Bright colors abound from the walls of an apartment occupied by Michael Jackson. The paintings on canvas upon those walls come from Michael’s talent and from his heart. That apartment, within the city of Tomah, is the place of genesis for those creations, a place where Michael can make his dreams come true, and a place for those people who come to share in his dreams.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 5. I used to draw coyote and roadrunner and then Charlie Brown,” he said.
He created his first painting when he was 19 when he got inspiration from an art show he attended and he’s been drawing and painting ever since.
Recently, he has a renewed sense of purpose, making the best of his talent.
“I decided to regain my name with artwork,” he said. “I’m proud of what I do today.”
Michael has been creating his works of art and then hanging them in his living room for people to view and buy. People have been becoming aware of his paintings mostly by word-of-mouth, but recently he has hoped to expand the awareness of his paintings by advertising in the Hocak Worak.
“In order to paint, you have to have a focused mind,” he said. His favorite subjects are horses, eagles, bears, and buffalos. Lately, Michael has sold his paintings in the atrium of the Tribal Office Building in Black River Falls. A few weeks ago, he sold four paintings at the TOB and he plans to be there again on May 3.
It is Michael’s goal to finish one painting per day, which usually takes him between four and 12 hours to accomplish.
He estimates that he has completed 575 paintings in his 30 years of working with canvas and various paints.
“If it wasn’t for family, being raised by my grandparents, my art wouldn’t be what it is today. All my siblings were involved in some sort of artistic talent,” he said.
Michael grew up in North Dakota, raised by his grandparents, Ignatius, and Sadie Smith Jackson. He was taught the traditional ways, the songs, medicines, and stories that are carried on and shared with the people.
“I’m really happy my grandparents raised me. They taught me that life is what you make it,” Michael said. “It’s your choice. Your life can be good or bad, they told me. I’m thankful to be blessed with the Creator’s gift.”
He worked for two years creating murals and logos in Ft. Totten, North Dakota. His future in art really took off in 1994 when his artwork became popular and he was hired to create murals at the casino in Spirit Lake. Those murals are still there today, he said.
He once was asked by a Las Vegas casino owner to work for him. He wanted Michael to paint murals at the casino, plus other paintings and portraits. Michael appreciated the offer but turned down the request. He received an invitation to attend classes at the Santé Fe Art School and they offered to pay all his expenses. He declined.
“I rather paint on my own. I am self-taught and never took any classes.”
One of his paintings is on display at the Coming Home Museum in New Jersey. “And I’m not even dead yet,” he said.
Usually, the museum only displays works of art from artists no longer alive. Acrylic is his preferred paint medium, although he worked with oils in his younger years.
“Acrylic paint is very hard to work with unless you have had a lot of practice. Acrylic is unforgiving,” he said. I started working with oils but I like acrylic better. It dries faster.”
He donated one of his paintings to the American Legion in Black River Falls, which was auctioned for $6,500. The money helped pay for lighting for the softball field. Two of his paintings are on permanent display in the atrium of the Tribal Office Building. Each painting is of a buffalo and was purchased in 1998 by the president of the nation at the time. They are on display on the wall by the sofa and chairs behind the front security desk. In addition, one of his paintings of Iwo Jima is on display at the Black River Falls Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m inspired by people wanting to see more of my work,” he said. “It builds my spirit.”
One of Michael’s most flattering experiences was when the late rock singer with the same name, Michael Jackson, heard of him. He was told that from a friend, Donald Jody Luger, who worked with the singer on occasion. Luger was in Jackson’s music video “Black and White” and a rider in the movie Dances with Wolves.
“It would have been a pleasure to meet Michael Jackson. I would have liked him to see my work,” he said. He wanted to do a painting for him, but when he got around to wanting to paint it, the singer died. However, he still wants to do it. “I will do a portrait of him and give it to his sister Janet.”
When Michael paints, he will sometimes sketch out the scene before painting, other times just painting without any further preparations. When he paints murals, such as those 15’ x 20’, people will often ask him how he gets the proportions and everything so perfect.
“A lot of practice,” he tells them. “That’s where algebra comes in handy.”
It doesn’t bother Michael to have people watch him as he paints. He can paint anywhere.
“I painted a mural in a casino with hundreds of people watching me. They disconnected and removed a whole row of slot machines, put up scaffolding, and had me paint in front of everyone there.”
Michael has a vision to someday expand his passion for painting into something that will help other young artists get their start in the endeavor.
“One Dream Art Gallery” is what he wants to call it. The name has special meaning to him.
“You only see it once when you dream,” he said.
He hopes to open a gallery of that name, selling his own work and selling other artists’ work on commission. He learned about running the operations of an art gallery when he was the receptionist for the Two Rivers Gallery at the Minneapolis American Indian Center.
He knows young artists need supplies and he would do his best to provide those to them.
“It inspires me to see artists developing their skills,” Michale said. “We all have a gift, whether it’s music, art, singing, writing, or dancing. Everyone has a talent.”
When he gets “One Dream Art Gallery” established, he plans to have a website to showcase the available paintings. Also, he hopes to make available lithograph prints from his paintings.
He’s enjoyed the 52 years that he’s lived so far, he said. Michael has two adult children who live in North Dakota: Todd Jackson and Monica Chaske. Although he enjoys what he does now, he still looks back on the beginnings of his life. He has always cherished those times and the people who set him on the correct path for the rest of his life.
“The best memories are of the laughter I shared with my grandparents,” he said.