In an assignment from kindergarten, Michael Doherty wrote, “‘I like art and moozic.'” Since then, he has been able to create art for his favorite guitarist and others.
Senior graphic design major Michael Doherty’s life changed forever when he first experienced live music. It was Ozzfest 2007, a metal music festival put on by Ozzy Osbourne. He remembers it as the hottest day of the year.
At 12 years old, Doherty saw mosh pits, got a whiff of marijuana and watched one of the bands set fire to a Bible. In the end, Doherty didn’t even get to see Ozzy – he got a bad sunburn and had to leave early.
“It was pretty crazy stuff to see when you’re 12 years old,” Doherty said. “My music taste started really intense like that. It still has a degree of intensity.”
This experience stirred something in him. He’s attended 250 concerts in the last 13 years. Doherty now creates art inspired by and made for the musicians he loves so much.
“It’s so amazing to watch a show unfold and not know where the band’s gonna take it, but knowing it’s going to be incredible,” Doherty said. “It’s suspending all of your expectations, allowing a band and the crowd to be one and just going for the ride.”
Doherty devotes a lot of time and money to music and art. When he’s not making art, he’s “consuming a ton of music with [his] cats.” He jokes that he’s finally gotten better about saving money now that COVID-19 has put a halt to live music.
“It’s priceless,” Doherty said. “I wouldn’t [do it any other way] because I’ve lived my life with the artists and the people that matter most to me.”
Doherty now spends a lot of his time at the Visual Art Studios at Webster — he takes classes, works on printmaking projects, fulfills his work study and even hosts an open studio hour on Fridays.
Students come to the open studio to work freely on projects and get help and critiques. Doherty enjoys hearing about his peer’s work and helping them improve it.
His advisor, Noriko Yuasa, put him in charge of leading this after seeing how he interacted with students at a group critique last spring.
“I like how Michael is so inclusive. He does it so naturally,” Yuasa said. “A lot of students, especially in art, can be introverts. But Michael reaches out to people, and that person feels comfortable talking to him.”
Doherty’s own work revolves around combining his two passions: art and music. The art he creates has a unique, trippy quality to it.
“I’m trying to break apart patterns,” Doherty said. “That’s something I’ve been recognizing -building patterns, recognizing them and then swirling them around.”
Most of his work is dedicated to the musicians he loves, like Dead & Company, King Crimson and local St. Louis bands. This brings him closer to his dream of being a graphic artist for a record label.
The peak of Doherty’s art career so far was when Dweezil Zappa, his favorite guitarist, reached out to Doherty personally to make text art for him.
“That was a complete shock to me. I was up until like 2 in the morning so psyched,” Doherty said. “Then the reality hit me, like ‘Oh I really have to do this.’”
Doherty said he neglected all of his classes that weekend and only focused on Zappa’s project.
Zappa used Doherty’s finished project as the text art for his Halloween song release “The Torture Never Stops.” Zappa thanked Doherty in a blog post on his website, also wishing him a “belated happy birthday.”
“It’s really cool to think that in some small way, Dweezil Zappa knows me a tiny bit,” Doherty said. “I think it’s really great to be recognized for my work by someone that I recognize for their work.”
Being recognized for his work is very important to Doherty.
If a customer is disrespectful of Doherty’s creations, he will not work with them. Doherty relates one example where a customer he considered rude offered him $100 to use his design for a shirt, and he turned him down.
“You don’t want to put your design on an asshole’s t-shirt,” Doherty said. “Or if you do, at what price?”
In a way, Doherty was destined to be a graphic designer for recording artists. He recently found an assignment dating all the way back to kindergarten that affirms this.