The Strip Down of an Abstract/Figurative Artist, Keith Mikell


Keith Mikell is an abstract/figurative artist and his art reaches out to not just captivate or beautify but in fact touch people emotionally. Keith has a distinctive individualized style that is easily recognizable as he has been influenced by the works of great artist like Pablo Picasso, Romare Bearden, Egon Schiele, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Georg Baselitz. His work with color shows his passion, it’s thought provoking, confidence, allurement, ornate and shows empathy in its statement and meanings. As an abstract/figurative and mixed media artist, Keith reflects on love, life, sex, depression, anger, fear and humor. His paintings are distinctive for using heavy colors and strong powerful structured images with illustrative depictions of culture, human needs and desires.

Keith has garnered invitations from the Montserrat and Agora Galleries located in NY, NY. A long standing association with the Lucy Florence Gallery of Los Angeles, CA where he was the resident artist; He has also had paintings shown at the Simplicity Gallery in Lancaster, PA; The Art on 5 Gallery in Atlanta, GA; and the Evolve Gallery in Sacramento, CA. Upcoming this month he will have an art showing at Hellada Gallery in Long Beach, CA and in February 2015 The Brickhouse Gallery in Sacramento, CA.

August Wilson - Illustration in Players Magazine
August Wilson – Illustration in Players Magazine

Keith has also had a successful association with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s rental and sales gallery, which has sold several of his original pieces. Keith was an Editorial Illustrator with “Players Magazine”; Set Designer and Art Contributor for the four-time NAACP Image Award nominated play “South of Where We Live”; Art Consultant for the “Homeless Healthcare Silent Auction” at Paramount Studios, Hollywood, CA; Guest Lecturer at the “Then Becoming Now” exhibit sponsored by LA MOCA, at the LA Art Association; Keith’s work has been showcased on the former NBC television series “Seaquest”; Disney television pilot “30”; Warner Bros television show “Roswell”; CBS show “Judging Amy”; ABC show “I’m With Her”; UPN sitcom “All Of Us”; and the WB show “All About the Andersons”.

April of Entertainment Vine talks with Keith Mikell about his projects:

April: I would like to introduce you all to a very charismatic and colorful personality who is popular in the Art community, Mr. Keith Mikell welcome to   Let me start off by saying I’ve been a big fan of your work for many, many years.

Keith: Thanks April!

April: Can you tell my audience where you’re originally from?

Keith: Born and raised in Los Angeles, CA.

April: How old were you when you realized you actually had talent in art?

Keith: Oh around 10 or 11 years old that’s when I started doodling and the doodles started looking decent and it started catapulting from there.

April: Was it someone who noticed your doodling’s or got you started doodling?

Spike Lee
Spike Lee

Keith: I don’t think anyone noticed it, just pretty much one of those close knit bubble things. My best friend who was my next door neighbor at that time was also an artist and he was doing some of the same things and just being around him I started picking up things that he was doing while sitting around the kitchen table. I started drawing things out of magazines on regular notebook paper because back then we couldn’t afford a sketch book. We would draw things out of Sports Illustrated, Ebony or whatever was handy that we could try to draw. Primarily it was portraits at that time to just start honing our skills. We found we were pretty good at it and liked doing it. That’s where it all generated from.

April: Give me some background on your education?

Keith: Well let’s see, I am a product of the LA Unified School system. I went to 107th Street elementary school, Gompers junior high school, Locke high school and then went to San Diego State for a couple of years then transferred over and finished at the old Otis Parsons School of Design here in Los Angeles.

April: I am familiar with the school, very cool.

April: How do you best describe your style of art?

Keith: Hhhuuumm LOL, Unique hahaha it’s a little different which I hope bodes well for me in a way. The paintings I suppose you can call them abstract/figurative work. The technical classification would probably be figurative but there is little abstract. I try to mix a little of the two in there along with a little of my own personal whimsical style. I don’t personally look at it as whimsical but I’ve been told, so I just roll with it.

April: Oh ok!

Rodney Dangerfield
Rodney Dangerfield

Keith: My earlier work was a lot of caricature drawings, which I suppose in a way that caricature work kind of has that animated feel to it. I try not to put a lot of it in but it does slip in sometimes with the work that I do. It’s just one of those inert things that I can’t control at times.

April: Ok, that’s understandable! So you mentioned your earlier work in animation. Have you ever thought about going into Animation?

Keith: Uuuhhh you know I did, I’ve done editorial illustration work for a couple of magazines in the past. I’ve done some things along that line but I actually applied for a job as an Animator at Disney Studio’s a number of years ago. Shortly after I got out of Parsons School of Design I applied at Disney and was turned down. Yea, I was turned down! Actually what they were looking for I was told was someone to mold and my work was too ready. They were looking for someone they could sculpt into the Disney style of animation. They looked at my style as being too set, not taking into consideration that a man needed a job and that he would be more than willing to be molded and shaped into something different at the time, LOL. When you’re looking for work you’re hungry, but they were steadfast saying we love your work, you’re a good artist but we need someone who is little less grounded. So I had to take my licks and I kept on rolling.

