GVM: How did you become interested in art and sports and who were your early influences?
Massey: I started drawing when I was 6 years old. My mother would draw cartoon characters for me, like Mickey Mouse, and I wanted to do it, too. But I was also influenced by my dad, who was in drafting and played basketball at Arkansas A & M, and also an uncle who was multi-talented in drawing, singing and playing sports.
GVM: Sounds a bit like you! Are you naturally talented, or did it take training to bring out your artistic and athletic abilities?
Massey: Well, some of both. I remember that when we had assignments in elementary school that needed maps or drawings, my classmates would ask me to draw theirs. When I was in seventh grade, I won an art contest entered by many older junior high students.
I started playing sports when I was in the fifth grade. I played baseball on the varsity team in high school, but stopped when I went out for track. I also played football all four years. By senior year, I was All-State in discus and All-Conference in football. Then I came to Grand Valley on a football scholarship.
GVM: While at Grand Valley, you set a school record in discus throw, were nominated for All-America honors in football and were honored as Athlete of the Year as a junior. But you still focused primarily on art. What pulled you in that direction?
Massey: Some of my first art classes at Grand Valley were with Don Kerr, who inspired me on so many different levels. He took me for my first visit to the Art Institute of Chicago and suggested that I spend a semester abroad studying at the Slade Institute of Fine Art, at the University of London, which I did.
GVM: What did you learn there?
Massey: This is where I first made the link between art and architecture. I saw a lot of beautiful old buildings that were designed to showcase art. We went to the Salisbury Cathedral; it stretches 300 or 400 feet to the ceiling. The scale of the altar paintings is monumental. It also dawned on me that the artists Michelangelo, DaVinci and Rubens did a lot of public art. Since there weren't any museums then, it was the only way common people were able to see art. I decided that when I came back to the states, I wanted to do large pieces of art in public settings.
GVM: Were you able to accomplish that?
Massey: Just after I returned, I won a Second Place People's Choice Award at the Grand Rapids Visual Arts Festival for a portrait. Then someone introduced me to the artist Paul Collins, who told me he started in billboards. So, after graduation, I went through an apprenticeship program and within a year and a half I made journeyman, which usually takes five to 10 years to accomplish, then spent 12 years as a sign and billboard painter. I painted 40-50 hours a week, every week and I learned to paint large.
GVM: You have devoted your time and talent to teaching painting to high school students and many of your works are located in public places and convey a sense of community. You seem intent to share art with others.
Massey: I believe that public art has a tremendous impact. It can document history, heal rifts in the community, and bring diverse people together in mutual appreciation. There is art for oneself and art for serving other people. I think I do some of each.
GVM: You've created major public works in a vast variety of media, including oil, stone and fresco. How did you become so diverse?
Massey: I like to try a lot of different things and I also believe an artist should strive to understand his media, its origins and chemical makeup, in order to utilize its full potential. I spent some time researching and working with an expert in the restoration business to learn the techniques of the early masters. I studied the chemical makeup of their paints, learned to mix my own pigments and created my own black oils.
When I came back from Europe, I wanted to learn why the fresco colors were still so rich after so many years. The original fresco palette was very limited because only a few pigments survived the lime used to mix the plaster. I have experimented a lot on my own; also in 1994 I was selected as one of the 12 artists to participate in a fresco workshop facilitated by Lucienne Bloch and Stephen Dimitroff. They were apprentices to Diego Rivera, the Mexican muralist whose urban frescoes grace the walls of the Detroit Institute of Art.
GVM: You have recently been commissioned by the Flint Institute of Art to do a 7-foot by 88-foot fresco. That is second in size only to the Diego Rivera murals. How do you tackle such a large project?
Massey: It will probably take a year, year and a half to complete. I will paint it here, in Detroit, on approximately 16 panels, which they will install. Each panel will probably weigh about 500 pounds. I need a bigger studio!
GVM: Are you working on any other projects?
Massey: I have been working on ways to make the fresco media more portable. I'm also working with architects on incorporating art at the start of a building, to convey that the art can be the wall, not just a piece hung on it afterward. I like to think of my art as my legacy, as 21st century hieroglyphics that tell stories, and inspire people.
Page last modified July 19, 2011