Michael Curtis Houck Comes Home to Writing and Film

Michael Curtis Houck is the Creative Producer for A Yellow Beanie Project, a digital collective rooted in collaboration among regional artists with intent to provide a new platform for emerging and established voices within the Cumberland County community. Michael’s produced and published work can be found in print, on stage, and on the screen. Michael lives in Fayetteville, NC, with his significant other and two kids and two dogs and one cat and too many plants, some would argue. To financially support his work, use Cashapp $AYellowBeanieProject and watch for a Patreon account coming soon.

on set for LOVE, LUCY a short horror comedy that is currently in post production. Marc de la Concha and Tori Gowland Ortiz de Rosas. co-directed with Ashley Owen

3 Things you can’t live without & why:

Music. The world is a noisy place and often it’s too much to handle and I need to drown it out. I always have background music. Some days I need Nina Simone, some days I need Fugazi.

Kindness. The last few years have uncovered a lot of (not so) hidden ugly in the world. Stop.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches. When you really, honestly, truly examine the science of it, it’s the perfect meal.

Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: There’s a local singer-songwriter I really admire and love working with: Ayana Laurene. She’s a hustler and, dang, does she have some pipes. We’ve been collaborating on a concert film/documentary called BOY, YOU AIN’T SHIT. It’ll come out this summer on social media.

Houck and Jordan Barnett on set for an episode of DOGWOOD; this episode is directed by Alason Little.

What is one of your current artistic experiments? Right now I’m developing a digital series called DOGWOOD, which aims to put a spotlight on some southern themes. This series is coming together sort of like an extended universe set in the fictional town of Dogwood, NC, and it will include eight short films and weekly podcast episodes and live video streams across social media starting in July 2021. It’s a really big experiment and kind of daunting! The Yellow Beanie team and I have been working really hard for a few months building the fictional world of Dogwood, writing all original content including original music, and *fingers crossed* we’ll produce an original theatre piece later this year!

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? 2020 pushed me from working exclusively in live events, which I had been doing for nearly a decade as a full time job, to just written and filmed works; like the rest of the world, this was due to safety of public gatherings. It was a sudden ‘stop and change what you’re doing’, and I did go through a period of grief. But what this forced me to do is find other outlets and return to my foundations: I went to school for creative writing and film. Coming back to this kind of work that I haven’t done in a decade has been therapeutic for me. In hindsight, I don’t know why I ever walked away from this genre, it is my language.

Still from DOGWOOD. With Sarah Chapman and Malissa Borden

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I consider my art to start with what I write: It all begins on the page. I believe in having a farmed yard, so I spend a lot of time outside and I write while gardening: standing up or crawling around in the dirt, talking out loud. I need to feel the space around me and imagine how the characters would contort their bodies or gesticulate when saying something. When I like what I have in my head, I take a break and hop inside to my office and jot it down in one of my many notebooks or turn on a recorder and play out the scene.

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? Most of my work begins with collaboration. I admire a lot of locals, and there are many folx I’ve never had the chance to work with professionally. I really enjoy approaching these people asking, “Want to make something?”

Advice to newer artists in your genre.

For newer writers – workshop those pages! Get with some friends and share your work. Schedule a table read. Trick people into coming over for brunch then slide your manuscript around. They’re trapped. Make them read. It took me a long time to be comfortable having my work read aloud, but what a difference it makes!

For newer filmmakers – you are likely reading this article from a device that has a high powered camera installed on it. What’s stopping you?

Guiding Light: Yolanda “Yogii with 2 i’s” Barnes

Photo Credit James Bass

I first heard Yolanda “Yogii with 2 i’s” Barnes do an extemporaneous motivational speech at El’Ja Bowen’s 3:10 book reading at the Arts Council downtown. Her stories trilled, dipped, pushed, and pulled. She was mesmerizing. So it was no surprise to find out her background with Toastmasters and she was obviously ingrained into the local slam poetry scene. But the more you talk to Yogii, the more expansive you realize her artwork is. And her community. And her heart.

El’Ja was kind enough to provide her intro: Yolanda A. Barnes aka Yogii With 2 I’s is an award winning Spoken Word artist, painter, and workshop facilitator. She is credited for being the first Fayetteville poet to compete in a major regional slam competition that in turn brought the city of Fayetteville visible to the Poetry Slam world. She is also the author of the book, “Y Aren’t U Listening” and the owner of Inspired Ink Creative Consulting.

What does success mean to you?

Success to me is definitely being able to not only grow myself, but to have the ones around me grow as well. So if there’s no growth in me and there’s no growth for the people around me, I’m not successful. I love being able to walk around and see all the seeds that have been planted–whether they were intentional or unintentional–and everything they have produced in the harvest; it’s been amazing. Success to me is just being able to not only do well for me, but to do well for the people around me and my community: as big as slam coming to Fayetteville on a national scene and to as small as my daughter passing her EOGs, and everything in between. 

Success is definitely not just a singular thing for me. It’s a group effort. I can’t tell you how many babies –I call all the poets, babies–how many poets I have named, or how many poets I have given counsel to, or how many poets have just come to just sit near me at a show just because, they didn’t want anything, they just wanted to sit there. Then they grow out and branch off into these trees, these teams, they leave the state, they go do other things, but that stem is still rooted, what they learned. And those are things that are beautiful to me. 

