Michael Turchin is an artist/actor/model whose paintings, which focus on themes of celebrity iconography, are part of the debut exhibition at South Tampa’s CASS gallery, which also features work by University of Tampa professor Chris Valle. Turchin is engaged to be married to former ‘N Sync star and Sirius OutQ/Entertainment Tonight personality Lance Bass. Turchin spoke to CL by phone from Los Angeles.
How’d the CASS connection happen?
Through my friend Ben Thigpen. Cassie, who owns the gallery, is one of his longtime childhood friends. He’s been for the past year trying to find a good gallery for me. He just showed her a few of my pieces and she loved them.
Talk about the focus on celebrity in your work.
I’ve just always been fascinated with pop culture, especially iconic celebrity images. The style kind of evolved. I find an image that resonates with me, think of who or what I want to capture, take a pre-existing photo and tweak a few things.
What are the challenges of being in a celebrity world yourself, as Lance Bass’s fiancé?
Having to deal with others’ perception of you, especially on blogs. It’s a free for-all to say what you want about people, especially in comment sections — kind of the standard “You’re a gold-digger, you’re with him because he’s famous” — hopefuly that’ll change.
I’ve heard conversation on Lance’s show [Dirty Pop on Sirius OutQ] about how life’s different for the beautiful. You’ve been a model, you have benefited from beauty. But you also know some of the pressures, and those themes seem to show up in your work, as in the image of Marilyn Monroe.
I don’t know about being beautiful — it definitely doesn’t hurt. I’m not outgoing in social situations, but people are more inclined to come up to you. But then there’s the flip side. People make assumptions: “You’re just some good-looking idiot.”
How did you and Lance meet?
We met three and a half years ago at a mutual friend’s birthday in Palm Springs. We started chatting, and over the next month and a half we became instantly best friends. It was platonic at first. I didn’t think he was interested, and he didn’t think I was interested at all either.
You’re getting married on TV [on Valentine’s Day]. Any qualms?
The night after it was reported [that he and Bass were engaged] the president of E! contacted us and said, “We need to do a wedding special.” We told him we’d think about it [and decided] overall for society it’d be a good thing to show a big national gay wedding on such a big platform. We’re not making a Kim Kardashian fortune for this wedding — it’s just to put it out there so the world can see we’re no different from any other couple.
You have a degree in finance from Georgetown. Now you’re in the art world. Is that degree proving useful?
I don’t know if my degree wields that much power. I am definitely the more financially savvy. Lance has been in ’N Sync since he was 16. All of them have had a team manage their whole entire lives. I on the other hand did not have such a team.
You all sound so friendly and comfortable with each other on Dirty Pop — and you record it at your house?
We’ve all known each other since way before the show. We started off weekly a little over two years ago as The Pop Ten. Then Sirius approached Lance to do a daily show a little over a year ago. In our last house we did it in the basement. Now we live in the hills near Sherman Oaks, and we built a studio.
What about the nicknames? “Turkey” Turchin?
Throughout my entire life people have called me “Turkey.” No matter where I move, instantly someone will call me “Turkey.”
And Lance’s “my little peanuts”?”
He just started calling everyone [co-hosts, guests, fans] “the peanut gallery” — “my peanuts.” Half of the time they think he’s calling them “penis” — saying “Hello, my little penis.”
You’ve been commissioned to do portraits of celebrities, including the judges on The Voice, paintings which are seen at times during the show. How did these commissions come about?
The Voice set designer came across my Instagram. The program commissions a handful of artists to do paintings for different stages, with a couple of artists in each room.
Any tensions with celebrities who don’t like the way they’re being portrayed?
So far it’s all been positive. I did a commission piece of Kurt Cobain, and Courtney Love saw it on Twitter. She loves it. Kris Jenner saw on my Instagram a painting of mine. She commissioned me to do a massive image of Snow White holding a big glittery apple. The background is all magazine covers of Kris and her daughters.
You incorporate text in your images. How do you choose the words?
i feel like the backgrounds that I do are bigger than the [images]. I do try to put some thought into it. Sometimes it’s a dark view, sometimes a pun.
What about the portrait of Queen Elizabeth? What do the words say?
They’re the lyrics to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”