Interview Michael Katchan: “I found someone else who also, like me, had an invisible friend”
Michael Katchan is an artist from Australia, who has come to terms with his own demons. In this interview we get personal and talk about his mental health, how it inspired his creative journey, and the woman who changed his life.
- TRIGGER WARNING -
This interview discusses mental health and depression and showcases artwork that contains nudity, horror, gore, and written language some people may find offensive.
Can you tell me about your journey as an artist and human being up until now?
Michael: “When I was 12 and my family moved from Indonesia back to Australia after 8 years of residency there, I left behind all of my friends at the time, a lot of memories, and I fell into a sadness. The sadness, at the time, might not have been necessarily a depression of sorts, just me dealing with change. Being an overly sensitive child, however, I believe that in my naivety I allowed that sadness to gestate and grow into something I could no longer handle. But as so many of us do, because during our early teenhoods we believe no one could possibly know what to do in any given situation better than us, I attempted to.”
Michael: “I held everything in around others, I put myself down to feel better, it became comforting to call myself shit, worthless and terrible, and in the middle of all of that I dreamed up 3 cherubs (Editor’s note: winged angelic beings) whom I genuinely believed existed, and were there specifically for me to talk to whenever I wanted to kill myself.”
Michael: “By this point in my life everyone knew I had a talent or knack for drawing, and it was a hobby by and large. I had no idea where I could take it or what I would do with it, but by 2003, the final year of my schooling, it had evolved into a sort of art therapy - the page became a place I would instil with every piece and aspect of pain and terror I'd forced into myself, a place I would fill with new imagery daily, if not hourly.”
Michael: “The depression only worsened by my graduating year, the drawing continuing to proliferate and fill sketchbooks with poorly distorted and very crude renderings of a pained teenager. Halfway through the year my perception of the three cherubs changed - and they evolved into what I could only describe as three kings - versions of myself that I would only come to truly understand almost a decade later, whom I believed controlled my whims, vied for control and on occasion, offered solace when they assumed I wanted to end everything.”
Michael: “This relationship with my 'inner demons' or 'kings' as I referred to them, became a core part of my being during my late teens and early 20's, dominating my world-views and it was something I allowed to grow and fester inside me without any thought about what I was doing to myself mentally. This of course, made copious amounts of sense at the time, as it kept me from killing myself or becoming violent. I would dream, daily, of stripping naked, covering myself in oil and running out into the streets to find a car to slam into me. Or simply of finding the tallest building to fall from. For some reason these ideas made me feel genuinely calm - but what calmed me more was the soothing words I'd put in the lips of my demons, telling me not to, that I was something they were here for, that they had a 'plan'. That I was special.”
Michael: “They appeared in my art more, became the focus of my work every day - something anyone would notice if, at the time, they were watching me on the art forums I would frequent. This kept me going, this fueled my desire to create, and the responses I received from my friends and acquaintances online only confirmed that whatever I was doing by communing with these spirits and drawing out our time together was clearly positive work, and should be continued. The depression had worsened by now and I allowed it to thicken and spoil me and grow, as the poetry I gleamed from it, the relationship it allowed me to foster with these kings, and the art I could tear out from it were obviously, at the time, completely worth the pain.”
Michael: “By late 2006 this finally started to take something of a physical toll on me, as I experienced my first anxiety attack. Now while at the time this didn't change anything, by 2011 the consistency of the attacks and increased severity became something I had to truly think about. Between this and how much I despised where I lived at the time, it seemed a change was in order. So, as any bad decision making early 20-year old would think to do, I sold everything I owned, purchased a laptop and a ticket, and moved to the other side of my country to start things off afresh. I abandoned my art for years, abandoned old eating and drinking habits (I was a terrible alcoholic, no thanks to wanting to romanticize the concept of the tortured artist, a trope that could have genuinely destroyed me) and began to eat healthily and started to visit the gym on a weekly basis.”
Michael: “Taking an active role in improving my living conditions and attitude towards this new city and all of the possibilities it contained, was a vast, incredible and swift way to change what was going on inside. The kings were still there, having been around for nearly a decade, they were almost impossible to remove from my psyche, and on occasion I'd still scribble out drawings of them and some old learned image of a distorted figure in pain - old habits. This new lifestyle helped, however, and the clarity it gave me, while not complete, was at least enough to allow me some hindsight - to look back and see what I'd done to myself, and what I was still continuing to do. The masochistic nature of what I'd impregnated my mind with has still to this day not completely left me - but is mostly all but gone.”
Michael: “It wasn't until 2015 when I finally took the chance to purchase a ticket to visit girl I'd met on one of those art forums, Deviantart, back in 2005 that things truly started to change.”