Becoming a mother with a preemie baby– now a vibrant creative tween– changed how Yogii thought of success and her own artistic practice. 

I was no longer Yogii the poet that I had been prior. My complete and utter life flipped on its head. I felt the death of me. I felt like my voice was no longer the same as it was before. I honestly was grappling with how do I become this mother? And how do I continue to live in the shell of what I was? And there’s no real way to do that. The butterfly doesn’t have a choice of staying kind of in. And so I had no choice but to become that butterfly. It’s still every day deciding to be that butterfly and not go back to the Caterpillar.

But I got a chance to see myself and to deal with me in a way that helps me grow and become more successful in the process. It was different; my poetry was different. I was everything from angry to sad to hopeful and yet melancholy at the same time. It was just a mix of things that I hadn’t felt all at one time. Some days are better than others, but I’m better for that process everyday.

Photo Credit Eric L. Brim

What changes in your audience do you seek to make with your art? 

I love being the person that teaches without people knowing I’m teaching them. I don’t want to be the person that’s like, “Hey, you gotta do this and you gotta do that” because people don’t learn that way. But if I can get you to laugh and we can talk and have a conversation, and then I can hit you with a question every now and again, and then I can give you a long pregnant pause for you to think about some things, and then we come back and talk about it again later. If my art does that, in a poem or on canvas or my mannequins or different avenues, various techniques and skill sets, to make you look, and then look again and then make you wonder. I think if my art doesn’t make you wonder, if my art doesn’t make you sit quietly and reflect, then I’m not doing something right, because I need you to go within yourself and say, “how do I feel about that?” Or even just want to think about that. Cause a lot of people don’t have time and don’t make time. And that is one of those things that I want for my art to do, if it’s singing, if it’s rapping, if it’s painting, if it’s drawing, whatever it is that I’m doing, if I can get you just to say, “how does that relate to me?” That’s when I’m hitting on something.

How have you constructed the bridges of your career?

Honestly, I was doing a certain thing by accident back in the day: categorizing people. So if you know me from poetry, then I’m not going to put you in my art realm or I’m not going to put you in my music route. But I didn’t realize the six degrees of separation is real. And because it is so real, when I would put people in those different categories and people would know each other from those different categories, they’d be like, “well you mean Yogii the poet?”

And they’d be like, no, I mean, the artist, 

no, you mean the singer, 

but like, no you mean the girl that works at Belk.” 

Somebody told me “you wrote a book, I don’t even know why you didn’t tell me.” Well, you’re not in that box, you know? But that’s how that works and now people want to know more about my work.

Another thing I did was I wanted to prove things to myself. When I went to Southern Fried Poetry, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know it was the second largest national poetry festival. I had no idea. I just put my money up and decided to go. I didn’t tell anybody. Finally, I told El’Ja, “You need to see this.” It was like the last two days of competition, the day before the final stage, and he knew a lot of the people there. I didn’t hardly know anybody, but I wanted it that way. I was trying to prove to myself that I was not wasting my time by writing poetry, by being just who I was. I was proving to myself that it wasn’t a waste of time. And I think for me, a lot of things that I have done and still do to this day are just to prove a point to myself. 

A lot of times, too, for me, it takes a contest. When I wrote my first book, I put it up for a contest. So Fried, that was a contest. The wire dress was for a contest. Sometimes that extra push of a contest makes it even more exciting: just being able to know that it can be done, even if I don’t know anything about it, makes it even more amazing.

And I pivot myself into positions that have always been able to bridge me into the next thing. People don’t believe it, but sometimes you just gotta go, you gotta do. Because if you’re in that space, they will see you and they will wonder about you and they will make room for your talents. I continue to put myself in places that most people wouldn’t even dare, just because they thought they wouldn’t make it in that space. I’m in that space and you’re going to see me. 

Photo Credit Eric L. Brim

Who do you consider your present artistic cohort? 

I have been going to writing workshops during this whole pandemic: Cultivating Content, Craft, and Conversation by Christine-Jean Blain and Kimberley Gaubault. It’s open with donation for anybody to come to the workshop. They are amazing: they push and they question and they give the best prompts. When I’m there in that virtual space, I feel free. I can write, I can really just put pen to pad: whatever comes out comes out. I give them a lot of credit for creating that space. There’s other workshops I’ve gone to and I have my own artists’ retreats where I work with people. But for me, for that release, yeah, that does it. 

Right now I’m focused on writing, but when summer hits, I go back into painting because I can be outside. I can’t wait to get on canvas cause I want to practice more with watercolors. I have lots of visions in my mind, so I want to get those down. Usually I cycle a year creatively, so when I can get outside, that’s usually the time I paint and when it’s cold outside is when I’m inside, working on next year’s plans or writing and doing things. 

