Art brought me to New York City, to Israel, and to France, all before I was eighteen. Art paid my way through college. Art taught me about family, about money, and about love. Art introduced me to the finer things in life, but assured me I’d need to earn them on my own. Art is a salesman and a killer, and Art - is my father. As a skinny kid from Passaic, he was given the nickname, and only ever introduced himself as, Sonny. Short for Sonny Boy, everyone knew him as Sonny - friends and family alike - and only in a rare instance by some highfalutin business associate was he ever called Art. Never Arthur. That is until he remarried and declared he would no longer answer to Sonny. His new wife, and subsequent new life, only know him as Art.

On Easter Sunday 1979, most of my immediate family, including aunts, uncles, cousins, and both sets of grandparents, were all aboard a private bus in Jerusalem. That morning, everyone boarded the bus, except my maternal grandmother. Once everyone was seated, Grandma got on the bus and grabbed hold of the tour guide’s microphone to make an announcement to the family - ‘From this day on, I will no longer be called Sylvia. For now on, my name is Sue.’ And she took her seat. In an instant, Grandma Sylvia became Grandma Sue. Sylvia was old and tired, whereas Sue was alive and rejuvenated. Sonny and Sylvia rebranded themselves at points in their lives where a transformation had taken place inside them and they needed to leave the past behind, and never look back. Knowing them both for my entire life at these critical points in theirs, it became quite obvious that their personalities weren’t any different but the way that they carried themselves was.

Changing the label on your packaging doesn’t necessarily change the product itself, but it surely changes people’s perception of what’s inside. People always seem to be disappointed when they find out my legal name isn't really Mikel. My driver's license, passport, and anything else that has to be official, reads Michael. Same pronunciation but a little more artistic and a lot easier to write. When I changed my signature to Mikel in 1980 it was for the simple reason that it was easier to sign my name spelled this way. A transformation worked out in my second sketchbook, from that point on I was Mikel and no longer Michael.


  • Padmaja

    So true! Names conjure up images even before meeting someone that color our every perspective of who that person really is.

  • Mark Weintraub

    I remember that Israel trip — in that I remember when everyone in the family went - and I was too young to go :) Looking forward to the Signature Series at the end of the summer – and hearing some of the backstories behind your portraits.

  • Michael Katz

    As a kid growing up I was Mike except when my parents wanted to make an impression, then I was Michael. When I began working as a social worker in schools I let people know that Michael is my name. To your mom I was always Mike as the name bracelet that she game me for my 16th birthday reminds me daily.

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