Meet the Artist: Mingering Mike on His Creative Process and Artistic Inspirations

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  • MINGERING MIKE: I started making artwork back in 1968, where my first album cover was Sit'tin by the Window.

    Hello, my name is Mingering Mike, and I'm here at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

    What inspired me to start was the various TV shows and movies back in that era, and I was just saying to myself, "I could do a better theme song than that." I used to write, at the time, maybe like 10 songs a day. I used to write songs just to see if I could do it in the middle of a commercial. Then I wanted to have something to go with the songs, so then I started creating an album. I probably made about over 60 albums.

    The materials that I use were acquired from–it's CVS now, but it used to be called People's. So I used to go in there and get the poster board, and then I would go down to the local store and purchase various paints, and I would get markers and then I would start on the project.

    I never expected anyone to be witness to some of the stuff that I had done. It's been a fantastic ride, and, you know, still being incognito, I enjoy that because I can go anywhere and no one wants to shake my hand or pat me on the back.

    How does it feel looking back at the work that I did 50 years ago? It makes me feel like I'm an old fella'. It's amazing that it still holds up.

    In 2013, the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired a collection of over 150 artworks made between 1969 and 1976 by a self–taught Washington, D.C. artist known only by his alter-ego, Mingering Mike. During his rare media appearances, the artist always wears a disguise in order to maintain his anonymity.

    The Mingering Mike collection comprises artworks constructed as part of the artist’s youthful fantasy of becoming a famous soul singer and songwriter, including LP albums made from painted cardboard, original album art, song lyrics and liner notes, and self-recorded 45 rpm singles.

    For more on Mingering Mike, check out Can Mike Really Sing?, an episode of SAAM’s web series Re:Frame

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