An Interview with painter Miz Thang, an Artist of the Blues, Folk Art, Outsider, and Visionary

"The blues is our evolution and it can be traced back through history. The blues is also our future - listen to it…"

Miz Thang: The Love Power of Art

Call her a painter, a wood worker, a lover of obscure blues music; Miz Thang is all of these things. She honors those obscure (and not-so-obscure) musicians by recreating their images as whimsical and colorful painted wood cutouts. Each one is unique, vibrant, and fun—you can almost hear the music of B.B. King, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey and Captain Beefheart.

Miz Thang is a self taught folk artist from Hawkinsville, GA. Labels are not her thing but most folks want to know just what type of art she creates so she usually rattles off a long list of funky names that include: outsider, raw, rebel, folk, whohadada and contemporary, just to name a few. Through her eyes she sees things differently and she strives to show others what she sees via her art. She has been called weird and down right crazy, all of which she takes as a compliment because she does not want to be normal. After all a normal person couldn't create her art! Most of her life she has been a collector of what most call junk, but what she calls her treasures. When she is not riding around looking for more junk, she can be found in her back yard turning her junk into art. She is inspired by strong women, musicians, and by people, animals and events that have impacted her life.

All of her art is original. Her wooden pieces are usually cut out of cabinet grade birch and then sanded. She paints with acrylic paint and sometimes she coats her pieces with shellac. She doesn't use brushes, but prefers to paint exclusively with her fingers. When her fingers are in the paint she feels connected to her art and she feels she is passing along some of her special brand of mojo. She also uses objects she finds and that others give to her. Most of her art contains a message, sometimes serious, sometimes funny, depending on her mood.

Some of her creations have been on display at shows, museums and galleries throughout the USA and abroad. Her art is on display at the Smith Calloway Banks Southern Folk Art collection and Research Center at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA. Her blues art has been on display at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, Georgia since 2004.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Miz, when was your first desire to become involved in the painting and art?

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an artist. I have always made things and drawn, but I never thought my art was very good since I had never had a lesson. My sister, who is 13 years older than me is very artistic, and she majored in art in college. Her work has always been an inspiration to me.  Then, when I was in my late 20’s I began noticing Howard Finster, Nellie Mae Rowe, and many other folk artist. As I admired their art, it just hit me…I have a passion for art and creating….dont let anything stop you….and so I began listening to the music I love while creating the art that has always been inside my head.

What first attracted you to the music & how has the blues and rock music changed your life?

I was first attracted to music when I was 4 or 5 and began listening to my sisters Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Ray Charles (and the list goes on) records on a stereo. Even back then, that music was shaking my soul…When I am working on my art, I am always listening to music wheather it be blues, rock, country, etc…it helps me focus, it synchronizes my movements. 

What does the Art and Music offered you?

Art and music offers me presence, it grounds me and then at other times it offers me wings to fly to places that only my mind can take me through creativity..For me, art and music are necessary for my life.

What do you learn about yourself from the colors and music?

My life expands because of colors and music. I learn that my imagination is boundless and that colors and music intertwine in my soul.

What characterize the philosophy of your work & progress, how do you describe your philosophy about the ART?

I try to keep my work raw.  I do not want to know any of the “rules” of art.  Basically, I don’t want to have any restrictions or formal influence.  

What are some of the most memorable drawing you've had?

My most memorable piece would have to be the very first blues piece I did. I was listening to John Lee Hooker and Bonnie Raitt sing In the Mood. I played that song over and over until I finished the piece. Two more memorable pieces would be my Ma Rainey and Blind Willie McTell life size pieces. These 2 were displayed in the Atlanta Airport for 1 year. I had to do a lot of research on these 2 and of course, I loved listening to their music as I was creating the pieces!

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the art and the music? 

Well, concerning my art, I try not to be influenced so I haven’t learned any secrets from anyone. I guess if anything, Finster, Rowe and the first wave of folk artist taught me to follow my passion. Music - I think Jerry Garcia, watching him do what he loved-sharing his gift with everyone…

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

I don’t think I have just 1 best moment. What I love best about my career is the people I am able to meet. Art has opened a lot of doors for me and I have made many friends. 

The worst moment, most definitely, would be being  broken down on the side of the road, in the middle of the night, after a show-dog tired and needing help.  