April: How do you go about picking a project to work on?

Keith: You know the funny thing about that is I don’t always consciously pick projects, it’s a guttural thing with me. Lots of the things I do are based primarily on my life, things that I have experienced, going through or been through. Preferences or things that may irk me, I mean it’s just certain things that will trigger something and that is the reason that I do some of the work. But there are some things that you see that are socially relevant that I will make comments on. But primarily the work that I’ve done is pretty much self-centered in a way that is pretty much my life. I’ve always felt that a lot of what I’ve experienced, everybody else at some point in their life has experienced something similar, so they can relate to it. I just feel that there is relevance in my life and your life so there is relevance in everything. I just think that what I see or what I reflect on canvas or on paper, other people can say I’ve been there or I know that feeling.

April: That kind of explains what I’ve seen over the years in your work, you can tell that the work you do comes from a feeling deep within.

Keith: Thank you! I try to do that. I mean it’s one of those things where you have an idea or you have a feeling and you get a rough sketch or a couple of ideas down. I’m not very big on formalities when it comes to doing pre-work. I normally may do 1 or 2 sketches and I will hop right into the actual work or just go straight from head to canvas or paper. Once I get started it takes on a life of it’s on. You just start going with an idea and it will change and then morph into something else, but it’s pretty much an internal thing or mechanism that drives it once I get started. It’s a beautiful thing!

April: Awesome! What are the top 4 thing that motivate you on a piece?

Keith: The Top 4 things that motivate me on a piece… Hhhuuumm!

April: Take for example a few weeks ago you saw a picture and you made a comment that you wanted to paint it. What in that picture made you want to paint it?

Keith: I see or I feel something that is thought provoking to me. There’s a message in it or something that inspires me, a certain beauty a certain tactile or reverence that comes out in people or a thing. Something that is unusual as well. I have a very different sense of humor as far as people go. I mean, I find certain things funny and I crack up and people look at me like; what’s your problem. I see things a little differently than most people. My motivations, my inspirations are genuine and different in a manner of speaking. No two people really see things the same way. I guess I am very high on the hierarchy of not seeing things for what they may be. I try to put a positive twist on things if I can. If I can’t I will throw a sarcastic humorist twist on it to make it a little better.

April: How does your personal life impact a piece you’re working on?

Keith: You know I’ve been told and I don’t intentionally paint work that reflect upon my mood or attitude at the time, but I’ve been told they can tell on a lot of my pieces that I do might have been a dark period or a period of transition where some things don’t necessarily line up properly. It may look good but they can tell that there was something in there that just looked askew or different from what should have been. I guess that’s that abstraction thing kicking in from time to time. Color scheme has a lot to do with it. I don’t intentionally try to paint anything with the conventional colors of red being angry or blue being depressed or that type of thing. But I suppose in a manner of speaking they somehow work their way in even if I try to avoid it.

April: What are you currently working on?

Comix Series - Serenity
Comix Series – Serenity

Keith: I’m currently working on or cleaning up my “Comix” series of work for a show December 13, 2014 from 5pm – 8pm PST to be exact. I’m getting that stuff ready. The show will be held at the Hellada Gallery, Rm “D”117 Linden Ave, Long Beach, CA 90802. Simultaneously I’m working on an upcoming solo show that will be held in February 2015at The BrickHouse Gallery, 2837 36th St, Sacramento, CA, 95817, Oak Park.

April: So that answers the question of, do you have any upcoming shows, LOL. How do you decide what type of show to put on?

Keith: Uuuummmhhh, you know I go by emotions, on the “Comix” thing I’ve been a comic book fan forever. I’ve used classic comics of the 40’s 50’s and so forth giving them a little bit of a different twist culturally and as far as the language goes I sort of got rid of the corny language of that era and gave it more of a contemporary feel to fit in today’s society. I gave them the same meaning in a more upbeat and less practical way to have it publicized in a magazine. It’s an interesting look at how things are relevant but so completely different from those naïve times of the 40’s & 50’s.

April: Interesting take!

Comix Series - Date Night
Comix Series – Date Night

Keith: The show in February 2015 is tentatively title “Art in The Key of Life”. I’m trying to start off 2015 with a different attitude as far as how things are viewed. This year and mostly the last 6 months have been extremely heavy as far as our culture goes with violence, the killing of children, parents doing this or that to their kids. All kind of craziness out there and I’m just taking a different twist on things. I’m trying to give it a more positive upbeat cynical look without trying to bash on our culture of how things have gone back to that civil rights renaissance period where Jim Crow is trying to come out of the grave to attack our culture. I’m just trying to give things a little bit of a different twist. I want it to be more of a positive look at how our culture has grown over the years from fishing in a creek back in the south, too playing on a playground. Different but positive look at things! Our culture has not always been vilified the way it is right now. We’ve come a long way since 1963 an here we are again marching like back when we marched to Selma back in the day. It’s a sad time and I’m just trying to put a different light on things without taking away from the struggle.

