F5: Michael Hambouz Feeds Creativity With Creativity

03.10.23 | By
F5: Michael Hambouz Feeds Creativity With Creativity

Multidisciplinary artist, multi-instrumentalist musician, illustrator, and independent curator are a few of the biggest hats Brooklyn, NewYork-based Michael Hambouz wears. The first-generation Palestinian-American creates chromaesthesia-influenced works – experiments in dimension and color, created under the guidance of music – to process bouts of loss and self-reflections on cultural identity.

“The moment I paid off my student loans and was able to put away enough savings to keep me afloat for 6 months, I quit my last paid salary position…throwing caution and good healthcare coverage to the wind,” Michael says of the moment art went from hobby to career for him. “At the very end of my 6-month mark, I was commissioned to paint the titling sequences for Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States” ad campaign for Showtime – this gig provided me with enough income to extend my time in the studio for another year, cover the expenses for my first solo show, and the campaign was ultimately awarded a 2013 Silver Promax BDA Award, helping to launch my illustration side business. It has been 12 years now that I have been working full-time in my studio (I superstitiously knock on wood every time I state this).”

Experimenting freely with mediums, Michael encourages unexpected results and mutations to bloom in the studio, resulting in conceptually abstracted paintings and prints, intricate paper cutouts, 3-dimensional sculptural works, drawings, and animations.

light-skinned male with dark hair and short-sleeve black t-shirt sits with his head in his hands against a light pink background

Michael Hambouz \\\ Photo: Lauren Silberman

It clicked for Michael around the age of 7 that art could be something bigger for him. “At age 7, my 2nd grade classmates and I were each assigned to create an art piece inspired by our favorite fairytale. While most students delivered heavy-on-the-parent-assistance shoebox dioramas, I spent two hours after school every day for two weeks in the classroom working on a 9-foot-tall portrait of the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk. I was shy and not quite keen to the concept of showing off at that age, which made the feat feel very pure in motivation. To me, the grand scale was essential. Anything smaller would have simply been inaccurate,” he shared. “It was also during this time that my parents were going through a very turbulent and nasty separation. In retrospect, it was absolutely this moment that I realized art could provide me with positive escapism, independence, confidence, and the tools to process life’s most difficult challenges – there was no other path for me.”

Today, we’re happy to have Michael Hambouz join us for Friday Five!

elderly woman with white hair holding a small sculpture

Photo: Fred R. Conrad, The New York Times

1. Eva Zeisel

Hungarian-born American industrial designer Eva Zeisel made works of pure beauty – colorful, elegant, playful, tactile, and accessible. She was astoundingly prolific and her work always so very distinctly “Eva.” It was an honor for me to plan her 100th birthday party many years ago and get to know her a little better – sharp sense of humor, kind, and so thoughtfully well-spoken. She promptly arrived at 6pm and was the last to leave her party around 11pm. She continued actively making work until she passed away just a few years later at the remarkable age of 105. Though our practices and mediums of choice differ, I find it hard to think of another artist that is more inspiring to me than Eva. I highly recommend reading Eva Zeisel: A Soviet Prison Memoir.

blue and purple toned photo of a concert

Taraka performing at Our Wicked Lady, Brooklyn, New York \\\ Photo: Michael Hambouz

2. Live Music

As a spectator or as a participant, live music has always been a very important part of my life. When I first started visiting New York City in the late 90s, I would pour over the show listings in the Village Voice in a similar fashion to looking at the Sears’ Christmas toy catalog as a little kid. I didn’t quite realize just how much I missed seeing shows during the pandemic until I finally masked up and hit the streets after a two-year hiatus. I promised myself that if the following bands came to town, I would make the effort: Bristol UK’s Beak>, Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and New York state’s own Taraka. I was fortunate to see all three in the last year – absolutely transcendent. As a musician, I’ve found that the ultimate show makes me 50% entranced and 50% inspired to leave immediately to go play music as loud as I can in my rehearsal space. These three shows did that to me (I stayed until the end for all of them, so I suppose 51% to 49%?).

collage of six images from gallery shows and studio tours

From left to right, top to bottom: the studios of Will Hutnick, Courtney Childress, Julia Norton, Tony Cox, Stephen Somple, and Roxanne Jackson \\\ Photos by Michael Hambouz

3. Studio/Gallery Visits

I am a very social, community-oriented soul by nature. Though I can easily spend weeks on end focused on my own work in the studio, often forgetting when to blink or eat lunch. I’ve found that I really thrive most when I take time to engage with fellow creatives, talking through our current projects, and more often than not, talking about everything under the sun except art. I make sure I take at least two days off each month to studio visit with other artists, and a least two days each month to visit friends’ and friends-of-friends’ gallery shows throughout the city. Sharing a few recent studio visit highlights – I’m especially drawn to visiting artists that work with materials and processes foreign to my personal practice.

black and maroon logo reading Democracy Now!

Image courtesy Democracy Now!

4. Democracy Now!

Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman gave a talk at my alma mater Antioch College in the mid-90s shortly after the launch of the show, leaving an indelible impression on me. I’ve been an avid follower since, tuning in daily, and have even volunteered in their development office over the years during fund-drives. I firmly believe that we all have an obligation to know and care about what’s going on in the world around us, and have access to unbiased, uncensored free press to keep us informed. As a longtime human rights and social justice advocate, there are few other sources I trust more than Democracy Now!

landscape sunset

Monsanto, Portugal \\\ Photo: Michael Hambouz

5. Travel

Traveling wasn’t in the cards for me growing up. We didn’t have the money, and my mother rarely had time off from working multiple jobs to even leave if we had had the resources. I never resented this, but I have made it a point in my post-adolescent years to make up for lost time by traveling whenever I possibly can. International travel is most desired, but there is still so much to see in the U.S. (I still have yet to visit the Grand Canyon!), and even an afternoon bike ride over the Brooklyn Bridge can be a thrilling adventure. My last big trip was to the mountains of Portugal to visit my sister after a long gap since our last time together. We hiked, cooked, caught up on SNL, chopped wood, and picked olives – it was beautiful – all of it!


Work by Michael Hambouz:

maze-like red, black, yellow, and green art show poster

S in the G (2022), acrylic, flashe, and gouache on multidimensional panel, 36″ x 36″ x 3″. A recent 3-dimensional painting featured in my upcoming solo exhibition Hot Blooded at Troutbeck, presented by Wassaic Project and curated by Will Hutnick. \\\ Image courtesy Michael Hambouz

maze-like green and yellow image

Current Mood (2022), acrylic, flashe, and gouache on multidimensional panel, 36″ x 36″ x 3″. \\\ Image courtesy Michael Hambouz

illustration of a tiffany lamp and a pile of magazines

I Think We’re Alone-ish Now 2077 (2022), hand-cut paper on panel, 18”x24”. \\\ Image courtesy Michael Hambouz

illustration of old-fashioned vacuum and a vase of red poppies sitting on a table with a black white tablecloth

Occupational Hazard (2022) \\\ Image courtesy Michael Hambouz

Kelly Beall is Director of Branded Content at Design Milk. The Pittsburgh-based writer and designer has had a deep love of art and design for as long as she can remember, from Fashion Plates to MoMA and far beyond. When not searching out the visual arts, she's likely sharing her favorite finds with others. Kelly can also be found tracking down new music, teaching herself to play the ukulele, or on the couch with her three pets – Bebe, Rainey, and Remy. Find her @designcrush on social.