Saturday, November 26, 2011

A review of my art from Between the Lines

Okay, this is a older review, but I thought I would share it here.

Dangerous Art

Social Realism exhibit aims to reveal societal truths - including ones about same-sex parenting

At first glance, Thomas McMillen-Oakley's photographs won't yield much response: They're photos of kids, sometimes with adults, sometimes playing outdoors with each other. Big deal. But a closer look at the Jackson-based artist's work - namely, a purposely blurred piece that shows him reading to his two kids - might startle you. The book isn't "The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist." It's a collection of works by notorious gay erotica photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
Don't sic the American Family Association on McMillen-Oakley and his partner just yet: He never actually showed their adopted daughter and son those photos. But it sure is fun to make social conservatives think that he has, hence the idea behind the artist's photography collection, "The Dangerous Lives of Children," showing as part of the "Social Realism 2010" exhibition Aug. 7-Sept. 18 at Plymouth's Art & Ideas Gallery.
"There's so much fear propagated by the conservatives and by the religious right that gays shouldn't adopt because we're going to warp the kids somehow," McMillen-Oakley says of his work. "But yet, if you come to our house and sit down and have dinner with us, we are the most normal family in the world. (These photos are) playing with that idea and really giving the religious right something to think about.
"I'm feeding into their fears."
It's bold subject matter for the father of two and professor of studio art at Jackson Community College. He lives and teaches in a relatively conservative part of Michigan, but insists that the local community's reaction to his family and his work is nothing but supportive.
"There are very vocal anti-gay people (in Jackson) who show up whenever the civil rights ordinance tries to get passed," McMillen-Oakley admits. "But we've had a very accepting experience here with the adoption. The fears of 'Is this town too conservative for this?' are, to me, unfounded. We've never been questioned; we've never been harassed."
Likewise, he finds that art galleries are supportive of his work. McMillen-Oakley has exhibited at The Gallery Project in Ann Arbor, and Art & Ideas Director Mike Tolinski was equally thrilled to include the artist's work.
The Plymouth-based gallery is less than a year old, but McMillen-Oakley praises them for their already stellar commitment to diversity. "I don't want to be 'the gay artist,' because that smacks of tokenism, but I'm glad that they're letting other voices be heard," he says. "They're open to a diverse roster of artists, and I like that."
And equally committed to challenging gallery-goers with their "Social Realism" exhibition, which includes two artists in addition to McMillen-Oakley, Julia DeClerck of Metamora and Shaqe Kalaj of Livonia. Kalaj, the gallery's artist-in-residence and curator of the show, sought photographers whose work aimed to expose compelling social truths. "But in our case," she adds, "we were also looking for humor and irony depicted about our current situation in the U.S. and southeast Michigan."
McMillen-Oakley fit the bill perfectly with a collection of photos that focus on children as subjects, with all adults either absent from view, or blurred out. It's a commentary both on what's "normal" in family life, and the lack of biological parents that many children face - including his son.
"Our son was taken away from his parents because of abuse and ... we adopted him from foster care. So for Eli, the adults that brought him into the world are indeed absent," McMillen-Oakley shares. "He looks at us as the parents now. We're Daddy and Papa, and that's what he knows."
But through both his photographic work and his parenting, he tries to show that all types of parents can help nurture a child. "I think that's one of the big reasons that kids do get in trouble sometimes and why life can be dangerous is because they don't have an adult to help them make wise decisions," he explains. "They don't have an adult to be their Jiminy Cricket and say, 'Maybe you should think twice about doing that.'"
The message of McMillen-Oakley's work often has serious undertones. On the surface, however, it's all about showing kids having fun - another value he tries to teach his own children. "One of the things I want to instill in my kids is a sense of play and a sense of wonder, and I think a lot of these pictures reflect that," he says. "When kids are being creative and when they're letting their guards down, that's when the fun happens."
Social Realism 2010

