Mike Cole sees things—images that dance before his eyes, in his head, before their compulsive pull drives him to commit the memory to canvas. Foresight, he says, can be both a blessing and a curse. Foresight, if not controlled, could easily drive one to madness.
Life wasn’t always like this. Not back when he was a young college twentysomething visual arts major in North Carolina getting his first tattoo—drawings he’d bring to his tattoo artist and have etched in posterity on his own body. Mike liked the permanence of this canvas, the way breathing, living microscopic molecules in skin hold colors together until age and memory fades with the images. He understood the melding of static images with fluid, human flesh, so it became its own creature. Naturally, he took the next step and became a tattoo artist himself, sketching angels, roses and letters onto shoulders and backs—small emblems to capture the passing of some recently-departed memory.
Then the car accident changed Mike’s life. After suffering massive head trauma and near death, he began seeing complex geometrical shapes and bright lights, an ever-increasing reel that drove him to question his own sanity for the next three years. Unbeknownst to him, Mike had acquired “the gift.”
Hit your head hard enough, and you might experience a continual psychedelic high caused by a slow leak of DMT from the pineal gland, a pine-cone-shaped organ in the center of the brain that controls sleeping and waking. DMT is the body’s own hallucinogen responsible for the wild imaginings of nightly dreams, near-death phenomena and the source of hallucinatory manifestations. Descartes called it “the seat of the soul.”
“I can close my eyes at night and see kaleidoscopes of that stuff—the tracers,” says Mike. “I’ve never done hallucinogenic drugs before, but from what I’m told, it’s like I’m constantly on a hallucinogenic trip. As an artist, it’s a gift and a curse. It’s a curse because people don’t realize what it puts you through. Not only do I see beauty, but I see pain—the nightmares.”
Mike learned to control his hallucinogenic states and channel them onto a bigger, more fluid tapestry. His work would now take on a complexity of its own and become a life’s journey of fractals and shapes of limb-spanning proportions. At least 50 percent of his body is covered in art that he admires and creates himself. Tattoos are an extension of his vision, and the human body became his showcase vehicle.
Ultimately, what propels Mike to his creative impulses is “the ability to take a regular triangle or square and make it fit to the body structure.” The more one understands the body, the better the tattoo.
The next time you pass through MoVal, seek out Mike not for what the populace dictates, but for the life-altering journey that’s possible. (Nancy Powell)
Anatomical Art Studio, 12540 Heacock St., #5, Moreno Valley, (951) 924-1486; www.anatomicalartstudio.com.