April: Very well spoken!

April: Of all of your pieces what would you consider your favorite, and why?

Red House
Red House

Keith: My favorites! I know every artist will tell you this but, they’re all your children and you don’t want to make favorites out of them, you know. During every period I can go back to my work and I can look at every segment of work that I’ve done or series of work that I’ve done and there might be a favorite out of each series. It’s not necessarily a particular favorite out of all but every period of work that you do you have some that you favor more. I like some of the earlier pieces. One that I think is very simple is an abstract piece called “Red House” that goes back a number of years. It goes back to the early 90’s; it’s a simple piece of me holding my 2 kids with a red house in the back. The meaning of the piece is about a lot of turmoil, anger and frustration going on at that particular time in my life. The piece was just me trying to hold onto what was sacred and what was dear at that time despite whatever else was going on at that time of my life. There is a certain amount of heaviness in it but in the same take it is a little light and refreshing. I guess you can say it’s homage to fatherhood despite whatever else was going on at that time; you try to protect what’s important to you no matter what. That is one of my favorites!

April: You work with different types of media and sometimes you mix the media. Is this a part of your creativity?

Keith: Yea you can say that! It’s always a part of experimentation and then you also find that certain things worked well that you become fond of, or your favorite type of things to do that gives good variance and justification to a painting. I’ve always liked dabbling with everything; you’ll find acrylics, oils, charcoal, inks and collage in my pieces. It’s an instinct thing, not every piece is that way. Some pieces that are strictly oils or strictly acrylics but some just have a feel or a need for more. It may require a little bit more depth or a little bit more feeling and sometimes you have to use other media to try to bring it out. So that is my purpose for experimenting with media.

April: What is your objective in the art world?

Keith: In a whisper: World Domination, LOL! My objective in the art world is to have longevity, of course everyone wants longevity. Being able to have some sense of financial security with it, long term and try to remain relevant. Relevance is important because I want my work to be around for 2 – to 3000 years just like everybody else. Staying relevant and continue to be a working artist and keep people interested in my work.

April: So is that how you measure your success in the art world, by longevity?

Keith: Well you know, I don’t consider myself at this point in my career where I look back and can measure success yet. I’m still trying to gain success; I’m still out there grinding; I’m still trying to get there to be able to have some work in prominent galleries where it has a particular meaning to the world and to our culture to have something positive like in the MoMA Gallery and galleries of that nature. It’s always a struggle for us as black artists to be able to get to a point where we’re taken seriously. Which is also another point of trying to measure success when you’re work is being given serious consideration by places and people that matter and that could put the work out there for more people to see. Visibility is the most important thing, the more people that see it the better it is for me as an artist. I’m always trying to be seen and I’m always trying to put it out there and trying to get an opportunity to show my work and keep myself rolling. Success is a hard thing to just say. As an artist there is no retirement age, so success is one of those things that I still have a lot of time to work on trying to get. How does one measure success as an artist; to simplify a complicated or complex question would be to be able to sustain one’s livelihood with your craft. To be able to afford to be an artist! It’s not one of those things that you say you want to do, and you can just go do it because it’s one of those things I hate to use this term but it this called a hobby. It’s one of those crafts that need a constant flow of money to sustain itself. You have to buy art supplies, you have to buy paint, you have to buy canvases, and you have to buy yoda, yoda, yoda. So success is to sustain oneself as far as taking care of your personal bills, your personal needs, and to be able to keep your craft or passion going. That’s success! I hope I didn’t babble around and I hit the point I was trying to make.

April: Point very well received! That is truly success!


Keith: Longevity that I spoke of earlier is still very important and a goal to be able to have some sense of relevance throughout history or to inspire others through what you do. The main thing with art and with music is it’s very difficult to maintain in as much as you’re day to day living and to still be able to continue doing your craft. That’s the key to success and if one can do that they should thank whomever they thank and be grateful that it can happen because it doesn’t happen for everybody.

April: What are your thoughts on the schools taking away the Art and Music programs?

Keith: Art and Music over the years has been a very important catalyst in keeping and maintaining children’s interest in school. I mean children are naturally creative, their naturally inquisitive and they have this creative source burning in them. Music and art has always been that avenue in which they can travel down to give them opportunities to do other things, not that I’m taking anything away from Math and English, everyone needs to be able to do both math and also need to know how to read and write, but those who have a gift or special interest in the arts is very important to keep them motivated. It keeps kids out of trouble and it gives them avenues in which to learn more about themselves. It also brings out a lot of those deep personal feelings that they have. It allows them to get out deep frustrations, the joys and the things that go along with being human. That’s what Art and Music provides. It also provides inspiration for those of us who bear witness to it. So it’s extremely important to keep Art and Music alive in the schools.

