20-ish Questions with Mikey Rae

Art class, doodles and misremembered Walt Whitman with the local artist

Artist and arts educator Mikey Rae believes doodling and spontaneous creativity are good for people, and I'd agree. I caught up with him for a rapid-fire series of Qs and As ahead of his new Friday afternoon class at Meow Wolf to learn more.

What do they call you?

It depends on who it is. They call me Mike at Felipe's Tacos.

What do you do?

I don't know.

But you're in the art game?

I suppose so. I make stuff.

How long you been in the art game?

I've been making stuff since I was a small child on a family road trip. My brothers and I would have these weird contests.

What kind of contests?

It was just a blank piece of paper, a ballpoint pen, and whoever could draw the weirdest stuff won. That probably pushed me in the direction I've been
following for 25 years.

What would you win?

I always lost. My brother was weirder than me.

Would you call yourself an illustrator?

I don't know if I would, but someone would. I do spend six hours a day drawing, whatever that makes me.

What would you call yourself?

If people ask, I'll say I'm an artist or some such, but I rarely describe myself. I find it weird.


To misattribute and mis-paraphrase the old Walt Whitman quote, 'Blah, blah, blah, I contain multitudes—so what if I contradict myself?' I like confusing people, and I think a big part of my artwork and maybe my life has to do with putting people on their heels and having them not know how to react.

When did you realize you wanted to do it professionally?

Never. I didn't even think it was possible and had resigned myself to a fate of creative satisfaction but material desperation.

What's the story of your work itself, if there is one?

I would say there are a lot of wistful talking animals that struggle through the same mundane neuroses that we do.

It's autobiographical?

In a sense, I guess, but my autobiography itself is super-boring.

I hear you've been an art teacher for some time. How'd you get into that? Why'd you get into that?

For one, I speak the language of children, which turns out to be Finnish. Just kidding. For one, it was, at the time, post-2009, when I graduated from Lewis
and Clark College, and there were no jobs. The only jobs I could get were for teaching, but that worked fine for me, because I've always felt a calling. My calling to teach stems from the severe alienation of middle school and high school. I consider one of the most important lessons that any teacher could give to a student to be non-conformity.

Is non-conformity part of your curriculum?

Definitely. During the time I was teaching in public schools while being age-appropriate and safety-conscious and following slated guidelines, I considered the example of being weird but cool to be a crucial one for kids who are just
understanding their identities. I can count maybe four teachers I had at Santa Fe High who did that for me.

Do you have some kind of mission statement?

I wouldn't call it a mission statement, but my creative process is always one of discovery. If I'm not surprised, then it's all over. Ariel Pink has a song
which I feel like articulates my process, called 'The Results Are Always Interesting.' Not always good, not always high quality, but interesting. To again
misquote, Miles Davis said, 'There are no mistakes.' I agree, but I also admit that that is a self-serving admission, because I make plenty of them.

Do you have hopes, then?

I like reaching people on an intimate level where it seems like the voice is coming from their own head.

Where or with whom do you generally work?

I work a lot at home by myself or with my dog Snoopy, but I also work in [Meow Wolf's] House of Eternal Return frequently and have ongoing mural projects there—albeit, kind of guerrilla mural projects.

What do you mean?

I like to pop in and make additions to existing art works of mine without permission or notice.

Has that been a problem?

No. I can see numerous ways in which it could be, but thankfully, the liberty I granted myself has produced stuff that people like.

For the class, why doodles?

It's specifically aimed at people who don't think they can draw or be creative in a general way. After adolescence, there comes this imagined distinction where you're either an artist or not. If you ask them to draw, some people become terrified, and it's something I think everyone should have permission to do. For one, people will discover they can do way, way, way more than they were aware of, and hopefully I can impart the idea that any sort of elitist attitudes or haughty criticism of art is total BS.

What do you think or hope taking this class might unlock for someone?

That they have a deep mental dive into themselves and learn a lot about what they think and feel and how to articulate that. Everyone will be given a
doodling sketchbook, and my hope is that they become intimate personal tools and companions.

If you had to add one more thing?

My biggest fear in life is a late descent from the summit from Everest where I get caught up high in the darkness as a gigantic thunderstorm rolls in.

Mikey Rae: The Art of the Doodle
3-5 pm Fridays June 7-August 16. Free.
Meow Wolf,
1352 Rufina Circle,

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