Mike Ousley | Biography

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Micheal Ousley is a native of Appalachia, originally from the coalfields of Southeastern Kentucky. Having traveled all around the Western coal towns of Virginia, West Virginia and the Blue Ridge as well, he has formed a deep connection to the mountains. “My father was a coal miner and many of my uncles and cousins worked in mining or farming. I tend to view my paintings as ballads for the rough living and hardscrabble existence found in the Central Appalachian Coal region. The Media has always jumped at the opportunity to show poverty and decay in the coalfields of Kentucky. I view my work as being built around a pathos and understanding of the downtrodden and discarded; a poetry for the underdog.”

I believe when Dan Rather came here with 48 hours it was because they needed these Mountains. Some people need to look at Appalachia to remind themselves of what they are not or do not possess. It is in these hills where you can find toughness and resourcefulness, roots and pride that run deep. Honesty and authenticity.

‘Ousley often arranges his figures in his pictures as though they were in a play or group portrait, and, no matter what they are doing, or how embarrassing the situation happens to be, they seek our gaze, dignified and, for all the world, unconcerned. This is prevalent even when they are involved in complicated struggles in life; because they seem to be aware of being observed, yet do not mind. They experience life as an insoluble conglomerate of sadness, joy, light and darkness. Humour is continually present, despite having a very dark edge.’

“I decided I wanted to take my painting back to the way I created images as a child, based on memory and simplified. My biggest inspiration is the visionary and Folk art of Kentucky and other Southern Folk artists. I spent a good deal of time in the Kentucky Folk Art Center and face to face time meeting many of the artists I admired. I wanted to produce images purely from my memories without the aid of tangible references. I wanted the incompleteness of memory and how it can be sensationalized or blended with fantasy. The storytelling traditions of Appalachia are a powerful influence. Sometimes when family would come in, as many as 15 might gather in a room and tell stories and drink coffee. I can’t say all painting should tell a story but for me it’s essential to the practice.