about me
Hi, I'm Michael Van Huffel, an artist based in Santa Cruz, California. In 2008, I became ill with what was eventually diagnosed as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, a debilitating life-changing illness. The considerable losses, challenges and battle with this disease led directly to my current work, beginning in 2017. This story has been featured by the BBC (click link here or image below).

Born in Ohio, I attended Berklee College of Music. I was given my real start as an artist by (the musician) Prince, who challenged, guided, and gave me the opportunity to grow and move from technical work to much greater challenges. Working for Prince outside of Minneapolis (at the famed Paisley Park), I began doing album layout, but that quickly grew into illustration, design, animation and special effects for music video production. This work appeared in album releases, tour books, merchandise, clothing, and much more. I received two RIAA Gold Record Awards and a Golden Reel Award for these contributions.

After, I turned my focus to animation and design for advertising. I worked with some of Minneapolis' largest agencies, for clients including Nike, MTV, Dominos, General Mills, Red Wing, Target and many more (including Jesse Ventura's infamous gubernatorial run). Also continued in design/illustration work for a variety of clients & industries.

Moving to Los Angeles in 2001, I went back into the entertainment world. Freelancing for a few years, doing graphics & title design for film and TV, (some award-winning) for a multitude of projects, with clients including The Discovery Channel, Paramount, Sony, Warner Bros and more. I eventually took a job with film marketing company Aspect Ratio in Hollywood, where I was Creative Director up until the onset of this illness.
About my work now
MECFS is a very limiting illness. I went from being very active, productive, athletic and busy to only being able to leave the house occasionally. For many years after onset, I couldn't play—or even listen to music. Doing the intense work required to work in creative direction, title design and animation just wasn't even in the realm of possibility. I was going a little crazy, confined to a small apartment, doing IV treatment through a port in my heart. An artist friend in Argentina (a place I love) suggested we do a photo-a-day project, a small challenge, something creative to do. I used (and continue to use) my iphone at first, mostly sending images of the array of medical equipment that were my surroundings. Eventually, the quality of what she was sending me challenged me try to find interesting things other than medical equipment in my limited surroundings. I started going just outside and getting flowers, other things just lying around, and bringing them home to try to shoot when I had windows of functionality. It took so long to get to that place, but I was doing something creative again, something different, and something I could do in pieces, in those little windows of functionality. 
From there, I began to approach making images that rose to a standard for visual art that I'd had with previous work. A lot of the images have real meaning to me, though I mostly prefer people just see and interpret them as they will— I'm trying to make cool images. I try to make unusual images, abstracts, things that look like something other than what the literal subject is. I want some to look like paintings (I don't use filters, try that get it in-camera. I play with water, oils, liquids, odd lighting, over and underexposure, focus—I still do most of my shooting in my apartment. Really, the meaning to all of it is that I have these times when I can do something creative, productive. 
That friend who challenged me to exchange a photo a day via email is now my wife, Belén Irusta (see her fantastic work here). After a few years, Artlifting Gallery (a great rep, see the Prints and Merch page for more about them) began offering fine art prints of my work. They also pitched and arranged commissions, including 5 large scale prints for Merck Research Labs. I've learned that this really has been about working through and with limitations. Working fast when I can, trying not to lose a flow, doing things in pieces—it's all very different from how I worked before. My equipment is very simple, subjects and locations very close by, the set-ups for shooting are very fly by night. When I'm sick and can't work, I often am trying to think through what I want to shoot, work on or edit when I can. The hard part is remembering those things and picking up the thread again when I can get back to it. 
In the past year, I began trying to play music again, mostly piano. I also started to use the professional design, animation software and tools I used back in my career again. My goal was to try to take the various creative things I've studied in my life, did for work, and put them together into a cohesive piece. Shooting, shaping and editing the videos, working with animation tools, then composing and recording a score. From that experimenting and re-learning, I have four video pieces complete, each with an original score. It's been an important new direction for me, and those will appear here soon

About Myalgic Encephalomyelitis
This illness changed my life. This really isn't the place to tell that whole story, other than what I've already mentioned above, but I think it's important for people to know it exists, that many are affected, lives derailed and wrecked. It's also particularly relevant because it appears that a large subset of Long COVID cases are actually MECFS—a post-viral 'hit' that causes severe long-term illness. Hopefully research into that will lead to treatments and a cure. It is important to me to act as an advocate in any way I can.
The Open Medicine Foundation (OMF), a research/advocacy organization based at Stanford (I've been involved in research studies with them for seven years):  "Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a complex multi-system disease with many symptoms that may change over time and differ from patient to patient. The most common symptoms of ME/CFS are post-exertional malaise (worsening of symptoms upon even minimal exertion), unrefreshing sleep, profound fatigue, cognitive impairment, orthostatic intolerance, and pain."
BBC Feature article
(click image to go to article)
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