April: I agree! Have you ever taught any art classes or given any lectures?

Keith: I’ve given a few lectures over the years at a couple of high schools locally. I’ve taught a few classes sporadically. It’s not one of those things I do on a regular basis, but I have done them in the past and enjoyed the opportunity to get out there and give a little bit of myself and make a little bit of a difference and sway the minds of youngsters.

April: What tip can you offer any new up and coming artist?

Keith: Wow, just do the work! Put in the work to be able to get opportunities. So whatever you’re feeling just do the work. Try to remain creative stay true to your own vision. Everyone has a vision of how they want their work to be viewed. So it’s just a daily thing of getting out there and doing the work whether you’re inspired or motivated. That little term of artist block or writers block kind of thing. I mean if you want to work you can’t have a writer’s block and go and just sit and do nothing. As an artist when I get a block or lack of inspiration I just start doing something and if it’s meant to be and you’re naturally a creative person, it will just kick in. You will be surprised how quickly you lose that block and that inspiration is back and everything is fine and dandy with the world. It’s just a matter of getting started.

Elizabeth Eckard
Elizabeth Eckard

April: Do you ever open up your studio and allow people to watch you in your creative state?

Keith: If I’m asked, yes! It’s not one of those things that I post outside and say come on in, LOL. If I’m asked I have no problem opening up my little bitty world and allow people to come in and see what I do. I actually enjoy it sometimes!

April: How do you prepare for an evening of creativity?

Keith: LOL, I have hot coffee on hand or Pepsi. I’m not knocking anyone else but I like Pepsi. I don’t usually eat but I will have my coffee or Pepsi. I will have my iPod, headphones and my music selection which depends on my mood. I have a very eclectic range of music to choose from. So I have everything from rock, rap, reggae and RB to whatever. It just depends on my mood. Then I get everything setup, the lighting is setup, iPod is turned on and I get started. Sipping on coffee, listening to music and after a while I get lost in what I’m doing. I will have on my raggedy jeans and my shirt that I don’t mind getting paint on and that’s kind of it.

April: LOL! Ok, do you have any other members of your family that are as talented in the art world as you are?

Keith: No, LOL!

April: Ok, close to as talented as you are?

Keith: Hahaha, My youngest son William he’s quite a talented artist himself, he’s an illustrator and is very good! My older son Jason is a Graphic Designer. He went to the dark side and took the computer route. William doesn’t paint he does illustration using pen & ink, pencil & charcoal that type of thing. I applaud both them; they’re both very talented young men.

April: I bet you’re proud of both of them?

Keith: I am very proud of them!

April: Outside of your passion for art, what else are you passionate about?

Keith: I have become very passionate about getting healthy. The last couple of years I’ve had some health issues and I’ve tried to focus and study on getting healthy and getting back to where I think I should be. I’m also very passionate about reading and I do a lot of it. I’m passionate about the social aspect of things, although I have yet to actively become involved. I’ve been a very consistent fence sitter as far as watching what is continuing to go on in our society today as far as politics, race relations and the different aspects of things that had to deal with now more than we have had to deal with in the last 35 – 40 years. I’m also very passionate about cooking.

April: I remember that much!

Keith: I still have that passion for cooking and if I hadn’t gone into art I would have been a very good chef. So I do that quite often and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen slinging skillets.

April:I’m waiting for that invite to enjoy a meal, LOL. In closing do you have anything that you would like to share with our audience?

Dick Gregory-Illustrations in Players Magazine
Dick Gregory-Illustrations in Players Magazine

Keith: I’d like to thank everyone for taking the time to read what few words I have to say. I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you. We go back a long way back and I appreciate the continued interest in what I do.

April: Always my friend!

Keith: It’s a beautiful thing, I would like to bring as many people into my world to see what I do and I appreciate you for taking up an interest and introducing me to your audience and let them see what I am about. I’m trying to be naked here with what’s going on with me and it’s kind of a good feeling.

April: Yes, I see you standing in the corner trying to cover up but I appreciate you being so up front and open with us. LOL!

Keith: I’m trying to be more open up because I am kind of private person in a way but I’m opening up and it kind of feels good. It’s a good time right now!

April: That’s a good thing! Thank you very much for opening up with

Keith: I’m happy to be here with you on, this is cool! Everyone is invited to come out to my show in Long Beach on December 13th at the Hellada Gallery from 5 to 8pm PST.

You can contact Keith Mikell through Twitter, Instagram , Black Art In America or his official website.

Interview by Aprilyn

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