New art exhibit opens at Conrad West Gallery
By Melissa Gill
“I think everyone will be able to see a little bit of themselves in the work,” says Keith Mikell, a Las Vegas-based artist. Mikell’s art exhibition “Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself” at Conrad West Gallery opens August 12 at 6 p.m. His art exhibit starts today and runs until September 12. Through his art, he shares stories in a variety of styles. From celebrity caricatures to Picasso-esque paintings, his work reflects different versions of himself. Off the Strip chatted with him about his art journey, his new art exhibit and music influences.
Why did you start painting? Take me back to the beginning.
I was an only child. And my best friend still to this day, and my next door neighbor at the time, we’d get together and draw on his little pigeon table [and get inspirations for art] out of a sports magazine. We would try to draw what we see. Because we had nothing else to do. We’d sit and we’d draw. I found that I was pretty good at it. I guess when you are a kid and you find yourself good at something and you enjoy it, you just keep doing it.
Tell me more about the life-like painting in your gallery of Jimi Hendrix that you created at 11-years-old for your mom.
I discovered Hendrix at a very early age. Like a lot of kids don’t discover Hendrix and culturally it was totally different from what I was listening to [at the time]. I found that it was fascinating and I found a magazine that had different images of him. I decided I wanted to try and paint it but [I] didn’t have any paper.
My mother went and bought one of those little cheap acrylic sets that had like five or six paints, three brushes and a canvas. I sat down and just started trying to draw it how I saw it and that it’s still one of my favorite pieces. I really didn’t want to sell it, but it’s time to put it out [there] and let everybody see it. But it came out good for [an] 11 year [old], I was kind of proud of it. My mother loved it. She kept it in a medically sealed plastic bag in the back of her closet.
After she passed, I found it totally by accident cleaning out her closet. There it was sitting in plastic the way it was when she put it there. It’s a special piece. It turned out much better than I thought. It’s the catalyst for everything.
In this gallery, it showcases all your different art styles from caricatures to Piccaso-esque paintings. What’s your process when you are painting in a new style?
When I sit in front of a canvas and I think about what I am going to do to it, it all depends on my mood. I attribute my mood to music in a way. Some days you wake up feeling R & B, some days you wake up feeling classical or rock. It all depends on your mood and what you are feeling. Cranky or irritable, you put on some Led Zeppelin. If you are feeling cool, you put on some Miles Davis.
I have a concept in my head of what I wanna do. Okay, I wanna draw it that way, but once the drawing is done, once you’re initially starting to put paint to the canvas, it just takes a life of its own sometimes. I have found over the years that you just follow the process. However it takes you, that’s the intent [and] where it’s meant to be. I guess it’s like a vacation trip. You load up your station wagon, you hop in, you pull out [of] the driveway and when you get on down the road you hit little detours along the way. When you’re finished, this is what you’ve got. Anything creative takes little detours along the way.
What are some pieces in this collection where you began them with a particular vision, but then they took on a life of their own?
Many. One piece that I can think of off the top of my head is the one of the guy playing the piano with the top hat. That one kind of took a different approach. Because my original concept, my oldest son plays piano and when he was young he had this hat that was similar to that. He would wear it while he would play.
My idea was to have flowers, an audience and all these kinds of things going on around him. But once I got started, it became more of a personal piece. It solely took on that one character in his privacy at that moment. [It] is kind of the way he was as a teenager playing that way in his room. [He was] focused and attentive to what he was doing with his hat on.
What three words would you choose to describe your work?
Thoughtful, energetic and impactful.
What inspired you to work on a long term project that you’ve created over the span of eight years?
It wasn’t initially planned that way. It was planned to just be one piece, done and [take only] a week or however long it was going to take me to finish it. But once I got started, I found so many other different things happening. Whether it was on the news or whatever, because that’s what it turned out to be. [It became] very political, social, religious and racial. Everything got thrown in it. You watch TV everyday and you see something new. The idea just came to me that, alright, I got all this room on this canvas. I’ll just add a little bit. And when I thought I finished, something else happened. And I just make room and fit it in wherever I can. I could add another canvas on the side and just circle the entire gallery with everything that goes on in the world today.
How does Las Vegas influence your art?
I’ve been here a little over three years. [Las] Vegas didn’t have that much of an influence in the beginning. I was trying to bring my influence and bring something to [Las] Vegas more so than [Las] Vegas giving me something. Somewhere along the way we met halfway and kind of accepted each other as we are. Because [Las] Vegas has this reputation as one image which is totally different from what I am and [why] I came here. I still haven’t adapted to or accepted that as a new style as much as I think I’m just trying to blend in and trying to get them to accept me for who I am like I accept [Las] Vegas for what it is. We get along great. That’s it, just live happily together.
When people return home after viewing your art exhibition, what do you hope they take away from it?
I hope it comes across positive[ly]. I hope they take away a happy feeling as well as giving them something to think about. Speaking from a cultural perspective, [I hope that they see] how cultures are very similar in what we live everyday despite skin color, religion and all these different factors that go along with cultural barriers and differences. If we are one, there are so many similarities in everybody and we cross the lines in life way too much. I hope that when they see the work that they can see a little bit of their lives in it and can identify with what I do.