or message that runs through your works?

Carini: If there was a voice to them, it is me sharing my stories. The greatest thing an artist can offer through their work is their own voice because nobody can take that away or replicate it. My motto that I use for branding and in all my writings is: ‘Don’t be afraid to be different…be afraid to be the same.’ The quote is mine.

Downtown Condo Guys: You are known to be rather prolific. How many paintings do you crank out a month? And what sizes do they range?

Carini: For every painting, I give just the right amount of time to tell the story, so I can’t really say because I don’t set requirements for time. But I have singular pieces that are smaller than a foot and some that go up to six-and-a-half by 10 feet. I also do multi-panel pieces that are larger in nature.

Downtown Condo Guys: What galleries represent your work?

Carini: Adelman Fine Art on Kettner Street in Little Italy—I’m constantly there. They do 10-week shows and rotate the same artists, but just change their works. They’ve represented me for about two years. Currently they have a handful of pieces, which are my first works from a brand new collection called ‘Inside the Outside.’ It’s a merging of two past collections: ‘Open Wounds’ and ‘The Up-side of Down.’

I am also regularly in Sparks Gallery in The Gaslamp. Starting on Aug. 13, I’ll have a few substantial pieces there, which will be works spanning from different collections over the years.

Downtown Condo Guys: Any galleries that are on your dream list?

Carini: I must say that twice a week I run past the San Diego Museum of Art. And when I do, I touch the building’s outside columns and say to myself that one day they are going to have an entire wing dedicated to my work. But basically these days I want to work with people in galleries who want to work with me.

Downtown Condo Guys: You create all your pieces from home?

Carini: Yes, in a two bedroom condo that I had to myself right after finishing school. But now I have a roommate, so my bedroom is my studio. I have large racks taking up space in some of the other rooms as well, some of them holding eight-foot paintings. And I have artworks all over the walls. It looks like a poorly hung art museum. [Chuckle]

Downtown Condo Guys: As a full-time artist, what are the biggest challenges you face in gaining visibility and selling your paintings?

Carini: It’s hit and miss. There are periods of great feast—and periods of great famine. In 2022, I sold over 25 paintings over an extended holiday weekend, and in another time 40 in a month. Yet in the first six or seven months of this year there were almost no sales until recently.

Being a full-time artist has its ups and downs. The greatest ‘up’ is to live my dream and coming to see that I’m here to open doors to those behind me.

For the downs, I’ve had a lot of them, but most recently the car accident temporarily derailed me from the path I was on. Life has a way of crashing into you, but when it does you can either lay there and die in the wreckage or you can pick up the debris, dust yourself off and create beauty with the chaos. I’m not ready to ride off into the sunset just yet.