Tim Zimmermann is on a Quest for Theatrical Adventure

There is a saying that goes “Jack of All Trades, Master of None”. Tim Zimmermann’s goal is to be a master of as many things as possible, and approaches his crafts–acting, singing, music and producing (with a little bit of dance thrown in for good measure)–with that same acumen. Originally from Philadelphia, his first professional gig was as a singer for the United States Army Reserve band based out of Fort Dix, New Jersey. After a stint in Nashville teaching and recording, Tim boarded the Norwegian Breakaway to perform in their concept rock and roll bar production show “Syd Norman’s Pourhouse.” After 10 months total on the Breakaway, he transitioned to Norwegian Jade, where he performed as a production cast vocalist, traveling the world from Italy to Greece, down through the Middle East and to Southeast Asia. It was there that the Covid-19 Pandemic hit and forced him to return to Fayetteville to stay with family and attempt to rebuild.

Since moving to Fayetteville, Tim has had a wealth of opportunities and his proud to call Fayetteville his current adopted home. He was fortunate to be cast in the Gilbert Theater’s productions of Rope (Granillo), Oedipus Rex (Creon/Corinthian Ambassador) and is preparing to play the role of Bobby Strong in Urinetown: The Musical. He additionally performed the role of Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing with Sweet Tea Shakespeare. He will also be performing with the Fayetteville Dinner Theater in their upcoming show: “Beyond Broadway – Music of Our Time”.

When he is not performing musicals, he is performing his own headliner style shows: “Broadway Blitz” (rock and roll Broadway revue) and “Rockestra”(classic rock revue), using his own self-produced tracks through his digital recording studio “True Fortune Studios”. What will come next for Tim isn’t certain, but he looks forward to each new challenge!

aboard the Norwegian Jade

3 Things you can’t live without & why: In no particular order: My computer I quite literally can’t function logistically without. It’s where I produce all of my music, mix and master, design my shows, write music, research roles, etc. Technology has begun to play such an integral role in what I do.

I also couldn’t live without the support of my family. They are my lifeblood. They have supported me so much throughout this creative journey I’ve been on; I believe I would have given up a long time ago without them.

Finally, though I wouldn’t die without it, my soul thrives on travel and seeing new places/things. I haven’t gotten to do as much traveling as I did before the pandemic, but I hope for all of us to be able to get back to it soon!

Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: It’s difficult to pick one! I would say all of the artists I have gotten to perform with at the Gilbert Theater and Sweet Tea Shakespeare.

What is one of your current artistic experiments? My next big adventure is actually one I started a long time ago that I mothballed for a time. It is a rock opera that is also a graphic novel (it will eventually be an app that you can watch and interact with) that I hope to adapt into a stage show. In addition, my two headliner shows Broadway Blitz and Rockestra are always evolving!

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? For me, after I got off the ship, I began to envision myself as a successful artist and work accordingly. Before that I was really afraid to audition and put myself out there, assuming I didn’t have what it takes. With the pandemic I realized that we don’t have forever to make an impact on this world, and so I used 2020 to catch up to my peers. Though 2020 was difficult, it really challenged me to open myself to the world and put myself out there, and I have no intention of stopping any time soon.

“Rope” at Gilbert Theater. photo credit: Jonathan Hornby

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. True Fortune Studios! Which is essentially my desk in my bedroom, which is usually a mess and covered with stuff. In addition I have my electric drums and keyboard that I work off of. When not there, I am generally found on stage at the Gilbert Theater, my home away from home. That stage is where everything I do started and I will be forever grateful to it and the people there.

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? For acting, I audition for things I find interesting. I try to locate roles that are available that are in my wheelhouse and go out for them. My philosophy is that you can never do too many auditions! I love honing my voice and continuing to push just a little higher. I like to operate at the edge of my comfort zone, so I’m always looking for stuff to adapt into the style I’ve been cultivating.

Advice to newer artists in your genre. Trust yourself as an artist. Whatever your discipline, work harder than you think you should and when you have done that trust that what you do will be awesome. Don’t ever believe you can’t be successful, and if ever you find yourself asking yourself “Why me? What makes me think I can be successful?” turn it around and ask yourself “why not me?” Then just enjoy the ride!

Painter Angela Stout Expresses All the Emotions

Painter-Sculptor Angela Stout

Angela M. Stout is a contemporary Painter, Printmaker, Photographer, and Sculptor living in Broadway, North Carolina. Angela is a disabled veteran originally from Warren, Ohio. She is a member of Cape Fear Studios and teaches art classes to the public. She is a graduate of Fayetteville State University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Studio Arts. Angela exhibits frequently in group exhibitions and competitions locally, nationally, and internationally.

3 Things you can’t live without & why: I cannot live without my family. They are my constant source of love and inspiration. I cannot live without my laptop because I use it to ideate and create my references using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I cannot live without my workspace as it is my place of quiet retreat and the hub of my creativity.

Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: Professor Soni Martin is an amazing generalist and my mentor. She is a major inspiration for my journey to be an art educator. She has an amazing work ethic and teaching style. I am enamored by her artwork.

What is one of your current artistic experiments? I am currently exploring overlaying my portrait images with abstract textures. I use a mixture of achromatic with chromatic colors to create an emotion. My purpose in my art is to evoke a feeling in every medium I do.

work in progress in studio

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? I focused more on the mental effects that were caused by Covid 19, the Black Lives Matter movement, and my own personal losses I experienced in 2020. My art went to a darker place when I felt compelled to create. I will continue to explore societal issues and the emotions connected to it going forward, but maybe not from such a dark place.

