Water, Jazz, Francis Bacon, and Carpentry: The Artwork of Michael Finnegan

red-house-post_©_Michael_Finnegan RED HOUSE | 41” x 55” x 8” | Acrylic on Baltic Birch | © Michael Finnegan

I was made in Hawaii and raised on the Chesapeake Bay and Oahu. I’ve lived and worked in Seattle, Washington and on Deer Isle, Maine. My Chicago studio is a short walk to Lake Michigan. Water, light, and color strongly influence my work.

TWO STEP FLOAT | 20” x 50” | Acrylic on Baltic Birch | © Michael Finnegan

A big chunk of my being is music. A typical 70’s kid with a passion for Hendrix and the electric guitar brought me to the Berklee School of Music as a young man. There I realized that I don’t listen to music as much as I see it. I see color in it. It’s physical to me, something I can touch. Ultimately, holding something I made is why I fell in love with carpentry—crafting objects people interact with every day. I spent much of my professional life as a stair builder and carpenter. These experiences fuse together in my art.

I don’t listen to music as much as I see it

I’m committed to finding a way to interact and engage with sensations and experiences that I find interesting and compelling. I love music and I love art and I want to participate with all that great work out there. I try to pay attention to things that move me. Sometimes my experiences are ordinary and simple and sometimes I don’t understand what’s happening. Maybe the moment is profound, or maybe it isn’t… but something is resonating. I like the creative space that’s not bogged down by words and explanations.

Never Complete | 96″ x 8” | Acrylic on Wood | © Michael Finnegan

Often when I listen to music I get an idea and I follow it. I’m into hearing music and seeing colors, feeling and seeing rhythms. So I use those experiences. Adobe Illustrator is great for playing with certain colors and shapes and I know carpentry so I use those tools. I like using my hands and I paint on wooden forms and shapes that I build and bend. But, what I’d really like is to be able to do, is swim, float and live inside color and sound. I suppose we already live there sometimes. I just want to keep that going.

POEM FOR (SOMEONE I’VE NEVER MET) | 33”X32”X4” | Acrylic on Baltic Birch | © Michael Finnegan

It was really thrilling to do a show inspired by the music of Bill Frisell at Method Gallery in Seattle. I created a play list of some of his music and then I listened and looked for ideas. I played with Illustrator and bent up a bunch of wooden shapes and painted them. The whole process was an incredible experience for me. He and his wife came to the opening! A few days later I was hanging one of my pieces, “White Fang”, in his living room and talking art with the wonderful painter Carole d’Inverno. Hearing him play is a powerful experience. It’s very moving… and finding out that he’s into what I making…Man, that’s affirmation!

Bill Frisell and Michael Finnegan © Michael Finnegan
White Fang | 28”X62” X6” | Acrylic on Baltic Birch | © Michael Finnegan


White Fang | 28”X62” X6” | Acrylic on Baltic Birch | © Michael Finnegan

I feel really fortunate to be making art and I’m excited to dig in even more. Now, I’m just trying to keep up with all my ideas. I could probably spend all my time just making work based on his extensive recording catalog, however, the last four pieces I completed were inspired by the beautiful singing of Elis Regina.

ELEMENTS FOR ELIS REGINA paintings, in progress | 36”x36”x 2.5” Acrylic on Baltic Birch | © Michael Finnegan
ELEMENTS FOR ELIS REGINA paintings, in progress  | © Michael Finnegan

It might sound strange but Francis Bacon drew me into visual art, but my work has evolved into what may be seen as hard-edged abstraction. Although the influences of Josef Albers, Johannes Itten, and even Bridget Riley are evident in many of my pieces, I’m not concerned with maintaining a strict tie to any one academic theory or artistic ideology such as minimalism.

MOON RIVER | 58”X53”X5” | Acrylic on Baltic Birch | © Michael Finnegan
EGG RADIO | 64”X38”X5” | Acrylic on Baltic Birch | © Michael Finnegan
SONG | 30” x48” x 3” | Acrylic on Baltic Birch | © Michael Finnegan


I’m looking for a way to engage with life. I work with things I enjoy, things I find compelling like color, water, music and quotes like this:


– John Cage

Learn more about Michael Finnegan at his website.