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Conversations with Michon Sanders

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michon Sanders.

Hi Michon, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I’ve always loved art. As a kid, I loved to draw, I watched all of the classic cartoons from Hanna Barbera and Looney Tunes and I would draw them. I also used to copy the drawings out of comic books – way before liking superheroes was cool. I remember being in elementary school and my parents gave me this packet of photocopied pages from what I’m pretty sure was a school textbook, but it was all about artists of the renaissance period. I read it until it fell apart, and then I read it some more. I became super fascinated by the old masters and this grand idea of art. We had our own set of encyclopedias at home and I would look up Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and sculptures just be in awe of what I was seeing. I always dreamed of art school as a kid, but I never really considered it a possibility. I had always heard, “you don’t want to be another starving artist,” and they were right – I didn’t. So I let go of art for most of my adult life in exchange for work, family, life, all the things. It wasn’t until I had a major life change that I decided to dive back into art.

I was in a position to start my life over, so I decided to go back to school. I started at Berkeley City College (BCC) in Berkeley, California, just taking a few classes, including my first real art classes. Suddenly the idea of art school felt like a possibility, so I dove in headfirst. My initial goal was to become a tattoo artist and to be completely honest, I was trying to follow in the same path that the artist I was going to apprentice with followed. She went to California College of the Arts (CCA) and got a degree in and Painting & Drawing – so that became my plan. I transferred from BCC and started the Painting & Drawing program at CCA. It wasn’t until I was about halfway through my time there that I realized that (1) I was in the wrong program – I should have majored in Illustration, that would have been way more helpful for tattooing. (2) As a result of that mistake, I had become a figurative painter with a love for the narrative and preference for oil paint. Since that moment, I really hit the ground running, and I have been very fortunate to receive some amazing opportunities, which have led me to Los Angeles, where I’m at the University of Southern California in the MFA program.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
To be honest, I had more struggles in my life before I started down this path. I made a lot of questionable choices, and

The hardest parts for me have really been internal. I’d decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in my late 30s, my partner and I had just had a baby, I was working full time, and I was dealing with feelings of imposter syndrome. There were so many times when I almost stood in my own way because one, if not all of those things were weighing heavily on me.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I am a figurative oil painter focusing on narratives surrounding Black life in America. I like to use old family photos as a reference because I believe that there are experiences and in-between moments that are consistent through the Black Community, especially in the south, and that we are often our most authentic selves when we photographed by someone we know. I want provide a point of entry for a larger conversation about the humanity of Black people. I make paintings that I like to think of as experiential in that I want the viewer to feel like they are in dialogue with the figures or could join them and feel right at home. I like to use eye contact as a vehicle to achieve this – confronting the viewer but also including them. I’m kinda known for large swaths of solid color and attention to fun details that really push the participation forward. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities in the past year, and I think I’m most proud of finishing my undergraduate degree, I always wanted to finish it by 40, and I made it by a few months.

Where we are in life is often partly because of others. Who/what else deserves credit for how your story turned out?
Professionally, I’m so fortunate to have some amazing mentors. The entire painting faculty at CCA was phenomenal, but specifically Keith Thomas and David Huffman. They have been by side through this whole journey. They are both practicing artists as well as professors (which has become a new goal of mine as of late) and have really set a stellar example of how to exist as a Black artist in today’s art world. I keep them very close because I understand the value of good people in your life. Personally my partner, Sarah is my rock. Her support has been unwavering since day one, and I would not have made it through some of those dark times without her and our son. She continues to push me and to keep our family going while I take us on this wild ride.

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