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. My workspace is a converted bedroom. I have four easels, a small printing press I made, a sculpting table, and storage for all of my canvases. I have my paint accessible on a rolling cart. I am a disabled vet, so I have difficulty standing to paint. I sit down on the floor and brace my arms on my knees so I can paint vertically without my muscles becoming fatigued and shaking.

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? I am always taking pictures of people. I begin with an emotion or idea I want to express. I search through my archive of photo references until I see a person who speaks to me. I open Adobe Illustrator and begin sketching. I start overlaying the textures until something begins to emerge that guides the direction. I move with in the process until I see the potential in a piece.

Advice to newer artists in your genre: As artists we are always putting pressure on ourselves to be original, develop a style, and to make technically great work. We can be harder on ourselves than anyone else. My advice to younger artists is to not look at failure to achieve your vision as a negative. I have learned far
more from my failures then my successes. Another sage bit of advice is to be flexible and not hold on to the original concept with a death grip. Instead remain fluid while you are going through the process of creating and allow yourself to change direction if you see a new possibility.

Guiding Light: Leslie Pearson

artist Leslie Pearson. photo by Shane Booth

The official short bio of Leslie Pearson reads: a multimedia artist who utilizes many fiber based materials, processes and techniques to create sculptures, installations, encaustic paintings, and handmade books in which she explores themes of memory and identity. She pursues art as a studio artist, community arts advocate and educator. She has taught at various colleges and Universities and currently serves on the Board of Trustees at the Arts Council of Fayetteville, and is a member of the Surface Design Association. Pearson exhibits her work nationally and internationally. But that doesn’t scratch the surface of the long and varied path her artwork has taken her on, how she’s become a fixture in Fayetteville, or even touch on Fayetteville Pie Company or her forthcoming establishment, Curate Essentials. Pearson has traveled the world and embodies the idea that you can improve and be improved by your local community.

A portion of installation “Tell Me Your Secrets I’ll Tell You Mine” and her cat, Friday Noir.

What does success mean to you?

When I was younger, I used to dream of being an artist. I thought, “Well, how can I make money as an artist? How would that look as a success?” So I thought I would teach art; that was my limited knowledge of what I could do as a profession in the arts.

I pursued that and then switched from arts education to studio practice because I knew I needed to hone my skills as an artist. Then, I wanted to work at the arts council in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, when I was taking my studio classes. That opened my knowledge of arts administration and being able to work in a gallery space, which led to pursuing a master’s degree in museum studies, in the hopes of working in an established museum. But when I got back to the States, that was when 9/11 happened and people were really holding onto their jobs. I realized, if I want to work in a museum, I need a PhD or I need to at least learn a foreign language, but it was really hard to even get a foot in the door in museums.

So there I was with debt, student loans, things like that. I was having meetings with professionals in the art world; I moved to Kansas City for a little while because I thought I would have a better connections. And I ended up working at Sonic and selling my plasma three times a week. That’s how hard up I was. I worked at a donut shop before Dawn and I was substitute teaching. I was like trying to do whatever I could to earn some money. I met this kid who said, “I’m going to join the army because I’ll use my GI bill. They’ll pay for my education after that.” And it just kind of clicked in my mind; I’d never thought about joining the army. And she said, “well, why don’t you just talk to my recruiter?” one thing led to another, and then I’m in the army as a photo journalist. That was the most creative thing I could think of to do for the army. From there, I started writing articles for the local newspaper in Augusta covering arts and entertainment. I realized after I got out of the army that I could get a master’s degree, which would then allow me to circle back and teach art at the college level.

After arriving back in Fayetteville with her husband, Pearson opened the Fayetteville Pie Company, which she credits to a childhood spent learning from her grandmother how to garden, can food, and bake pies for a crowd. Another childhood dream was to open a studio/coffeeshop-type place with her sister, who now also resides in Fayetteville and works closely with Pearson. They are currently renovating a Haymount building to achieve this dream.

To go from being artist-, writer-, teacher-brain to business owner was a big change for me. Through that, I’ve really learned a lot about running a business, which is now helping me as I’m developing Curate Essentials, which I think brings me full circle because with it, I’m able to take everything I learned from the pie shop and develop this store. All that I learned about teaching: I’m going to be able to teach workshops here. Everything I need in terms of travel to exhibit my work, this place is going to allow me the flexibility of that. I’m going to be able to use part of this space as a studio space to continue making work. I’m going to be able to show work. I’m going to be able to bring visiting artists. And so I’m going to be able to cultivate all of that interest in teaching and being with other artists.

So to answer your original question when I was younger, I used to think that being a famous artist was being someone featured in an art book. For me now, it’s just being able to constantly live in my natural, creative, passionate self, but also earn a living doing that because what I’m doing has a monetary value as well.

detail from “Canoe”, a commissioned piece co-created with Australian artist Kerrie Bedson, 2018

What changes in your audience do you seek to make with your art?

