Show Time

The prolific street artist WK Interact is best known for his unique creation of black and white murals depicting humans caught in motion. Late in 2013, I attended the opening of “WK-360 Mid-career Survey” at the Jonathan Levine Gallery. The only other street artist’s gallery show I’d ever been to was Shepard Fairey’s years before. Group shows featuring many of the top names were frequently occurring in the very cities these artists were already ‘showing in’ for free in the streets. It’s an exciting transition to witness, as the anonymous quietly became the famous. As Shepard has stated, “Street art and graffiti are no longer strictly defined as vandalism and deserves to be recognized as a valid and important art genre.”

The following Summer, Obey himself decided to curate Art Alliance: The Provocateurs as an art exhibition that took place during, and in partnership with, one of the largest music festivals in the world, Lollapalooza. The show itself occupied the third floor of Chicago’s Block 37 and combined world class art with experiential and interactive components. Many of the artists I’d been following in the streets for years were on display, including Swoon, Space Invader, FAILE, RETNA, and D*Face, but it was WK I recognized from across the room. One of his large format pieces was featured, but he was there, as I was, checking out the incongruity of it all. Introducing myself as a fan, I asked him if he would sign my sketchbook. “Can I sign it anywhere?,” he asked, preferring not to use the next available blank page. Flipping through my journal he took out a nice juicy black Sharpie and blew into it creating a spray effect that left a spattered aura around his autograph. Handing back the notebook, he tells me, “You should have a show. Take pages from your sketchbook and blow them up real big. They’ll be the art.”

Cirkus Diurnus – Sketchbooks of a Traveling Artist opened four years and four weeks later. My first real solo art show, it featured twenty-six pieces created from the pages of my sketchbooks and wine journals, including seven oversized pieces just as WK envisioned. In the end, it was really all about that opening night event. I designed and executed it as if it were a personal Sensorium®. Flowers arrived at the Arts Center with a note – “Congratulations on Your Show Mikel, from Your Friends at Firmenich.” It was signed by Gilbert. I had mentioned it to tell him during our Trenz®Walk together and was touched that he remembered. A terrific turn-out with new and old dear friends, family, colleagues past and present, and a handful of people that simply read about it in the paper or saw one of my posters in a shop window. At the end of the evening, I did manage to sell one piece – to my father. Art. Admittedly my ego was a little deflated. I really thought I was launching a brand, but ultimately, I was just exposing my self. The consensus being guests were more impressed with my bravery than with the art per se. Another lesson: don’t believe the hype – especially if it’s your own.


  • Carla Carlson

    Sooooo glad I got to tour it- it was AWESOME !

  • Peter Vander Auwera

    Lovely post, Mikel. I just discovered the sketchbooks. Love the Oenotes. The others as well. Warmest, Petervan

  • Michael Katz

    It was an amazing show of multi faceted talent and curiosity about the world in specific moments 👌

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