His paintings are so realistic, you can almost taste the honey

Before Mike Dargas emerged onto the contemporary art scene with his hyperrealistic paintings, he was a tattoo artist with a solid reputation. With the help of the hashtag #art on Instagram, Dargas’ works went viral and later caught the attention of Opera Gallery.

His works have since appealed to a huge celebrity clientele, including Boris Becker, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, with pieces selling at prices from £25,000 to £30,000.

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Above Mike Dargas, Kissed by the Sun (2017), oil on canvas, 182.8 x 152.4 cm (Photo: Courtesy of Opera Gallery)

Born in 1983, Dargas is currently living and working between his native Cologne and Los Angeles. He stood out as early as his childhood years with his talent for drawing. Through his mother, the artist discovered the works of Salvador Dali, Caravaggio, and HR Giger, who were all influential examples for his artistic endeavours.

At his Asia solo debut here in Hong Kong, we got up close and personal with the artist to find out how he works and what he thinks about art in the social media age:

You were discovered on Instagram. What impact do you think technological advancement and social media have on people's interaction with art?

Social media has been very impactful on not just everyone’s daily lives, but also on artists’ careers. People are quick to look at images before words, and Instagram plays a vital role in introducing artists like myself.

It serves as a very convenient platform and open doors for guests to come to exhibitions. People’s reactions change when they see the real artwork with spectacular details versus images that may be filtered on sharing platforms.

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Above Mike Dargas (Photo: Courtesy of Opera Gallery)
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Above Mike Dargas, Golden Thoughts (2015), oil on canvas, 220 x 140 cm (Photo: Courtesy of Opera Gallery)

Why did you choose Hong Kong to make your Asia solo debut?  

I love Hong Kong—the skyscrapers, food, culture and appreciation of art seen throughout the streets of Soho and even a dedicated art month. I chose Hong Kong because it is an international hub at the centre of Asia, where my artworks will be exposed to people coming from different places.

How did you develop your style and begin painting hyperrealistic works?

Since I was young, I liked to use chalk to paint on the streets. I remember painting the Mona Lisa at the age of 11, it was around this time I realised how much I loved to create art.

My inspiration for realism painting was inspired by the Old Masters, and I love traditional art. After focusing on portraits for years, I was curious about the effect of the human body. That's why I included the beauty of the body as well as close-ups in my latest series.

What tools do you use to create your hyperrealistic works?

I like to play with elements of hyperrealism and photography. I absolutely enjoy experimenting with my motifs and techniques and am constantly aiming to develop both. The whole liquid series started in an experimental shooting in 2014 with the first honey piece.

I was searching for a material that could cover a specific ground, yet is transparent enough to see what's underneath. Adding photography to my work helped me catch the right moment of the model and liquid blending into each other. I was fascinated by honey as a liquid material and it became the base element of this new series. 

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Walk us through a day in the life of Mike Dargas...

Usually, I try to get up early and take a walk on the beach and exercise. After that, I take care of errands and answer emails, then in the later afternoon to evening I spend time on my artwork.

What inspires you?

I find inspiration everywhere and especially in women, where I find beauty within every personality or moment. My art is also very personal and reflects my current state of mind, so I use portraits to reflect emotions and personal stories.

My early series was quiet, dark and destructive and dealt with inner conflicts and anger. I had asked myself how people deal with the search for identity and personal conflicts. Having gone through major changes myself, I examined the moment of personal transformation: the struggle, the hope and the fear.

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The following ‘Healing Beauty’ series focused more on femininity, beauty and fragility, and that is why women are the central focus in this series. Through the works, women of all personalities, from gentle to ambitious, were able to express feelings that are difficult to explain, but universally felt.

Tell us about the process of creating your works. Did you have the models pose for you covered in honey for real?

I can say my work is a combination of photography with painting. I use photography to capture the right moment of the model with honey pouring over them. Genuine expressions can be seen on their faces because it;s the first time the model has experienced that sensation.

All of my paintings try to catch an emotional snapshot and aim to evoke a certain feeling in the viewer.

Healing Beauty runs from January 19 to February 9 at Opera Gallery Hong Kong, W Place, 52 Wyndham Street, Central. Find out more at operagallery.com

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