I am interested in autobiographical work and the idea of family and being in a community. At first it was very literal: my thesis work was called “Vignettes of a Family”, and I broke down each person who had a big impact on my life and started exploring their story. Then branching out to think about the people who had touched my life in some way, even if it was indirectly. Because embroidery pieces are extremely time-consuming, I’m still working on a series called “Trace Evidence”, which is a fingerprint embroidered over, in an abstract way, old family photos. I love to learn. I’m a lifelong learner. So I was taking some classes on forensic science at Methodist University, where we were learning about fingerprints, how to take fingerprints and about trace evidence and how every single person has trace evidence that they leave. There’s a part of you that you leave at a scene and you also pick up things and you take them with you. So you always are touching your environment and being touched by it. I was thinking about life and how we touch other people’s lives and how one person can be influenced by this person. And they’re influencing you as well.

Pearson’s visual work is complex, usually made up of smaller pieces that represent community, and they are enhanced with text of some kind, giving more depth and intricacy to draw in the viewer.

They just, they like it for the simple shapes, the forms, the colors, and possibly the materials. And then when asked deeper questions, I have answers for them, because people approach artwork differently: everybody who approaches art comes with their own perceived notion, their own background and how they think about things. But I think that idea of family is a very universal thing.

Now how I’m going to use that to change the world in some way. As an artist, I absorb all of my surroundings, all of my interactions with people, everything that comes my way. And then I translate that into my work as a way to get it out and then invite people to just experience it. They have been able to connect with it and maybe see their situation a little bit differently.

always learning something new

How have you constructed the bridges of your artistic career?

There’s a great book called Hinds Feet on High Places that always made me think when I’m going through hard times, God’s got a plan. This little character, she’s trusting that she’s going to the high places and to get there, she thinks she’s going to go straight up, but she has to be led down lower and lower into valleys and in dark times, she realizes that she’s learning to trust more in her guide and in herself and the pain that she goes through makes her stronger. So she actually is able to live in the place where she’s meant to be on the mountain top. There’s been times in my life where I’m just like, ah, I just really want to get to this place where I have this huge exhibit and but I’m still here with these little small exhibits and stuff like that. Well, now I understand that when I do get an opportunity to have a big exhibit, I needed to show in those smaller places. I needed to define my work. I needed to grow as an artist. I needed to know those things. I needed to go through grad school to learn more technique and how to be a professional. I needed to teach at a community college before I could teach at a university. So it has been very, very, very small steps along the way.

One of my biggest problems is I never have enough time to actually get to all the things I have or want to do. I keep a journal with sketches; sometimes, I’ll say, okay, I’m going to do a little sample piece, which I’ll set in my studio. It will remind me, even if it’s a year or two later: Oh yeah, that’s what I was going to do with that.

from Pearson’s latest show “eco prints”, 2021

Who do you consider your artistic cohort?

Firstly, my sister, Leigh, who is my studio assistant. She has been a big help to me. My husband, Justin, who never complains about the ongoing projects I’m involved in. My friends Jennifer and Ellen, who are always game to do something creative and both challenge me to be the best version of myself. Everyone who works at the Pie Shop: they work so hard and are so creative. I wouldn’t be able to do it without them. And all of my Facebook friends who are always encouraging me. I also look to the other women business owners in Fayetteville who are in the trenches every day making their own dreams come true.

For me, also, is going to places and doing workshops. For instance, I’m going to be teaching at Arrowmont in Gatlinburg, Tennessee soon. I’ll be surrounded by other artists who are teaching classes, and also exhibiting their work, and all the students. Those are the times when I get pushed; there’s a synergy that happens. So I rely on those times.

I have another friend, MJ, she’s about 80 years old and she’s my best bestie: she’s an artist. When I’m around her, we just push each other and we’re constantly being creative and things like that. I always say, I want to be like her when I grow up. We used to be together at Acme Art Studios in Wilmington. There were 22 working artists there. That was such a highlight of my life to be there every day with people who were working as practicing artists for their living and teaching and doing commissioned work and things like that. That was a really sharpening time for me.

The Many Forms of Sculpture and Learning of Damien Mathis

Damien Mathis

Painter and sculptor Damien Mathis is a Fayetteville native and resident, and an avid Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club member. A Marine Corps Combat veteran, Mathis served two tours in Afghanistan with 1/6 Bravo Infantry Battalion before earning a Bachelor’s in Visual Arts from HBCU Fayetteville State University. Mathis recalls drawing as a child even before he learned to write, but only began painting eight years ago, in his early twenties. His art has since been collected and exhibited throughout the U.S., including the Arts Council of Fayetteville, the Harlem Fine Arts Show, Fayetteville State University, A&T, and various communities along the coast.

3 Things you can’t live without & why: The 3 things I can’t live without is ambition, blessings, and lessons. You need all of them to become individually great. They will balance you.

Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: Shane Wilson is a good friend who taught me the meaning of a giving friend. He has a welcoming heart open to the world around him. Other artists are Professor Dwight Smith and Professor Soni Martin of Fayetteville State University: they taught me the freedom of the mind with all materials and to always trust the process.

What is one of your current artistic experiments? My current artistic experiments are learning how to mold and shape fiberglass and different resins with different materials.

