Using vibrant colors, a palette knife, and simple subject matter, Trevor Mikula is a contemporary painter creating fun conversational art with whimsical flair. His basic subject matter allows the viewer to make playful interpretations through humor while enjoying themselves in the moment.
Art culture has always focused more on serious subject matter, political satire, or transgression of boundaries, especially with the heaviness in our world today. Trevor’s work is different, his comedic and kind personality come through offering amusing and mischievous imagery that demands a smile no matter what your personality.
Trevor was born in Saginaw, Michigan with an identical twin brother. He was raised in a religious household without access to a tv, which allowed him time to find creative things to do despite feeling deprived. Growing up he enjoyed drawing and doodling in his school books. His parents encouraged him and his siblings to fill their time with activity rather than sitting around the house. His mother often worked on crafty projects but Trevor was the only one in his family interested in making art a career.
Trevor remembers his grandfather buying him a book called How to Draw Animals when he was in kindergarten. He explains how he doodled onto rolled butcher paper, “I would literally copy the animals out of the book onto paper, roll them up, take them to school and sell them. My mother started asking, how I was getting all this money? Obviously, that was the beginning of my art career.”
When Trevor was eight his family relocated to Spring Hill, Tennessee when his dad was transferred by General Motors to work for the Saturn Corporation as an engineer. His family regularly traveled to different countries on mission trips through their church. He feels blessed that he had the opportunity to experience other cultures and do things most kids his age were not experiencing at such a young age.
Trevor studied graphic design for a little more than a year at a trade school in Nashville but after landing a job after college he realized immediately that it was not what he wanted to do. For a while, he waited tables at different restaurants around town and believes the experience helped strengthen his problem-solving skills today. He handed out business cards with images of his work inviting customers to his art shows. Over time he managed to build up a good fan base. “One day my boss said, you do not need to be here, you need to be painting. So that’s what I decided to do, and I made the decision to paint full time,” he explains.
Trevor believes it is hard to find playful work in the art world and loves that he stands out for that reason. Early in his career he experienced a lot of rejection and found it was difficult to get anywhere as an artist. He searched galleries across the country, found the ones he felt might like his style, and shared his work in hopes of finding representation. He explains how he got his first big break, “I was house sitting in Nashville for someone who collected Southwestern art, and came across a magazine ad for a gallery in Arizona. A week later, my friend’s buddy was in town and I discovered it was his gallery. I submitted my work, and here I am 15 years later as one of their more sought-after artists.”
After a few years, Trevor began to feel stuck with his art career in Nashville, at the suggestion of a friend he considered moving to Provincetown, Massachusetts which is well known for its artist’s community. In 2010 when his grandfather passed away he spent the inheritance along with his entire savings and relocated. He rented a space for the year, opening his own art gallery in hopes of rebooting his career.
The seasonal tourist community of Provincetown is the oldest art colony in the country sporting beautiful beaches and a casual party vibe. While Trevor’s retail space stayed busy he realized after three years that side of the business was not working. He couldn’t afford to pay someone to sit at the space and running the gallery kept him from painting. Financially he was paying for a living space, a retail space, and a vacant condo in downtown Nashville. With the financial stress weighing on his creativity, he made the decision to let the retail space go and move back to Nashville despite his disappointment.
When the 2019 NFL draft brought 600,000 fans downtown and 50 million viewers to his Nashville doorstep he was so frustrated that booked a ticket for that weekend in Provincetown. As fate would have it he ran into an old friend whose partner had tragically passed away. That serendipitous event rekindled a friendship and led to their decision to marry last year. They are building an art house on the water with a large art studio Trevor will work from that will also serve as a space to entertain.
Trevor loves the small town of only thirty-five hundred people that live in Provincetown full time and has an amazingly broad group of creative friends. Currently, he has a small studio on the beach he is renting until his new studio is completed and he loves being able to ride his bike everywhere. “Where we live is amazing, it is magical. Sometimes we take the boat out to see the whales, the whole town is very beautiful. We live two blocks from the pier where Andy Warhol came to party, it’s also where Liza Minnelli and Tennessee Williams would visit back in the day,” Trevor explains.
As a painter, Trevor is excited to do what he loves every day. He starts each art piece by priming his canvas with black. He then does a quick sketch of what he plans to paint and begins underpainting by adding random colors onto the surface of the canvas. He never uses a brush, only a palette knife, blending thick choppy textures of vibrant color into layers. Once the base dries he starts painting his image over the underpainting allowing the textures and colors from below to enhance the topcoat.
