In the garage of his home on Spokane’s South Side, Michael Larsen chips away at a large chunk of bird’s eye maple. The shape that is emerging is twisting and curving organic tubes, an intricate, almost living, entity.
“I am an artist through no choice of my own. It’s a driving force guiding my hands,” he said, “I get lost while I’m sculpting and after many hours of work, I stand back and look at what has transpired. Bit by bit, piece by piece, something has taken shape.”
Larsen, 39, was born in Hawaii. He moved to Spokane in 1981 and graduated in 1989 from Lewis and Clark High School, where he fed his desire to create by taking every art class that was available. He also learned to work with an array of materials at his father’s boat building company which sparked his future aspirations to mold and build just about anything.
After high school, Larsen joined the Navy, working as a sonar technician. After that, he took the experience he gained from building boats and began working on yachts in Virginia. His design and production work gained momentum, and he was hired to create stealth attributes on Comanche helicopters. He also worked for Rolls Royce Joint Strike Fighter Program and NASA, creating any shape that was needed.
When Larsen grew tired of “war machines,” he began crafting art sculptures and taking on contract work for the entertainment industry including design and production work for Disney, the Boston Opera and Phoenix Entertainment.
A few months ago, Larsen moved back to Spokane, where his ex-wife and two children have settled. His kids now live with him, and he is eager to start making art.
Larsen builds molds and uses materials like fiberglass, steel, titanium, wood, Styrofoam, Kevlar (bulletproof fabric), and nickel cadmium graphite to make his sculptures. His work ranges from huge for elaborate stage productions to smaller wall hangings or free-standing pieces.
He liquidated much of his work before the move to Spokane but a large free-standing fish and a whale traveled with him. The fish, made of aerospace foam and Kevlar, weighs only about 4 pounds and the whale, made of nickel cadmium graphite, weighs about 12. “The whale could probably re-enter the atmosphere and not burn up,” Larsen said. Both sea creatures appear to be swimming.
Larsen hopes to find work sculpting pieces for entertainment venues or commissioned jobs creating whatever a client has in mind. He also plans on creating a series of smaller pieces to display in local establishments. He also works in concrete and is considering submitting designs for public art.
Larsen said he is on a mission to create a niche for himself and other forward-thinking artists in the area.
Whatever he does, his hands will be kept busy. “Making art is like riding on a river. Twenty-four hours can go by in a flash. I have to check myself as to not lose track of time. It is a familiar place to be, so comfortable, so warm, and when I deny myself, I get irritable, dismayed and cynical. I see a rough object and am driven to release the beauty inside. I want to leave more beauty behind than was here when I arrived. That’s my job.”