Loud, vibrant colors bounce off every painting that Micah Hearn puts a brush to. The canvas may be flat, but every layer and idea crawls up the walls and into the center of the room.
“What? That’s a piece of garbage. The painting is on the other side!” says Hearn as I gawk at one of his paintings. His Mississippi drawl comes through on canvas and in person.
What may seem like a warehouse with painted blue doors and concrete floors is much more to the six artists in residence. Modou Dieng is the founder of Worksound and professor at Pacific Northwest College of Art. He explains that this group of unified artists, who can take up a whole gallery, is better than one artist trying to somehow fit their work into an exhibit. That’s why he started Worksound.
This concept of artists unifying as a group, or collective, has the potential to transform the way artists produce and succeed with art as a profession.
“What’s so exciting about being in an art collective is that there’s a group of you with the same goal and the same broad idea. We carry it out in different ways,” says Hearn. “We’re all in it together.”
Dieng wants to bring a new aesthetic to the city with Worksound. That’s what they have to offer to galleries when marketing themselves.
The word conversation has multiple layers.
“How do you engage with the community? What kind of project do you want to exhibit in a gallery? What about an art school? How do you collaborate with other artists? What kind of publication can come out of it? All of those elements contribute to the conversation,” says Dieng.
Dieng sees the potential Hearn has to succeed as an artist. He explains that Hearn’s paintings will become him and vise versa. Dieng wants Hearn’s character to be plastered on that canvas. He knows it will happen and he wants to give Hearn the opportunity to do that.
“I want young artists to experience being an artist. They need to build their portfolio and need to produce work before they can actually start making money,” says Dieng. He provides a jumping-off point for artists to start succeeding.
Hearn is a rising artist in the city. While many of his Portland peers narrate a landscape of the city and their surrounding environment, he brings controversial topics to his canvas such as being gay and growing up in the Bible Belt in Laurel, Mississippi.
“My father’s side of the family is aware of an idealized life in Christ. That can be a little bit scary for me growing up, hearing about what damns people. Growing up gay in the South is really difficult,” says Hearn.
Painting was once solely therapy for Hearn until he graduated high school and started attending PNCA.
“Most of the people in my family live from paycheck to paycheck. It’s difficult, but it’s beautiful. That’s the struggle that I deal with in my paintings. I connect the daily life and strange beauty of it,” says Hearn.
His style developed over the four years of school, and continues to form as he participates in Worksound.
He creates elaborate layers to each piece, telling a part of a story that always links his past and his present. His jewel-toned, bright palette pops your personal space and forces the viewer to embark on a journey that moves the eyes along from start to finish. On that canvas is Micah Hearn, his soul included.
“I’m processing a lot of things when I’m painting. It’s like finding the way to deal with things I don’t even know I’ve processed. I find things I didn’t even know I felt until I look back on what I’ve just painted when I’ve been immersed in painting,” says Hearn.
A quilt pattern, church window, water hose, and a road are just a few common symbols that tie together Hearn’s paintings. His most recent piece for Worksound’s show, “Surrounding Visibility,” is called Kitchen Quilt. This quilt pattern comes from a quilt Hearn’s grandmother made for him before he was born.
“All the women in my family are phenomenal and have been through so much,” says Hearn.
It’s difficult for Hearn to talk about his paintings.
“Different layers are in the painting, story after story… it’s a push and pull of what I’m allowing the viewer to see,” says Hearn.
Hearn plans to expand his medium into using sculpture and 3D objects in the near future, tying in and making his symbols a tangible environment such as the church window and quilt represented in so much of his current work.
The collective may help get a group of artists seen, but it also empowers them to grow through collaboration every day.
“Communication is key. Having peers come in and see your work helps you step back, look at it, see what you’re getting from it, and what the pieces are that drives the piece,” says Hearn.
“Surrounding Visibility” originally is created by the word incubation. The collective is intrinsically connecting the common theme of growing and sprouting from where they originally came from mentally, emotionally, and physically. In this respect, Portland may just represent the embodiment of “surrounding visibility.”
In Hearn’s case, his paintings represent his transitions of everyday life from Mississippi to Oregon.
Worksound is the beginning of a new art movement: collectively coming together as one unified and eager group of blossoming young artists. This is the start of an awfully exciting art adventure.
For more stories of Portlanders pursuing their passions or doing cool things, check this out: Poppycock Magazine