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Meet Michael K. Paxton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael K. Paxton.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
As a sixth generation West Virginian I began life in a small coal camp in deepest Appalachia. Working my way by laying track on the railroad, cutting right-of-way for engineers in the mountains and numerous factory jobs I was able to receive a B.A. in Art from Marshall University, in Huntington, WV, in 1975. Awarded a Fellowship to Graduate School at The University of Georgia, Athens, GA where I earned an MFA in Drawing and Painting in 1979, I also was at the epicenter of the art and music explosion of that time. In1981 I came to Chicago for my first one-person exhibition at the legendary N.A.M.E Gallery and was also Visiting Artist at The School of the Art Institute at the same time. My career today spans more than four decades of one-person gallery and museum exhibitions, national and international grants and fellowships, private and public commissions and decades of critical support for my work. Together with my wife and fellow artist Jeanne Nemcek I own a building on the southwest side of the city where we live and work. When not in the studio I teach drawing and painting at Columbia College in Chicago. I have been an Adjunct Faculty member there since 2005.

Please tell us about your art.
Pushing hard against expectations with both knowledge and obsession, an otherness surrounds my work by constantly looking for the exact point where my bone deep Appalachian heritage smashes up against the academics of contemporary art. Currently I am working on mixed media studies on paper and large-scale eight by six-foot canvases that use slide sections of the effects of black lung on coal miners for their structure. Taking this source material as a starting point I am engaged in anxious and aggressive mark making producing stationary works that refuse to stand still. Undulating or rushing past, growing closer as one retreats, as fields of matter seem to go in and out of focus to the point of almost disappearing. As such, they carry the ingrained habits of all my artistic past lending it a derivative honesty as I carve out a place for my heart’s desire to speak of something important, personal and yet as common as dirt.

Given everything that is going on in the world today, do you think the role of artists has changed? How do local, national or international events and issues affect your art?
For my work the role and struggle remain the same. As a sixth generation West Virginian I have seen my family, my culture and the very mountains of my home blown up, scraped off, discarded, flooded, poisoned, crushed in mine falls, choked with dust, riddled with cancer and derided as fools too stupid to know any better. Deciding how to give voice to, as well as come to terms with this my legacy from deepest Appalachia has been at my work’s core. The plight of the people in the third world resource colony situation that are the coalfields is still a subject not heard from often in contemporary art. My role is to point there.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
As always, my website is a good place to see the work, find news of upcoming highlights and contact me.

I am also currently the subject of a broadcast length documentary film titled “Work at Hand” and the trailer, filmmakers bios and contact page can be found

My work can also be found at Linda Matney Gallery

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
All work 2018 Michael K. Paxton

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