Meet Your Neighbor: Abstract Artist Stella Michaels

Stella Michaels'  home is covered in rainbow play balls. Michaels is an artist – an abstract expressionist painter, to be exact – but the balls are not, she explains, an artistic statement nor a permanent exhibition in her West Chelsea apartment; rather, they are the work of her two-year-old son, Miles.

Stella Michaels, artist Stella Michaels, Stella Michaels artist

Stella Michaels in her apartment.

“I put them away in a container, and then he picked it up and threw them everywhere, he thinks it’s funny,” she says surveying the floor without a trace of annoyance.

After all, Michaels is not one to judge anyone for doing something for the sake of it being funny. Back in 2011, she made headlines for selling her artwork out of a van parked directly in front of Larry Gagosian’s Madison Avenue gallery – despite the gallery’s best efforts to get her to leave.

“He was furious. I can’t even tell you,” she says, gleeful, “They couldn’t do anything! What I was doing was totally legal, which is was what made it even funnier.”

Since those days in the van, she has expanded her clientele to private collectors and partnered with other galleries, staging shows in the Chelsea Market and Milk Studios. Now, Michaels just opened a solo show in the West Village titled “Reckless Masterpiece," which features mostly new works highlighting different styles she has done over the years.

“I’m taking things from the past that I’ve done from different collections and I’m actually incorporating them into one,” she says, “The reckless insanity is the pivotal moment when you know the painting is complete.”

Talking to Michaels is like riding a wave; she has a tendency to move in and around topics, building up to something, and then letting it go and sailing on to the next point. This is how she works, too, she says; she just follows her inspiration, wherever it leads her.

“You don’t always know exactly where you will land till that crucial moment of insanity turns into clarity when you’re trying new things. Even though you have a floorplan of what you’re going to do, sometimes there’s something that happens in one moment that can change the whole chemistry of what you’re creating.”

That trust in uncertainty about where she’s going is reflected in her work, which manages to be frenetic and soothing at the same time, celebrating its own contradictions; her work is colorful (even when it’s black and white), energetic (even when it’s meditative), and abstract (even when it depicts something very tangible – like a flag). Certainly, it is informed by great artists of the past, and traces of Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and others can be seen running through her collections. But there are other, more unexpected traces too; a student of art history, Michaels says she is also inspired by the Renaissance and realism.

The one thing her art is not is easy-to-do. Michaels – like many contemporary artists– has run into her fair share of skeptics.

“Some people look at art and say ‘oh, I could do that.’ Do you know how many times I’ve done shows, and they say that? I push back, I tell them, ‘please come back, I’d love to see what you can do.’ And people have come back, and you know what they say? ‘I couldn’t do it. You were absolutely right.”

She laughs, “I love to put people to the challenge because you never know what they can do, but for the most part, you have a rhythm, a touch, a feel. They can’t do what I do.”

Stella Michaels, Stella Michaels artwork

Works by Michaels, clockwise from top left: "Red Sea" (2013); "Unscripted No. 26" (2020); "Unscripted No. 30" (2020); "Unscripted No. 25" (2020); "Houses of the Holy" (2016); "Symphony, in the Meadow" (2019)

Michaels' show is running from March 4 - 30 at 40 Eighth Ave (Corner of Jane Street & Eighth Avenue), New York, NY 10014.  Learn more at For private appointments please email

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