Like “waking from a dream”, artist Mike Willcox turns to his canvas to understand his subconscious

27 September 2019

The work of Mike Willcox is rich in mysticism. Drawing heavily from the art deco realm, the American multi-disciplinary artist gets his inspiration from “existing, healing, growing, love, romance, wind, storms, history, plants, life – all kinds of things,” he tells It’s Nice That. The result is a portfolio that comes peppered with illustrations, tapestries, graphic novels and tarot decks – a medley of things that are intensely symbolic.

After working on numerous of jobs over the years, Mike finally has the chance to focus solely on his art. His paintings are formed in a two ways: sometimes, they form clearly and other times they are a little more cloudy. “I’ll have a vague idea of colour and a small piece of a figure I can’t quite make out stuck in my head, and I’ll have to make it,” he says. And sometimes, he’ll create a painting based off the things he sees in meditations or dreams. “I meditate a lot,” he continues. “Staying healthy is the biggest part of being able to make focused things for me, and it’s also what a lot of the work ends up being about.”

Mike’s paintings depict various symbols, postures and colours. He describes his work as “waking from a dream”, as he turns to his canvas to decipher what his subconscious is attempting to communicate. Technically, it’s his own artistic language that he translates through the use of a pen and ink work. Pencils, canvas, wood, and paint will also make an appearance, after which he’ll often use Photoshop to colour in and add in the layers – the “same principals as Japanese printmaking”, he explains.


Mike Willcox: Milk of the Heavens


Mike Willcox: One Hand on the Ground, One Hand in Space

Most importantly, Mike sees art as a form of therapeutic release. “For me, it goes hand-in-hand with my own personal healing journey, doing what I can to be the best version of myself coming from a very deeply rooted place of PTSD,” he says. “A lot of my pieces are broken down into past, present, future and the conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind, plus four different archetypal energies.”

He continues to discuss how he always works from left to right – the left representing the past and the right representing the future. “I have lots of symbols indicating which things are which. For example, one thing I put in a lot of pieces is open eyes, one open eye or half closed eye, and fully closed eyes to indicate the different minds. I also use specific colours to represent these things.” Additionally, the ways in which his subjects interact and look at either other are intentional, as are the spheres – frequently used as a “representative of the spirit” – as are the nine-pointed starts, the chalice and the types of animals used. “It would take a very long time to explain one piece.”

With plans to “deep dive” into a novel about his experiences and reasons for making art, Mike would like to expand his practice into a more spiritual and symbolic territory. Aiding this growth is his involvement with music (made in guise of Beach Wizard), where he plans to make something “a little more intimate and relaxing.” Not only this, but he will also be completing a deck of tarot cards, has recently completed a 30-foot mural for downtown LA restaurant called the Red Herring, written sketch comedy, has illustrated a 200-page graphic novel and has recently closed his first solo exhibition at Sotheby’s Realty Gallery in Florida Keys. Exciting times ahead!


Mike Willcox: Meditations


Mike Willcox: Beyond the Veil


Mike Willcox: Farewell to a Muse


Mike Willcox: Celestials


Mike Willcox: Cocktail


Mike Willcox: The Chalice


Mike Willcox: Sula and the Plunging Heart


Mike Willcox: The Egret

Share Article

About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.