Abstract and figurative painter Erica Michele uses her creative talents as a method of healing and wellness. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, this artist can make one feel by echoing her own lived experiences through her art with unabashed vulnerability and strength. Deep textures and unconfined shapes expose the intensity behind her artwork. Erica allows her heart and hand to shape each form on the canvas with unrestrained beauty, allowing for self-interpretation by the viewer. Read on to discover more about Erica Michele’s journey to become the artist she is today and view the hidden dimensions you will find in each art piece. Follow Erica at @ericamichele.art on Instagram for more artistic inspiration.
(left) Erica Michele; Photography by Akemi Carter. (right) “Emma” (2019).
Michiel Perry: What early influences emboldened your pursuit of becoming an artist?
Erica Michele: I have always loved art. I grew up performing in theater, and I have often visited shows, museums and art galleries all over the world. I also love fashion, design, music, and nature, which I largely attribute to my family. My late paternal grandmother sewed dresses and quilts, and my late paternal grandfather was a brick mason and a farmer. My mother plays a variety of musical instruments and has an eclectic, unique sense of style. My father is a farmer, landscaper, and horticulturist. My childhood home, which my mother decorated, was filled with beautiful antiques, paintings, wallpapers and fabrics and its yard, which my father designed and maintained, was always impeccable with stunning flowers and greenery growing up. They all instilled in me a fond appreciation for beautiful elements and spaces.
While I have always been passionate about art, I did not intentionally set out to become an artist. I started painting in May of 2019 when I temporarily became visually impaired. During that time, I was a partner at a global law firm and had to take an extensive medical leave. Creating art took my mind off thinking about if, when, or how I would regain my eyesight. In my early paintings, I saw the colors and outlines of my work but not the details. I regained most of my sight in stages over the period of a year and a half along with this newfound gift: the ability to create art.
In July 2019, close friends started encouraging me to share my art on social media. I sold my first painting to one of those friends a few months later.
“Murrell’s Inlet” (2019)
Michiel: How has growing up in South Carolina influenced your creativity and work?
Erica: While I did participate in performing arts while growing up in South Carolina, I never thought about nor was I encouraged to pursue a career in the arts. I also did not personally know any professional artists while growing up.
My family and I do take a lot of pride in being from South Carolina, however. That sense of pride shows through in my paintings and has influenced everything about me, including my creativity and work. When I look at my figurative paintings of women in dresses for example, I immediately see the women in my family: my mother, my late grandmothers, my aunts. They are all confident, stylish, hardworking, vulnerable and unapologetically Black women; that is who I am. To honor my family members, I name most of these pieces after them.
Similarly, most of my abstract pieces are influenced by and named after my family’s farms and my love of the sea islands and marshland surrounding Charleston, South Carolina, which is where my mother grew up.
“Earth’s Core” (2019)
Michiel: What do you want your art to communicate?
Erica: For me, my art communicates faith, peace, empowerment, resilience, healing, and beauty. I understand that everyone sees things in their own ways, so I hope my art encourages such unique, individual interpretations. I also hope my work makes others see that art is for everyone and it helps people to slow down and appreciate the beauty around them. I hope when people look at my art, they are inspired to choose health and wellness if they ever find themselves in a potentially life-changing situation of difficulty and uncertainty. My journey to becoming an artist has shown me that it is often in your greatest moments of adversity that your true purpose and gifts are revealed. I trust my work communicates such.
Michiel: Do you have another passion that fuels your art?
Erica: Lived experiences, particularly family, legacy and culture, move me. These all fuel who I am and are intuitive and consistent themes in my art.
Michiel: Can you share the personal benefits you receive while creating your paintings?
Erica: What made me first pick up a paintbrush was the need to release control and a search for greater balance and self-care. I could not control what was happening to my eyesight, and I had to process the reality of seeing differently. Creating art helped me gain a new perspective and cope with all of this. It also gave me a new appreciation for health and wellness holistically, beyond the traditional health and medicine that I was familiar with as a healthcare and FDA lawyer.
For me, it is about using art to heal and giving myself permission to slow down and embrace my creativity. Art is a flow-like form of meditation and therapy for me. Realizing that my work not only helps me but also benefits others is an additional reward. The beauty of this journey is what motivates me to create and share more of my work.
“They Never Left” (2021)
Michiel: What is your favorite connection or experience you have had after finishing a piece of art?
Erica: It is only after I finish a piece when I realize what I have painted or what the piece is conveying to me. I typically do not plan or conceptualize a piece before or even while I’m painting it beyond the initial color scheme. It is fascinating to connect the dots this way and see how my art subconsciously depicts the different people, interests, places and cultures that have left an imprint on me.
“Infinite Possibilities” (2019)
Michiel: Can you describe feedback from your art that made you see your work differently?
Erica: People of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds have told me they see themselves in my figurative paintings and that they evoke great emotions, particularly joy. These paintings typically have no facial features, and the bodies are composed of strokes of black paint. With most of these paintings, I see myself and members of my family when I look at them.
It is very moving for me to know that others also personally identify with my art in a similar manner. It is beautiful and heartening for me to connect with others this way, especially during the pandemic. Interactions like this constantly show me how art has the power to unite, restore, and inspire others.
Michiel: How is your career as a lawyer helping you to build your brand as an artist?
Erica: Good question. I spoke about this a few weeks ago after visiting an art exhibit with a friend in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a lawyer, I know what it means to protect a brand in terms of intellectual property rights, liability considerations, and the significance of asking questions and negotiating terms in applicable agreements. I also value having trusted advisors who can advocate on my behalf and look out for my best interests. I think these are all extremely important in any type of branding activity and business dealing, including those involving artists.
I also think my emerging career as an artist is helping me to become a better lawyer in that I now look at things from even more perspectives. Combining my analytical and creative natures has been extremely exciting for me.
Michiel: What would you say to people who would like to become a professional artist?
Erica: I would say what I say to anyone who is considering pursuing something they are passionate about. Just believe in yourself! If the true desire is there, it is important to realize that God (the Universe) gave it to you for a reason and will provide what you need. Stay optimistic and go after it.
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