Mikey Rae: Alchemist, Soothsayer, Clown Cowboy Forever

An outside(r) look in at the late, great artist and mind behind Legit Concerns.

My second year at Meow Wolf as a docent was restless. I pride myself on being devoted to creativity—in as many forms as I can get my hands on and wrap my brain around. I thrive on work that is physical, that requires movement, that demands a little or a lot of sweat. After weeks of begging and bothering, I was allowed to come in on the days we were closed and touch up the paint, color match what we were missing, and repair little chips in the plaster. I would be in the exhibition all day, repairing wonderful art and breathing fresh life into it, as I saw it. Occasionally, there would be this man who held his guitar reminiscent of an early Johnny Cash, wrapping the entirety of his arm around the instrument as if to hug it, to hold it in the warmest embrace. He would pace up in SQUR-L space, walking around and riffing songs about anything at all. In between acoustic sets, he would draw the most contemplative and philosophical ponderings on the walls. That was Mikey Rae.

Mikey Rae wearing a pink tank top and holding a green marker, looking up to the right with lots of his creations on the wall behind him
Photo by Kate Russell

To call Mikey an artist would be accurate in the way that saying a bird has flight and no other descriptors. In his own words, “blah blah blah I contain multitudes.” There’s a clear degree of internalization and thought to his works. He and I would talk about the inevitable parallels of being an outsider, a weirdo, someone who lives on the fringes because they don’t know how else to live authentically, and how that informs how one becomes someone who internalizes everything. Mikey was a weirdo factory.

Mikey Rae's illustration of a creature with a backwards baseball hat and skateboard that says "You can't make me phone home"

His thought processes were so digestible, his murals a call-and-response to his own universe. We bonded over art processes being how we process the universe, the primary nature of how to deal with the abrasion and euphoria of being alive. What could be the difference between hypersensitivity and something of a psychic calling? I’m not sure we ever figured that one out. I’m not sure I could even answer that now. Emotional intelligence can mimic psychic nature, and I think Mikey had both in spades. He was an alchemist, a soothsayer, and a clown cowboy all in one.

one young boy with dark hair blowing out candles on a cake and a kid to the left smiling with a baseball cap on

Nobody consumed things whole in the way Mikey did. His absence of trepidation was something I truly admired, and still admire about him. There was no caution, just doing and trying and failing and trying again and failing a little less until you got it where you wanted. He was a disbeliever in perfection, choosing accuracy of the message over infallibility of the concept. “Floss,” “Be Cool,” “Existence is a dance to which I never learned the steps,” “I just need to know if your heart is the moon.” 

Mikey Rae out on a grassy lawn wearing a cowboy hat, flannel, and holding a guitar that says "I have legit concerns" with a white dog to the left

Mikey Rae, in no uncertain terms, could make everyone feel seen. Regardless of duration, we all have existed as an outsider looking in. Mikey was committed to collecting all of us looking in through the windows, holding us all in his arms, and showing us what a community of outsiders could be; what it meant to nurture the non-conformity, to hold hands with the inner child and to create in the child’s vision with the adult’s knowledge. He was a mastermind, a life-giver, a comfort, and a brilliant, bright, shining light that we are still all drawn to. He was our friend and compatriot in this weird, wild, wonderful world. We miss him with our whole hearts, and he lives in our visions, dreams, and actions forever.

black and white photo of Mikey Rae wearing sun

With love from Mikey Rae's friends:

two young kids dressed up as clowns in a black and white photo. The one on the left is holding a balloon and reaching for the clown on the right