Michael Dixon

Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps Kiddo
oil on canvas

About the Artist

Michael Dixon is an oil painter born in San Diego, California. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder in painting and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Arizona State University in painting and drawing. Dixon is currently a Full Professor of Art at Albion College. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants including a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, Joan Mitchell Foundation Emergency Grant, Puffin Foundation Grant, Blanchard Fellowship, and Phi Beta Kappa Scholar of the Year Award. Dixon has received numerous artist residencies including the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Joan Mitchell Center. His works can be found in the personal collections of artists Nick Cave and Beverly McIver, and in the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African Art. Dixon has been shown both nationally and internationally at museums, universities, art centers, alternative spaces, and galleries. His imagery explores the personal, societal, and aesthetic struggles of belonging to both “white” and “black” racial and cultural identities, yet simultaneously belonging fully to neither. The works of artists such as Robert Colescott, Beverly McIver, Michael Ray Charles, Glenn Ligon, and Kerry James Marshall has informed his work.


Artist Statement

I was born in 1976 nine years after the landmark US Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia, that banned laws prohibiting interracial marriage. My biological mother is white and my biological father is black. I have never met my father. My maternal grandparents are from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and when my grandfather first met me he said, “Where is that little Picaninny?”

In America, Picaninny a racial slur referring to a dark-skinned child of African descent. The imagery of the Picaninny is used in a derogatory and racist way to caricature little black children. There is often accompanying text that reads, “Gator Bait.” This kind of demeaning imagery was intended to be humorous and was created for, and consumed by, a white audience in the form of postcards, cartoons, games, and many other mass consumed items. The implications within this imagery was violence to the black body. The black child was likened to a feral animal that was no better than food for a hungry alligator. The objectification of the black body allows for this violence to occur without remorse. The humor makes it funny and natural.

The story of my grandfather calling me a Picaninny has made me reflect on my own childhood. I am thinking about my journey of enduring racial traumas enacted through both direct and passive racism. I am thinking about the word Picaninny and what it means. I am reflecting on the implications of this word on black bodies historically. The alligators in my paintings symbolizes both my grandfather and/or systemic racism (conscious/unconscious, active/passive, and direct/indirect). As a person of color, sometimes you see and the experience the racism (conscious, active, and direct) and most often you don’t see it (unconscious, passive, and indirect).