Mikel Elam: Mixed Media
Mikel Elam grew up in a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia. His parents in the early years made his life seem like a magical world full of wonderment. His father exposed him to his first art lessons. Mikel would sit on his dad’s lap while watching him draw usually from comic strips. As soon as Mikel Elam learned the basics of drawing he began to follow after his dad. Unfortunately, his father’s life ended suddenly when he was eight years old. Fortunately, the creative seed had already been laid and his imagination began to take over. Before he knew it he was the stand out artist in public school.
When the time came to go to college, testing and scores showed Mikel had an aptitude for all things involved around art, psychology and writing. He knew Art was his first love and went off to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia after high school to receive a BFA in Painting. From there he moved to New York to further his art studies by enrolling in a master’s program at the School of Visual Arts. His time at SVA was shortened by financial stress and the need to earn a living.
He began to get freelance jobs in film, worked in the art department on a few feature films, theater projects, and television commercials. Mikel also worked as an assistant to several photographers both in Philadelphia and New York.
Then one day, an incredible opportunity came knocking at his door. He was offered and accepted a position working as a personal assistant for one of world’s greatest musicians; the legendary jazz trumpeter, composer, Miles Davis.
For the next five years he would travel the world with Miles, helping him to achieve his goals. This actually brought Elam back to his love of art. Miles was aspiring to launch his own career as a painter. One of his numerous job descriptions would be to always make sure Miles had art supplies on the road including; canvas, sketchbooks, paints, paper, markers, pencils, brushes and other mark making devices.
Mikel and Miles began to collaborate, sometimes on the same canvas together and they created backdrops for one of his last shows in 1991, “Miles in Paris”. Miles was instrumental in getting Mikel’s work shown in galleries and museums around the world. Mikel would also like to believe his work was good enough to stand on it’s own. Certainly Miles believed in him and actually purchased five of Mikel Elam’s first paintings for his newest and what would become his last apartment in New York City before Davis passed away. It was the artists first real sale and more than that it gave him the confidence to move forward without the legendary musician. As many know, Miles Davis passed away in September of 1991. Mikel was there to say goodbye. He now resides in Philadelphia after many years of living in Los Angeles.
Mikel Elam paintings are often figurative, psychological and tell stories. Sounds familiar to his earlier aptitude tests. Sometimes his paintings are as simple as a face. Many times with distortions, textural passes and surface manipulations. He uses mixed mediums to achieve these effects. His color palette many times starts with natural tones such as sienna and umber later adding some high keyed colors. There is a certain tension within the work which can be seen as expressive emotional and pathways into other worlds. Those worlds are simply between our ears. It’s the world within our brain. Many times there are messages contained within his work. Mostly his own thoughts thrown into the mix. If asked, he could tell you what he was thinking, but generally he likes the viewer to bring their own thoughts and feelings to each piece. The viewer gets the chance to connect with the work through their own mindset.
This artists work is still evolving. He’s like a scientist,”I love the exploration of new ideas through both tried and experimental methodology”. For Mikel Elam it keeps the work fresh. He has shown both nationally, internationally and has been published in numerous books and magazines.