Artist Michi Meko’s outdoor life helps him delve deep inside himself.
Michi Meko won MOCA GA, Atlanta Artadia and Joan Mitchell Foundation awards within days in November 2017, but the multidisciplinary Atlanta artist was done with painting in 2020. He left the studio to camp, fish and embrace a new passion for tying fishing flies out of trash, burlap, feathers, raw cotton and even his own dreadlocks.
But Buckhead resident Courtney Bombeck’s persistence persuaded Meko to accept a commission in 2021, and he has painted and exhibited ever since, now represented by Bombeck’s CO-OP Art Atlanta.
Meko, an Alabama native, ended 2022 with a shared exhibit of Southern landscape paintings in New York while finishing a commission for The Coca-Cola Co. To accompany Meko’s solo installation last summer, Chicago’s Kavi Gupta Gallery published a book of his field notes, sketches and photos; Black Navigation sold out its 100 copies in two hours.
Meko’s work will be part of a group exhibit, The Alchemists, due to open March 2 at Buckhead’s Johnson Lowe Gallery.
He still ties flies for his own use, including a creation he calls the Georgia Dry Rub, made with a potato chip wrapper, deer fur and rooster hackle.
Meko spoke from his downtown Temporary Studios space about fishing, art and the heroic journeys that connect them.
Have you always done landscapes?
No, no, no. I absolutely, for most of my life, made fun of landscape painters, so in a way I’ve become the thing that I’ve made fun of. I’m not even interested in creating the perfect picturesque landscape. There’s something deeper that I’m after.
How do you bring the wilderness into your work?
From being out so much, it was only natural for that environment to translate into this studio practice but then still keeping my whole history of graffiti writing and my interest in abstraction. When we look at the landscape, we’re the viewer, right? Well, what if the landscape could reflect back? Or what if it passed judgment on us? I began to realize that these landscapes were just portraits of what was going on within myself.
How often do you go into the wild?
I’ll try to go every weekend if I can. My car is packed. It’s got firewood. It’s got tents. It’s got a whole kitchen in there, axes, my fishing gear. [I’m] just taking a black perspective to this weird sort of traditional sport and questioning its history and tradition. It’s rigid and boring. What fun is that? That’s not hip-hop. Maybe it’s jazz, but it’s like Benny Goodman. Benny Goodman’s good, but he’s not Miles Davis.
How is the fly-fishing world responding?[Adventure photographer] Chad Brown was here filming a documentary about my art and my fly-fishing. The Flyfish Journal did an interview with me, which I think is pretty cool.
How do you get more black people into nature?
The more that I’m vocal, the more that I am visible, the more that I do show these experiences, people will become curious. So I am trying to start a residency for black men in wild spaces because you have to go face the dragon, the demon, which is yourself. Then those men can have the hero’s journey. Hopefully at the end of 2023, I’ll be able to pull that off.
Jack-of-all-trades writer covering almost anything but beauty and fashion at Simply Buckhead; fond of flamingos and sloths.