When Dr. Michaele Christian of Washington, D.C., and Oak Bluffs retired from her career in medicine and took up artwork, she wasn’t dabbling in watercolor landscapes like some amateurs. She jumped right into sophisticated abstract work, using the monotype process. Monotypes are created by painting or inking on a surface such as glass or copper and then transferring the image to paper with a specially designed press.
“I painted a bit in college,” says Christian, “but there’s something about the printmaking process that I really love. The serendipity involved in the interaction of the paint and paper I found fascinating. When you paint you absolutely control every aspect of the image. With monotypes, there is an element you have to surrender to.”
Christian creates layered images, using the monotype process that she developed while taking classes at Featherstone. Some are in black and white (with shades of gray, and maybe a bit of red as contrast), some feature colors and don’t stick to one specific palette. All of the resulting images are complex and compelling. In some cases the artist relies on pure abstraction. In others, a bit of landscape or a spray of flowers is implied. The haunting “Red Rising” features a blood-red moon hovering over a dark, barren landscape. “Garden of My D
reams,” on the other hand, depicts a joyous explosion of color that resembles a firework-lit sky as much as a bright bouquet of flowers.
Christian is currently showing her work exclusively at the Louisa Gould Gallery. Gould has been representing her for the past five years, always including her work in the annual abstract show. More recently, since she hasn’t had access to the Featherstone press due to COVID restrictions, Christian has been creating collages using various elements, sometimes gathered from previous prints. Her mixed-media piece “Black Lives Matter” features the names of some of the African American victims of police violence interspersed through a brightly colored abstract background.
In 2016 Christian created a monotype image centering on the same issue. “The Lurch” is a black-and-wh
ite monotype print with a blood-red blotch in the center. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is written at the top and the words “or do they …” is discreetly placed at the bottom right-hand corner.
“I feel — and I felt even before the ‘say their names’ initiative became so prominent — that it was important to remember the names,” says Christian. “I have a list of names that I’ve been gathering to include in future work.” She adds that adding words to monotypes is challenging, since the print comes out in reverse.
Christian enjoyed a successful career as an oncologist, working for most of the time at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research and training.
“I chose oncology because it is a medical challenge — an intellectual challenge,” she says. “I helped develop new treatments for cancer. What I loved about it is that I was taking care of patients 20,000 at a time — finding treatments that would have a broad impact.”
Christian and her family have been spending time at their East Chop Drive home for the past 20 years. Last February, before many city dwellers fled to the Island, she and her husband had already settled in for a stretch. They have stayed on, with Christian splitting her time between gardening, running, and working on new art. She is looking forward to the days when she can recommence her world travels — a longstanding passion.
As a physician and a researcher, Christian has a unique perspective on what the nation is facing right now with the pandemic. “We’re pivoting at the moment away from an environment where people had to deal with a lot of misinformation and miscues,” she says. “There is some parallel to my work. With any new treatment there is a lot of uncertainty. With the vaccine, I think the stakes are so high that people really need to be aware of that. Vaccine hesitancy will potentially have lethal consequences. We need to get over the skepticism that we have about the medical community. Our lives may very well rely on timely access to this vaccine.”
Find Michaele Christian’s work at the Louisa Gould Gallery, 54 Main St., Vineyard Haven, both hanging at the gallery and online at louisagould.com.