How does the music come out of your art? What kind of music you hear when you painting?

I think before the music comes out of my art, it goes into my art. When I paint or draw, I am always listening to music, usually music of the person I am working on. I like for my pieces to show movement and since I paint with my fingers, I like to think the music flows from my fingertips onto my art.

Are there any “ghost memories” of the late bluesmen and musicians you drew which you’d like to share with us? 

I feel many of the late musicians presence quite often as I am working.  Several years ago, a friend and I took a trip down the blues highway.  I love graveyards so we visited many of the blues greats grave sites.  I could definitely feel their spirits.  

Who from THE MUSICIANS you have drew, had the easiest pure original attributes for your painting?

That would be between 2 great musicians BB KING and Jerry Garcia. 

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from your inspiration to make a portrait?

I was selling my art at the Kentuck Art Show in Northport Alabama about 7 years ago. As I was in my booth, I heard some deep south blues music coming from one of the stages.  I ran to the stage, leaving my booth unattended, so I could see who was playing. I found Willie King and the Liberators playing some mesmerizing blues music. I had my camera with me and I took a lot of pictures so that I could try to do justice to this band through my art. After the set was over, I went up on stage and talked to Willie and his band. Willie has since passed away but I will always love listening to his music.

Which is your favorite art piece? In which drawing can someone see the best of your love to blues?

It’s hard to pick a favorite piece but my Blind Willie Mctell would be my favorite. It’s large and I was able to incorporate many of my techniques into this one. I think you can look at all of my pieces and tell that I love music!

Which of the musicians were the most “difficult” and which was the most “gifted”?

SRV is most gifted, hands down, for the male and for the female, I love some Janis!

Who are your favorite musicians, both old and new, would you like to meet and drew?

The 2 I just mentioned are 2 of my favs as well as Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Gaye Adegbalola, Willie King, Debbie Bond, RL Burnside, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Johnson, T Model Ford, Rory Block….there are just soooo many!!!  I have met many of the ones I listed but I would like to meet Bonnie Raitt.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues and rock is always with us. Why do think that is?

The roots of music is from the blues…all music stems from the blues. There are so many blues songs that have been recorded in different genres… Born under a bad sign sung by blues greats Etta James, Albert King and Paul Butterfield and then also recorded by rock musicians Jimi Hendrix And Cream. That blues thread ties all music together. The blues is our evolution and it can be traced back through history. The blues is also our future - listen to it…..

Do you know why the blues is connected to the southern culture?

Its connected to southern culture because of the ways the black slaves would sing in code to convey messages about escape routes: the slaves developed field hollers when they were doing back breaking work on the plantations. These hollers conveyed messages as well as developing a work rhythm where 1 man called and another answered. Next came the minstrel shows that toured the south..then the chitlin circuit…

How you would spend a day with Robert Johnson? 

Since I love to research the musicians and find out every detail I can about their lives, I would sit down with Robert and have him tell me his life story..I would ask him to take me on a tour of the juke joints he played in, see where he lost his life, go to the crossroads and show me where he is buried. To end the day, I would ask him to play a few songs for me. My favorites - I believe I’ll dust my broom, hellhound on my trail and terraplane blues. That would be a perfect day with RJ!

What would you say to Ma Rainey?

Ma Rainey - I would tell her I like her style - from her business sense, the way she dressed and presented herself right down to that raspy deep voice. I would also like to tell her about all the inductions she has received . If I were able

To ask her anything, I would love to hear her stories about performing with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. 

What advice would you give to Duane Allman?

Duane - Don’t get on that motorcycle and if you do don’t go on Hillcrest Ave,   How is it up there  Skydog?

What would you like to ask Stevie Ray Vaughan? 

I would ask SRV if he thought about the premonition he had about his death prior to boarding the helicopter.  And THEN, I would ask him to pleaseeeeeeeeeeeee play Pride and Joy for me.

What is your painting DREAM?  

At this moment my dream piece is of no particular person but of producing some cd art and of decorating businesses or public places (bars, restaurants, etc…) with my art. 

To which person would you like to send a piece of your art?

I would love to send a piece of my art to Little Richard. I would also love to meet him. Little Richard was raised in Macon, Ga, which is very close to my home town..I grew up watching him on TV and listening to his music. I loved his pompadour!

Miz Thang - Official website

 

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