Michael: “Riana Møller was and is, truly special. When we met on Deviantart all those years ago, I found someone else who also, like me, had an invisible friend, a conduit through which they would channel all of their horrible internal struggles and thoughts, whom they believed truly existed and had befriended. We bonded almost instantly and became inseparable friends - our creative sparks and inspirations so similar and so easy to share with one another. When we finally met in 2015, something special occurred between the two of us, and we were each able to do something for each other that nothing, no one had been able to do for us before - tear away the realities and brick walls we'd each put up with such vigour during our respective childhoods, remind each other that our invisible friends truly are invisible, but were useful when they were around, and are no longer needed.”
Michael: “The growing pains in an evolution like that, especially in your 30's, are nothing short of excruciating, and do not leave you for years. It takes will, it takes determination, and it takes a belief that you can truly affect how you think, and what you believe in, and what you will allow to affect you and how you choose to affect your reality. Without my art, without my capacity to render my thoughts, pains and loves into simple lines on a page, I would not be here. I would not be with Riana, I would not be writing this.”
Michael: “It's only now, at 32, that I'm finally looking at my art as something more than a therapy, as a possible future career, as something I can turn into a trade, a craft, something beautiful that I'm genuinely proud of. It took years of drawing, decades of fine tuning, and fractal evolution that could only have manifested in the way that it did - and no other. Good art isn't spawned out of nothing, and it requires good context, good living and a certain degree of love - be it love for another, love for oneself, love for the despising of oneself, you get the picture. I could go on with deconstructing all of this history further, but I think this answer is relatively sufficient.”
You are engaged to be married now. What’s the backstory concerning the engagement?
Michael: “Riana and I were very attracted and into one another from the time we met online back in 2005, however, the obstacles keeping us apart at the time were just enough to keep us from aggressively pursuing each other at the time. We each see this as something today, however, that ended up working out in our favor as a couple today, as it allowed us to build a ridiculously strong bond and friendship that lasted through great periods of silence when either of us would be absent or busy, and we'd be there for one another through our respective struggles. Hell, it was in 2009 or so, maybe earlier.. maybe 2007? That we'd each made a promise to one another, wherein neither of us was allowed to kill ourselves before we met - we had to have met at least once before we were allowed to die. I can't express how much that helped me through some situations, just remembering that I had to hold on to see her.”
Michael: “So 2014 rolls by and I assist an ex in successfully ruining another relationship of mine, and I realize that 2015 is looking to be a genuinely free year wherein I'll have some scratch to spend and time to use it. I leap at this, contact Riana and flat out tell her to just pick a month. She does, I book tickets that day, and we met the following year! Long, romantic story short, it was a heated summer and there were moments where everything felt like a mistake, but the moments where everything felt correct far outweighed them, and she followed me back to Australia for a year after my visit to Prague, before we moved onward to Europe in mid 2016. When I returned to Australia to sort out a visa so I could return, I took the opportunity to take a ring-making course, and designed a basic, stirling silver ring based on a signature she and I (it turns out) had both been using since before we'd even met for our art (two lines vertical is mine, one line vertical is hers) - a symbol I felt perfectly represented the two of us in ring-form. Had the ring cast and reproduced in 24ct gold for my love, returned and proposed in the airport.”
Michael: “This relationship has been nothing short of the two of us exploring every facet of one another through rigorous communication and actively practiced empathy. I could never have asked for anything more or even expected this would have been as much of a blessing as it has been.”
If there's one thing you could tell anybody reading this, a quote, a piece of advice, a thought - concerning anything - what would it be?
Michael: “Love yourself. By that I don't mean 'put yourself above others', which I feel is important to include as it's so easy, especially when muddled in the mire of depression to misinterpret, as the damaged are always so quick to judge. I mean, look after yourself, and know that you deserve it, know that your art deserves it, know that without doing so, you'll never produce the best art you could be producing - and no matter how you choose to rebel against the statement, it will remain and hold true.”
Michael: “A depressed or damaged individual may be able to render out a framework of how they are feeling that is, in and of itself, quite raw and powerful, it's true - but when that person then takes that, takes the time to improve themselves, takes that improved self and uses this less distracted, less disorientated self to improve the craft and in so doing, improve the nature of the rendering, possibly even the rawness and the context behind it, the image itself will be that much more impressive, that much more readable, that much more relatable and powerful.”
Michael: “If you're someone who romanticizes the tortured artist motif, I urge you to watch this youtube video that was very recently produced by a wonderful channel called The Art Assignment.”
Michael: “It discusses this very aptly and is something I can agree with, having come from being someone who used to glorify that idea - someone who used to drink himself nearly to death, crying in an isolated room, nude, covered in paint and blood. You don't need that. No one needs that. Love yourself and improve yourself. Always. follow your own path, follow it steadfastly and with passion, and others will see this and want to appreciate you for what you are doing and who you are, regardless of health or intent or mettle.”
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