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? Self management and preventive procrastination changed in my practice in 2020.

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I mostly do my creating in various places–maybe in my studio or in the woods somewhere–where everything feels natural. It just at that moment has to have a calming environment as the foundation to start the process.

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? Usually the next idea just comes from everyday thought in life… sometimes it’s from boredom. I guess it’s just supposed to be created into what it shall be.

Advice to newer artists in your genre. You don’t know everything. You barely even know yourself. Never stop trying to learn or pick someone’s ear. Never know where your interest may take you!!! Creating comes in many forms.

 

Illuminating Friends and Feelings: Dark Pop Singer Keyse

photo credit Matthew Wonderly

KEYSE is a Dark Pop/Alternative Rock project based out of Fayetteville, North Carolina. Madeline Keyse, the sole writer and vocalist, is a former opera singer turned modern pop act. Pre-pandemic, she shared the stage with artists such as Lacey Sturm (ex Flyleaf), Tilian Pearson (Dance Gavin Dance), and Landon Tewers (The Plot In You).
MERCH: https://keyse.bigcartel.com

Surround yourself with people who inspire you to create.

Madeline Keyse

3 Things you can’t live without & why: First, I absolutely cannot live without a keyboard (more specifically my ROLI Seaboard Controller). It is an integral part in my creative process with songwriting; I’d be pretty lost without it. Going hand-in-hand with that, the next item would be my iPad Air 2. I store all my lyrics, voice memos, song ideas, and write out full demos that I bring to the studio on it, so it is a necessity. Lastly, I couldn’t confidently perform live without my Telefunken M80 microphone. It makes my voice sound great, and it’s also neon yellow. You can’t miss it on stage, and it’s a great conversation piece.


Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: As cliché as it sounds, it’s definitely going to be my bandmate and partner Grant Garner. He is best known around town for being the vocalist of The Sherman Neckties, and has performed with his band for various city events, such as Hay Street Live, Downtown Summer Nights, Zombie Walk, and the Dogwood Festival. He not only plays guitar for my live performances, but he handles everything regarding my live performance altogether, and to be quite frank, KEYSE gigs wouldn’t even exist without him. He is inspiring to me for a multitude of reasons from personal to professional, but the most admirable thing about Grant is his need to grow as a musician. He spends hours learning about the industry, new musical equipment, experimenting with audio production, and passes whatever he learns onto anyone willing to listen. He is the most passionate musician I’ve ever met, and our relationship has pushed me to pursue my career in music to the best of my ability.

photo credit Matthew Wonderly


What is one of your current artistic experiments? In March of 2020, I started working with Landon Tewers as the new producer for KEYSE. He produced, mixed, and mastered my most recent single “Are You High Enough To Hold Me?” and we have created a whole new sound for the project. Since then, I have been traveling back and forth between Fayetteville and Detroit, working on the new material. I have been pretty quiet about what the future holds for KEYSE, but what I can say is the new songs are an entirely different body of work from my previous releases. There are some really incredible things that we are working towards, but that’s about all I can say at the moment. The future looks bright.


What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? In 2019, I was gigging about once or twice a week, sometimes three. And I absolutely loved every second of it. So you can imagine that with the entertainment industry shutdown, it has definitely taken a toll on me. Going from having your entourage of friends supporting you at every show to almost complete isolation will do a number on you. But I had to learn to adapt. I went from consistent live performances to recording new songs every opportunity I could get. As of right now, I’m sitting on about 7 or 8 unreleased singles. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to prepare myself for steady releases once I am able to, but I am more than ready to return to gigging, post-pandemic of course!


Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I don’t have band practice anymore, considering that live music doesn’t really exist currently. But my songwriting work space is pretty minimal. It consists of my ROLI Seaboard and my iPad. I will typically come up with a basic chord progression and write the topline of the song over that. Once I get the basic structure, I will take the demo to Grant, my partner, and he will help me re-record a higher quality demo on his workstation. There he can add guitar, bass, sample drums, and a better vocal take to further demonstrate the idea so we can bring it to the studio.

photo credit Matthew Wonderly

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? The majority of my songs are based off real life. Recurring topics in my songs are typically grief, loss, and heartache. But my music is not limited to that spectrum of feeling. More recently, I have been inspired by things as simple as a line in a movie or a character in a book. This past year has been emotionally exhausting for everyone, and I know I don’t want to think on or write about the hardships I’ve faced until I’m truly past it and am reflecting. Until then, using songwriting in a fictional sense has been, and will continue to be my favorite form of escapism.


Advice to newer artists in your genre. Set a couple attainable goals every year, and focus on making them happen. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone when creating. Surround yourself with people who constantly inspire you to create. Make sure your circle of people are dependable, trustworthy, and encouraging. Pay attention to who stays inside for your set at a show, and who hangs out in the parking lot the whole time. Most importantly, be kind to your fellow artists!

