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Michael Rice is a visual artist, creator, and graphic designer. Although he started practicing professionally a little later in life, he has experience in many art forms, including sculpture, ceramics, painting, and graphic design. Content creator Karrington Trice asked Mike a few questions to learn how he began his art journey and his thoughts on art today.

What inspired you to begin creating art?

“My parents split when I was about 11, so I had two different influences in my life from each side of the family. While I love my parents, both were different. My father had a strong focus and mindset on business. He couldn’t draw a stick figure if you paid him to. My mom was more carefree and super supportive of the arts. Everyone on her side of the family is very creative in different ways. My grandmother was a professor and theater teacher up until she was about 90 years old at a university in Tennessee. She’s always been extremely into the arts and believes in the creative spirit. It was through time spent together at family gatherings and holidays where I’d say I got my initial roots in drawing and art.”

When did you realize that you were an artist?

“I initially went to college for business and quickly realized it wasn’t for me. I then switched to taking art classes at a community college where I took sculpture, ceramics, and painting. Eventually, I landed in graphic design and followed that route, which is a little different from the fine art path. Even though I was an artist all along, I wouldn’t say I was a practicing artist until about 4 years ago.”

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Historically, one of my strong influences and favorite artists would be M.C. Escher. His type of art was a lot of math-based illusion. Sol LeWitt is another muralist whose work I enjoy. I like the way he used color and pattern.

More recently, in terms of practicing artists today, there are a few that I find mesmerizing. One is named Smug and the other is Scaf. Both are street artists practicing anamorphic and trompe l’oeil techniques. Both are influential in terms of the direction I am trying to move in with my art. Additionally, a friend of mine has served as inspiration and helped push me forward, even in the darkest of times. His name is Distort. He’s one of, if not the most, prolific graffiti writers in Jersey City”

What advice would you give to other creatives?

“I would say to keep going, keep pushing, keep creating. Some of the toughest times for me have always been those moments when you feel like giving up or that your work sucks. There will always be those moments of doubt and uncertainty. The best thing you can do for yourself in those moments is to just keep working. Keep making art and keep pushing forward. Don’t listen to the people telling you not to do it. If it makes you happy, keep doing it. Period. You never know when a happy accident may occur that opens a whole new door or allows you to see something in an entirely different light. Keep making art, keep moving forward and you will progress.”

How important is funding for the arts?

“I think it is imperative. I think as a society we are rounding that corner and starting to value ‘right-brain’ culture and creativity more, but I do worry that society, in general, is starting to value it for some of the wrong reasons. I think there is incredible value in art and creativity and exposing children to that at a young age. I think art is just as important as math and science. Unfortunately, I feel like it is being stripped away more than it is being applied at young ages.

There’s no question that art and design are becoming more integrated into our daily world, but I do sometimes fear that the way artists are forced to promote themselves through social media, we are careening headfirst towards a situation where it is all about instant gratification. There can be value and great art in that confinement but at the same time, I think it’s valuable for us to be able to step back and take it all in. It is important to find the time to contemplate art and not have it be so obvious or fit in a particular box. In my opinion, true art is meant to explore the unexplored, not to accommodate the status quo.

While more opportunities are being provided for artists to make a living, I do feel that there is more we can do to fund and help artists moving forward. Whether you’re an artist, lawyer, librarian, or plumber, financial troubles are debilitating and often stifle creativity. We must find some type of outlet for artists to make a decent living, so they are not financially stressed all the time which in turn allows art to flow more freely and ultimately have a greater impact. The term, ‘starving artist,' is a very real thing, and for that reason alone, I think funding for the arts is incredibly important.”

Any upcoming projects?

“I am starting a big project this month underneath the Founders Bridge on the East Hartford side of the river. It’s a collaboration between myself and another muralist named Micaela Levesque. At nearly 120 feet long, it’s a big wall, so I am excited about that. Then in April, I will be working on a tall wall on the exterior of Hartford Stage’s building in downtown Hartford. Followed by a project at Goodwin University and then several walls in and around the Parkville neighborhood. This is definitely the first year that I’ve had any kind of measurable amount of work waiting for me in the spring, which gives me hope. I am pretty booked up through the beginning of summer. It is nice to emerge from winter hibernation to a sunny spring with projects lined up through the summer. It feels good.”

Follow Michael's artistic journey on Instagram @michaelriceart and his website

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