By Ameera Steward
By day, Erika Mixon of Fairfield, Ala., trains physicians and sometimes hospital staff on how to use electronic medical record software for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). By night, she is an artist.
“My day life is drastically different from art,” said Mixon, 37. “I think there are layers to every person: part of me is fascinated and in love with the human body, science, anatomy, medicine—that’s the avenue I took with my education. Art was more just a hobby.”
Mixon has been a functional analyst with UAB Medicine in the Health Systems Information Services (HSIS) department since 2016, but art allows her to breathe.
“I feel like I’m having a therapy session every time I do another piece,” she said. … “It continuously allows me to grow, to challenge myself.”
Her two occupations complement one another in other ways, too. She volunteers with an organization called Art and Medicine, and this week she traveled to Arusha, Tanzania, where she will teach students in an orphanage for which a new clinic has been opened.
Art also helped Mixon when her father began dealing with serious health issues in 2013.
“I was traveling for quite some time, then my father got sick and I chose to quit my job,” she said. “I like to plan things out, but at the time I just actually went off of faith.”
Mixon had been traveling across the U.S. and back to Fairfield to take care of her dad, who had coronary artery disease that led to a kidney infection; she was an only child and his primary caretaker. After prayer and a promotion, she left her job.
“Something said, ‘You have to go home,’” she said. “It actually turned out that I only had two or three weeks left with him.”
After her father passed away in 2013, Mixon said she found some paintings she had done when she was younger and felt encouraged.
“When I found them, I was like, ‘Maybe I can do that again. It kind of helped me boost myself,” she said. “It was just real therapeutic. I fell back in love with the brush after 15 years of not painting.”
Mixon said she wasn’t prepared for her father’s death, and she went to therapy after her mother told her, “I don’t know what it’s going to take for you, but you’re not doing good.”
Mixon said, “I didn’t realize how disconnected I was in the process [of caring for my father]. … I was trying to do what I needed to do to get him to his doctor’s appointments. … I don’t think my heart was connected to ‘I think he’s about to go.’ I was going through the motions of just waking up doing what I had to do, but I was totally disconnected from people emotionally.”
Painting enabled Mixon to say, “‘I don’t have to think about why I’m sad today,’” she said. “Eventually, the painting began to speak to me.”
Another painting she found in her mother’s home was the product of a spiritual fast she did in 2009, at which time Mixon saw a vision.
“During a prayer, I felt like God was saying, ‘Paint this vision,’” she said. “I was reluctant because I was like, ‘I don’t even know how to start.’ … I started anyway.”
“Faith, Hope, and Love”
In 2014, the painting from Mixon’s vision was part of a three-piece work she named “Faith, Hope, and Love.” One image was from a self point of view, about going through life. The second piece was a linear view of life, with its ups and downs. The third piece was from a higher perspective. For Mixon, finishing the painting was “God just saying, ‘I’m about to push you back into something you didn’t think you were going to do or need,’” she said.
Mixon has found that art can be healing.
“I didn’t realize until later that the same … painting was healing me,” she said. “Whether it’s singing, whether it’s someone who dances, whether your art is speaking, [I believe] we all have a divine, creative spirit that is necessary for someone else. There’s something we’re supposed to be sharing with other people to [help them] get whatever they need at whatever point they are in their life.”
As for a process, Mixon doesn’t try to develop particular images; they just come to her.
“When I say stuff hits me, [I mean] I’ll grab whatever is close,” she said. “[For instance], I’ll get a napkin and sketch out [an image]. Very plainly, just an outline because I need to do it at that time, so I won’t forget it. I’ll maybe post it on my wall until I ask myself, … ‘How can I flesh that out? How can I make it make sense?’”
Another key component of Mixon’s artistic process is her support system, which includes her mother, her family, and three of her friends: Jasmin Taylor, Josselyn Thompson, and Debra Butler.
“These three ladies have been a solid rock for me,” said Mixon, adding that she and her friends call themselves “The Quad.”
Around the age of eight or nine, Mixon remembers “doodling [and] drawing.” At the time, she just enjoyed painting: “There was no connection. There was no purpose behind it.”
Mixon graduated from Fairfield High School in 2000 and enrolled in Talladega College. In 2005, she completed her studies at UAB, earning a degree in radiological sciences. She traveled as a catherization technologist until 2011, and she now serves as an implementation specialist and functional analyst.
When it comes to her art, Mixon is now more conscious and intentional.
“At this point my biggest struggle is selling art because I’m not doing it for the money,” she said. “I truly want someone to have a piece because … they’re connected to it for whatever reason. I want [each piece] to be with its rightful owner.”
Her paintings are very personal: “I pray over my pieces,” Mixon said.
“I sing, I speak to them. People might say that’s crazy, [but] people talk to plants. I’m really putting my heart and soul on this canvas. It’s the way I express [myself], talk to other people, connect with people soul to soul.”
After her father’s passing, Mixon has become more connected to her art and, as a result, has developed more ideas and visions.
“Before that, I was the type of person that [thought], ‘I’m here, but I’m probably thinking about [something else].’ [Now] I’ve become more present and more aware of how important that is,” she said, adding that she wasn’t a present type of person because of her lifestyle at the time.
“I was always focused on the task at hand,” she said.
Mixon wants to leave a legacy and have an impact.
“Art gives me that,” she said. “It makes me feel like, ‘I’m going to leave, but I’ll still be here. There’ll be someone else who will be impacted or encouraged in some way, [and it] will spark them to do the same thing.’ The goal is to keep it going. The goal is to think about other people as much as you think about yourself.”
She has many different inspirations.
“I’m still finding my way. … It just depends on what hits me,” she said. “I will say, however, that what you will find cohesive in my work is … black culture. I really believe representation matters, seeing us in a positive way or even reflecting our own issues within our culture. … I usually try to convey some sort of message.
“Art is subjective, [so people will get] whatever, however from it. I can have [an idea of] what I was trying to interpret or convey, but I usually am quiet about that. I just like to hear another person’s perspective because then it opens me up to something I may not even have thought about. I love that part.”
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.