Catching up with Shane Wilson: New Stories, New Songs

Writer Shane Wilson. Photo Credit Michelle Winfrey

Shane Wilson is a storyteller. No matter the medium, the emphasis of his work is on the magical act of the story, and how the stories we tell immortalize us and give voice to the abstractions of human experience. His first two contemporary fantasy novels and a stage play, set in his World of Muses universe, are currently available. Shane also plays guitar and writes songs with his acoustic Americana/ folk band, Sequoia Rising. He writes songs as he writes stories–with an emphasis on the magic of human experience. Sequoia Rising’s debut album, Of All the Things I’ve Ever Said, I Mean This the Most, is available on all music streaming platforms. Additionally, Shane’s novels are A Year Since the Rain (Snow Leopard Publishing, 2016) and The Smoke in His Eyes (GenZ Publishing, 2018). Shane’s short story, “The Boy Who Kissed the Rain” was the 2017 Rilla Askew Short Fiction Prize winner and was nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize. Shane is currently at work on a new novel.

3 Things you can’t live without & why: I want so badly to say “a stiff cocktail” or “whiskey” or even “coffee,” but I’m afraid of what that might make me sound like, so I’ll go with something that plays music, something to write with, and a guitar. That might sound redundant, but I’ll explain. Something that plays music can be a stereo or a record player–something with speakers or headphones. I draw so much inspiration from music that the thought of life without music feels like a life not quite worth living. I’m listening to a ton of new and interesting stuff while I’m brainstorming new music, so I would hate to be without. Something to write with can be a pen and paper or a computer or a typewriter, but I need some place to scribble the ideas down that will become the next thing–song or book or play or, hell, film or musical. And I’ve listed a guitar because I need a way to make the music that I’m writing in my journal or on my computer. Also, if something happens to the thing that plays music, I can play a few things myself.

Local artist you admire: You know, I know this is probably the answer you get all the time, but it’s hard to talk about the arts in Fayetteville without showing love to Neil Ray. We’ve worked on projects together, which are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything. He means so much to the Fayetteville area at large, but he also means a ton to so many of us, individually. This community is full of artists I admire — El’Ja Bowens, Lisette Rodriguez, Doug Burton, Michael Daughtry, Damien Mathis. Artists who are carving their own paths and celebrating original art are my people. This is just a smattering of those names who celebrate originality and the pursuit of genuine artistic expression.

What is one of your current artistic experiments? I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the new Sequoia Rising album, Of All the Things I’ve Ever Said, I Mean This the Most. This was the project that I poured myself into when the world shut down last spring, and it’s finally come to fruition: I’m incredibly proud. It’s a collaboration with Michelle Winfrey and Jerry Smith. It’s the first full length album I’ve written and produced, and to have that record out in the world for people to interact with is a joy.

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? I think that living through a year that featured isolation in such heavy doses made me look for ways to mix it up, so to speak. I’ve started looking for more experimental sounds for my music and wilder plots for my stories. I think it started as a way to mentally escape the tedium of the day-to-day in COVID-induced isolation. I think I’ll definitely keep exploring these new avenues of creative expression. I’m hearing a lot of wild songs in my head. I just need to keep learning so I can record them. And the novel I wrote during lockdown? Whoa. It’s definitely a lockdown novel, but it’s also a ton of fun.

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. At home, I work in my office surrounded by books and music and instruments or outside on the balcony. I still have music with me, though, no matter where I am. I also usually have some caffeine or whiskey. I also think it’s important to have a physical boundary that can create physical space for creation. Of course, you also need to live with people who respect that process. I’m lucky enough to have that.

As much as I am able to get done at home, I still find time to isolate for a couple of weeks a year in the mountains. The western North Carolina mountains are a magical place for me. Spending time there has changed my art and my process in ways that I’m not sure I can articulate. So, I’ll use time away at a retreat or residency to create momentum in a new project so that when I’m back at home, I can ride the wave for a while.

Shane Wilson and Jerry Smith. Photo Credit Michelle Winfrey

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? Oh sheesh. I wish I knew! Life would be so much easier if I knew where to look for that stuff. Seriously, though, I’ve spent so much time thinking about creativity and where inspiration comes from. I don’t know. It’s no wonder the Greeks created a mythos for the phenomenon. The thought that I can just set out and find the next “thing” is so strange to me. I think it just happens–like in a lightning strike that I don’t perceive.

Advice to newer artists in your genre. You can’t wait for anyone to take a chance on you if you aren’t willing to take a chance on yourself. Any artistic pursuit begins with the work. We all want to see our painting on the wall of a gallery, see our book in a library, or hear our song on Spotify, but none of that happens if you don’t pick up the brush, put your pen to the page, or pick up the instrument. Art is a pursuit, and if you aren’t chasing, then you aren’t going to get anywhere. The work of the artist is important, soul-cleansing, humanity-defining work. But it’s work. You have to resign yourself to the pursuit of the work and learn the steps by which you achieve what you want to achieve. We don’t do the work to be famous, though. That way lies only madness. An artist does the work because they don’t know how to not do the work. As Rainer Maria Rilke told the young poet who wrote him for advice, if you can imagine a life wherein you are not writing, then you should not write. In short, artists cannot imagine a life without their art, and if you can, then you should find something else to do with your time.

Guiding Light: Dwight Smith

Smith with portrait done by Angela Stout, 2019.

