We catch up with Michelle Tanguay at her Woodward Avenue Studio and leap into the world of one of Detroit’s fastest rising and most sought after artists.

Any working artist must, at one time or another, ride the line between art for the sake of art, and the necessary specter of selling out. Everyone, that is, but Michelle Tanguay, who takes the commercial aspects of a successful art career as part and parcel of an art practice that is the fierce, fixed focus of her existence. Nothing stands between Tanguay and the production of bold imagery on a larger-than-life scale, with work firing out at a feverish pace from the Woodward Ave studio space she occupies, an enviable open showroom split with artist and Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo, who Tanguay hails as a mentor and a constant source of feedback and inspiration.

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The discourse between their work is never more clear than in Tanguay’s “Face-to-Face” series, massive black-and-white portraits of everyone who came through her studio, rendered on salvaged banners from a recent Jazzfest, with the logos of corporate sponsors emerging through the pictures of these real Detroiters. This wielding of the inherent mojo in advertising logos is also present in Pardo’s massive Target Girl painting, that stands floor-to-ceiling near the entrance to Tanguay’s side of the building, which appeared in one of the Pop-Up Detroit guerilla gallery shows that Tanguay co-curated in vacant spaces, and served as the introduction that has sparked their beautiful creative friendship and shared workspace.

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The willingness to embrace these commercial aspects, or assignments such as Tanguay’s involvement in a series of Metro Detroit billboards for Sierra Mist, coupled with her fearless deployment of color and potent sexuality—grippingly realized in her portrait series of girls with lollipops for the Summer 2012 Red Bull House of Art, but equally dispatched on a personal level, leveraging sexy studio portraits and even a profile presence in online dating sites—have driven countless viewers to her work, and catapulted Tanguay into the orbit of a rising star. Let it never be said that the earnest and engaging Tanguay pretends the trajectory of her success comes easy. “You have to make sure art is the first thing you think of in the morning, the last thing you think about when you go to bed, and what you’re working towards all day long,” she says. All that focus is paying dividends, so go ahead, Michelle. We’ll do our best to try and keep up.


Check out more of Michelle Tanguay on her website and flip through the full feature and other exclusive content in ZIPR Magazine Issue #1. Read all of the ZIPR Magazine exclusive artist features on our blog.

Words by Rosie Sharp | Nov ’14