We had the good fortune of connecting with Maya Mitchell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maya, how do you think about risk?
Standing on the sandy bank of the Ganges River, I let go of the remaining strands of my hair. My head, smooth as a baby’s bottom, was shaved by one of the monk’s barbers with a straight razor. On my journey of “non-attachment” I threw away my things, moved to India, and let go of traditional American standards of beauty. To say I’m a “risk-taker”, and that I do so to grow, is an understatement. The one defining, life-altering, constant in my life has been risk. I took my first major risk when I was 6 years old and refused to enter my abusive fathers home. I threw such a fit, after a particularly nasty incident, I never stepped through his door again. When I was 14, I left home voluntarily to put some distance between myself and him. Like First Lady Elenor Rosevelt said: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” Not only taking risks to survive, I sought them out. Starting in my late teens I traveled to a total of 17 countries, and circled the world to the east, before I was legal to drink in the United States. At 20, I briefly worked in Switzerland under a one-eyed Italian chef, who had lost the eye in a cooking accident. When I wanted to think clearly, I’d crawl out my skylight on the sixth floor and sit on the roof, in a valley surrounded by the Alps. It was a steep roof, and it often involved drinking wine, so it was risky to be up there. I have never thought so clearly. Each country, each adventure, was a new risk I was taking. I have never been so profoundly altered than by my risks. Everything new is scary and takes a bit of a leap. Growth is merely the stringing together of tiny scary steps that lead up to bigger results. To stare fear down is to take a risk. I would even go so far ast to argue that: Risk is an essential part of growth. As a result of this, I don’t just take risks, I seek them out. Surprisingly, one of the riskiest things I have ever done is become a painter. It was scarier than being in the middle of a wild dog fight in Rishi Kesh. Since I was a small child, the term “starving artist” was thrown around. Professional artistry was not something to strive for, like an education, but something to guard against. Painting humanity is especially risky. People rarely like photos, or paintings, of themselves. You reveal something about the person in a portrait. It’s exposing, almost intimate. In addition, the painting most notably reveals something about me, the painter herself. All of my models tend to look a bit fearful in my portrayals, a palatable feeling I experience when painting. I doubt this is coincidence. The trick with fear, and risk, is to, (as Susan Jefferes wrote): “Feel the fear and do it anyways”. I still feel I am free-falling. However, I’ve never been happier. The experiences I’ve had risk taking have created the most permanent, profound changes in who I am. As Helen Keller said: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” The risks you take define you. Take more.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I paint impulsively, and fast. I don’t plan my paintings and I listen more to my gut than my eyes. I use colors like I’m changing clothes and toss them on canvas hastily with a palette knife. I mix them on the canvas, a trait I’ve been chastised for by an art teacher. I don’t have formal art training, except from public school, and that one class I took in college. People are my fascination, and as a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA), painting them is my bliss. I have a graduate degree in Psych and use it to convey deeper emotion in my subjects. Many people think it’s strange that I both paint and work with the science of behavior analysis. However, art and science go together beautifully. Think of the depth I can add to my art using the profiling skills I have acquired. Certainly, I feel my paintings have become more realistic since my formal psychology degree was completed. I strive to convey the entirety of a human personality, in a single moment. Humans are an ever-changing continuum and to believe I have the capacity to capture everything about someone is a fallacy. However, what I have learned from profiling is that we convey more about ourselves than we realize. I want my painting subjects to have the same tells. Just as we will forever ponder if the Mona Lisa is smiling, I strive to make my viewers question the intentions of my subjects.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