Sometimes you meet someone in one context and then rediscover them in a different one and it’s almost as if the Heaven’s part and light shines down on them. I met Dwight Smith through his impeccable volunteer work with the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, which goes to show how deeply he cares about his chosen community of Fayetteville, since his hometown is Detroit. But in researching and talking with him about his painting, teaching at Fayetteville State University, and curation for Ellington-White Contemporary Art Gallery, it became much clearer why Smith is such a Guiding Light for his students, his audience, and all of us lucky enough to be blessed by his art and his wisdom.


What does success mean to you? “I’m the kind of person that always makes a plan. I always tell my students that you’ll never be successful if you don’t have a plan and then you implement those plans. And once complete that plan, that’s success. Then I make another plan for myself. I think that in making those plans, I’m moderately successful because I simply have enjoyed all the things that have happened to me in this creative journey.” Smith has traveled the world thanks to his art–trips to France, Senegal, Surinam, and China are especially memorable–and been able to meet and work with many of the artists he admires.

“I think I have a relatively successful career in life and I think it will just get even better. You never, never stop. You just keep working. You keep planning, you keep setting goals and you keep implementing and trying to make things happen that you want to see happen. Sometimes you have to do it for yourself. And sometimes there are other people who will see that you’re moving in a positive direction and they will help you do the kinds of things that you want to do.”

How have you constructed the bridges of your career? A successful career in Detroit, a myriad of solo or group shows, a well-respected gallery, an assistant professor-ship, even being a guest at a White House reception to honor ten Black American Art Masters: are some of the high points of Smith’s career. He jokes, “I never thought that my artworks would be in some of the collections that they’re in, so I’m very humbled about that, and I’m just very surprised. I’ll be honest: I’m surprised. Wait, how did I get here?”

“When you make a plan, you have to also say, okay, what do I need to accomplish to get to this goal, achieve the success. Sometimes those successes come to you because you’ve already done the preparation and you can then handle whatever comes. I belong to an organization called the National Conference of Artists, which is a national African-American art organization that I’m trying to get a chapter started here in North Carolina, and working with them and doing conferences and projects and planning, I have met so many artists, the people that I read about in books: David Driscoll, Elizabeth Catlett, Richmond Barthe, Samella Lewis, all these artists that we all look up to, I’ve met them all, sat down and had conversations with them. So it’s being prepared and being the kind of person that you understand your craft or learning about your craft, developing your craft, and you’re open to experiencing and receiving the information from those artists you look up to.”

Homage to Al Loving“, watercolor collage

Who is in your artistic cohort?
Smith looked up to and learned from several mentors, other artists who “when they see you in a crowd, they point to you and say, hey, how are you doing, what’s going on and catching up. Sometimes you may not see them for a year, and then you’ve not lost the beat when you see them again.” Black art history legend Shirley Woodson Reid who was just named the 2021 Kresge Eminent Artist. Jon Onye Lockard, who Smith said was “the kind of mentor that would tell you “That’s really good. Or Dwight don’t tell that to anybody else anymore.” Jon was very special to me.” Willis Bing Davis in Dayton, Ohio. Dr. David Driscoll, who passed away in 2020. Then there are artists he still wants to meet, like Mark Bradford, “who is just phenomenal in his abstraction and the work that he’s doing. So I have those people that I really like and have those people that I’d like to meet. Hopefully the universe will take me in that direction.”

Smith curated an exhibition currently at the Arts Council and at Ellington-White Contemporary Art Gallery called Roots of Change, featuring 60 works by twenty-nine artists from a group he’s a member of called the National Alliance of Artists from HBCUs. “My ability to be able to create this exhibition with all of those wonderful artists is about being involved in these organizations. Becoming an associate professor at Fayetteville State University opened up avenues to these other historically black colleges and universities to continue to build my career and to help them build their careers. I am the kind of person where I will build you up while I’m building me up too. I never liked to do anything by myself. I like to take a group.”

My Soul Captures the Night Light and ignites the trail”, mixed media on canvas

What change do you seek to make with your art, and how has that changed over time, if it has? “Well, when I started out, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I just had the desire to make art. While I was at Wayne State University, it was steeped in German Abstract Expressionism, very popular at that time period. I really liked the abstract, because that’s a broad term that allows me to do a lot of different things, spread my wings a lot of different ways and use a lot of different materials.” Besides painting, Smith does drawings, collage, and has even worked in bronze casting. “Over the years, my work has developed into being work that deals with families, celebrations of artists, the whole sense of being a black male in America, a black artist in America.”

As a teacher, both at University and in summer camps and classes, Smith carries specific principles he imparts to his students. “Your voice is what’s important. You need to be the new voice that we hear, that has something to say. You have the artist statements that you will write and those will evolve over time because your work will evolve over time. You may stay in the same lane, but the work becomes mature because you’ve worked out a lot of the technical aspects in it, the ideology, all the information that goes with it. So, I’m always evaluating my work and trying to improve my work and see what’s missing in my work, what holes do I need to fill to keep me being excited about making art. Although there are times that as an artist, that sometime you just have to make art, your brain will go: If I don’t get into the studio, I’m going to explode. You have to get to that studio and you have to work. It’s just who you are.”