“I have a tattoo that says art is life. When I think about what lasts from generation to generation or from societies and cultures, it’s always art. The things that we see from history are art, literature, paintings. They are things that make you feel good, and that’s such a beautiful part of life to me. That is what I want to create and it is why I love to paint.” –Trevor Mikula
Trevor constantly doodles to come up with ideas for his paintings admitting it is his playful childlike subconscious way of thinking coming through. Many times it might be a simple funny title that he will later match to a single subject. He believes that his art titles are important because they invite people to start a conversation. He frequently incorporates animals and flowers into his work, using rich colors. He loves purple tones the most and regularly sees small elements of the drawings from his youth coming out in his work.
“When I am creating my artwork painting what I want to paint, I find that brings me the most joy in what I do. People seem to enjoy it more than the commissioned process of having to explain to me what they want me to create for them. I have this quote from David Hockney that I love- I paint what I like, what I like, and where I like. When I subscribe to that I find creativity flowing out of me so much more.” –Trevor Mikula
Trevor attests how important having support from his partner and friends has helped change the way he thinks about his art. He has stopped doing custom commissioned work, embraces saying no to doing things he is uncomfortable with, and is only focused on creating personal work. He found that trying to capture the vision of what others wanted, felt forced and unsatisfying 90 percent of the time. He prefers to let go, enjoy the process and not worry about the ideals of others. He admits that the crazier his work becomes the more people respond and that enhances his creativity.
“I think the hard part about growing up in the South is you learn to constantly please other people. In New England, that’s a completely different story and people expect you to say no.” –Trevor Mikula
Trevor works as small as three inches or as big as eight feet in size but currently, is focused more on creating larger scaled art pieces. His challenge is getting supplies locally despite the area being saturated with artists. During the pandemic last year, he focused on tiny little paintings he could sell on Instagram for a few hundred dollars each. Wanting to do something special he also gave a lot of paintings away to health care workers to show his gratitude.
“My job is to be an artist, not a business person. I need to be in the studio creating, not dilly-dallying with or haggling with people over the price of my work. I know what I’m going to do. It’s really nice to have people that believe in your work but I don’t do well with the pressure of selling.” –Trevor Mikula
Other than Instagram, Trevor no longer tries to sell his own work, instead, he prefers having a gallery do the work for him. Over the years he kept his art affordable but now understands the value of his time. In the past he often undercut himself realizing later that people came to expect the same pricing. That deminished value made it difficult to take things to the next level as an artist. After going to Art Basel, an art fair for collectors in Miami, Florida, he developed new insight to the value of his work. He learned what his peers were doing and now recognizes the importance of matching the right art market with pricing the work.
“I’ve always heard that showing up is 90 percent of the battle, and I believe that is true. There are days I come into work and can’t focus or find myself unable to work. On those days I ask myself, what would I not do? What color would I not use? And those challenges help me get to the next place.” –Trevor Mikula
Trevor is dedicated to his role of being an artist, he is up and in the studio at 6 AM, seven days a week. He generally works until one every day, then takes off to have fun riding around on his bike or swimming in the ocean. His recent has taken him outside of his comfort zone using older subject matter and putting a contemporary funky twist to it. The response has been good and has helped take him to a level where he isn’t afraid of trying new things.
“I think part of getting older is you get to a point and realize you have to create the life you want, you can’t just wait for it. The past year really changed my mindset, I was always chasing the career and the money. I don’t even care anymore. I still set goals but I want to have fun, experience life, meet positive people and let go of any negativity. It allowed me to focus on what I can do that makes me happy and I see so many positive things coming my way. In life, you have to find a balance with enjoying life while still being able to pay your bills.”
Today as an artist Trevor is pushing himself to create and get as much work as possible to the galleries. He prefers to feel present in the moment rather than looking too far ahead and he believes there are people willing to pay for what they love. He says he doesn’t want to get to the end of his life and realize he hasn’t accomplished the things with his work that he wants. He believes no amount of money can account for his time. “If somebody wants to pay a ton of money for something that takes up all of my time when I’d rather be working on something that I find interesting, I’d rather do what’s interesting,” he says.
He hopes next year to schedule some shows, he is represented in Provincetown, MA by the William Scott Gallery, and by these other galleries, Shain Gallery in Charlotte NC, Bennett Galleries in Nashville TN, the Maestri Gallery in Dallas TX, Gallery 1401 in Chattanooga, TN and the Wilde Meyer Gallery in Scottsdale & Tucson AZ, where he has a great fan base of people for his work out West.
If you want to learn more you can visit his Instagram page.
Listen to Trevor’s story and take it with you on The Creative Push Podcast!
You can watch The Creative Push interview with Trevor below!
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