A week in Sarasota, Florida: Day One: Breakfast at The Breakfast House: 1817 Fruitville Rd, Sarasota, FL 34236 Spend the day at Selby Botanical Gardens: Wander around the most beautiful place you’ve ever been and eat lunch at their cafe. Dinner at Boca: 19 S Lemon Ave, Sarasota, FL 34236 Day Two: Breakfast at SunGarden Cafe Spend the day at Siesta Key Beach: Top rated beach in the nation, you can wade far out into the ocean without too many waves or a lot of depth. The sand is as fine as flour and so white. Bring a picnic lunch! I recommend putting: “Siesta Key Acess Point 9” into Google Maps and hitting “search”. If the parking lot is full – check out the other access points (1-10!) Dinner at Owen’s fish camp. Eat inside and grab drinks and dessert in the backyard. Go on specific nights to hear live, outdoor, folk music. I recommend wandering the gallery next door too! Day Three: Eat an early breakfast at the Green Zebra, hip, naturally inclined, healthy + unique coffee shop. Today, let’s kayak the bay. Throw in to the left of “O’Leary’s Restaurant” and stay left. See the outside of Selby gardens and keep staying left, over the oyster beds, to the tributaries and check out the backyards of the most beautiful mansions in Sarasota. Paddle back and eat lunch at O’Leary’s, I recommend their tuna melt and a pina colada. Head home to rest and get ready for a fancy night out at the rooftop of the Westin Hotel. Go in the hotel, find the elevators, and head to floor 19. This rooftop bar and restaurant features an olympic size pool (only guests can swim) and the best view in the city. Dress a little fancy. Delicious, limited menu, yummy drinks, a bit pricey. Day Four: Grab a quick breakfast at Perq Coffee, then, head to the Mote Aquarium for the day. Spend the morning at one side of the museum. Eat lunch at the Mote cafe, then cross the street to see the other half of the museum in the afternoon. Eat dinner at The Salty Dog across the street. Day Five: Spend the afternoon at the big cat sanctuary. Then, head to the Celery Fields, a man built mountain, to watch the sunset. Hit up Pangea Alchemy Lab, a hidden speakeasy you enter from the back, in a dark alley. Don’t be deterred by the shabby interior, the drink and food are the best you’ve had in town. I recommend their grilled cheese or chicken and waffles. Their drink menu is unique and seasonal. Day Six: Grab breakfast at Station 400 in downtown. Then, hit up North Lido Beach, hike as far north as you are willing to walk. The farther you go, the more beautiful the beach gets, and the less people there are. Pack a picnic lunch and then hike back in the afternoon. Eat dinner at The Shore.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I was ambushed by a peck on the lips. He was an Australian gent who liked to flirt with Julia and I on our way to the bus stop from the beach. It was our second month in San Sebastian, a tiny and pristine city in the northernmost tip of Spain. I had never truly spoken to this idiot, and he kissed me. I was so shocked, I barely responded. Julia was in his face, between us, before I could muster a: “What the hell?” “What the fuck do you think you are doing?!” screamed Julia, shocking everyone in narrow ally. “She didn’t say you could kiss her!” In my memory, him and his sidekick virtually RUN away (although it may have been less dramatic). When it comes to self-defense in particular, Julia has more moxy in her pinky finger than I do in my whole body. I’m not fight or flight, I am the stand-and-stare type. But, Julia is all fight, or should I say, all bite? I mean that in the fiercest, most complimentary way. This life takes ferocity. It takes daring and veracity. So does art. Julia Margo Ross is one of the single most brilliant, strangest, magnetic sources of creative energy I have come into contact with. She inspires, intimidates, and renders me speechless. I have been lucky enough to call her my best friend for the last 15 years, and I attribute the artist I am now, largely, to our friendship. She is such a brilliant source of creative energy, it fuels me to create myself. The word the two of us always used for our chosen path (whatever that turned out to be) is “dharma”. Dharma means what one is “meant” to do, or the things that bring about the most profound personal growth. It is what you were put here to do. When I was 21, Julia told me, quite pointedly, that there was a book I needed to read immediately. She swore it would change my life and help me find my dharma. Called: “The Artist’s Way” It is a book on the creative recovery of author Julia Cameron, as she learns to write again. The book is structured like a 12 week course and Julia insisted I do every week. I begrudgingly complied. The activities were simple, annoying, and often stupid. It healed something inside me that allowed me to move forward in a way I had never been able to before. I can confidently say that this book is the single reason I am a painter (and play the banjo!). I now believe my dharma is to paint. This book, and Julia’s own creative path (she just released her first album under the name: “Margo”) have been the guiding lights leading me creatively forward. It’s not only inspiring to be best friends with a creative, she also encourages me, builds me up, and tells me what the next step in my journey is (when asked). Check her out @Margo.Tunes on Instagram.