Opening reception 6-10 p.m. Aug. 7

Runs Aug. 7-Sept. 18

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dangerous Lives of Children Images

Last summer was spent getting ready for my part in Arts and Ideas Gallery's "Social Realism 2010" show. My "Dangerous Lives of Children" was on display there, and then at the Bon Ton Room here in Jackson.
All I want

Anna get your gun

Biker Baby: For Bonnie

Carson G: Monster Killer

Colton drops in

Dolly Drop

Do not feed

Fear Factor: Clown Edition


Must be 18

No Pictures


Sink or Swim

Stuck in Jackson

Ghost stories

Tilt (with projections)

Uncle Fun

Urban Fairy

Friday, June 24, 2011

One more

This is my favorite of the two Adams. I love the energy and the look of the piece. It's sexy and it's fun.

Madam I'm Adam part 2

So yeah, I guess I have a thing for guys named Adam. A friend of mine suggested I was going through my friends alphabetically. But we call this one Woody for short. He's running for various Leather/Bear titles around the Great Lakes Area, so we included some Bear and Leather stuff to add to the shoot. Like the other Adam, he's a natural.

Madam, I'm Adam Part 1

A few from the hundreds I shot with Adam last month. This young man is beyond handsome. He was very easy to photograph and seemed to come at it naturally. I foresee a modeling career in his future.

More art! Eye popping color edition

Text the police

In Marshall, MI. I love the vintage look to this.


More art! B&W edition

Some artsy shots I found on the portable hard drive.
My old stomping grounds. Taken from my car on the drive to Adrian last winter.

Urban bike

Old man outside of SCAD

Tilt Shift images

Doing some clean up of files and found these. Too cool not to share.

Monday, April 18, 2011

More on my Art Prize entry

Miss Anna and I at the Gallery Project in Ann Arbor where the piece was originally displayed.
The Art Prize website kept our artist's statements down to 1000 characters. Too little for a blowhard like me. Here is the complete statement on the piece:

I am a closet Catholic; I will freely admit that fact. I grew up in a very plain and ordinary Congregational church with little decoration or art in the sanctuary. The artwork that the church did have was relegated to the narthex or the hallways of the building. The only time the church ever swayed from this blandness was during the Christmas season when two simple trees were put on the altar and adorned with plain white lights and ornaments.

My Catholic friends were lucky to go to church in spectacular buildings full or art and statuary with windows that resembled kaleidoscopes straight from the hand of God himself. I was jealous of the Hollywood nature of their churches and would sneak off to services with them on the holidays after my mandatory Protestant services were obliged.

We had a hand-me-down crèche from my family in our narthex, the cathedral’s crèche was life sized and they had a tree that soared to the frescoed ceiling. They had a cross with a carved and polychromed figure of Christ hanging from it; we had a simple wooden cross back lit with bad lighting.

I began collecting religious art and statuary after I received a print of Mary from my Mother. It was my grandmother’s print and I cherish it as I never had a chance to meet her as she died before I was born. The other pieces began to accumulate after we moved into our current home, right next to a church. People assume that we are the parsonage for the church due to our location and we have had many people stop by asking for help and wondering about services. I set up a Marian Shrine in the corner of our home’s foyer. It faces the church and is adjacent to a mural depicting the tree of life.

The photo “Corpus Christi” is a collaborative piece between myself and tattoo artist Adam Shrewsbury. The idea was to play with the concept of the body as a temple came to me in a conversation with him and my partner as he was being tattooed by another artist in the shop. The bible prohibits tattooing in the book of Leviticus. The Old Testament law commanded the Israelites, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:28). But one has to wonder if God would approve of tattoos with a religious theme or image. What about the face of Christ? What about an image of Mary? The idea to cover the person with the images of the crosses came after much discussion and debate. For the record, they are stencils and not real tattoos. Sorry to ruin it for you, but people always ask.

Adam’s website has this to say about his philosophy and art:

AP Shrewsbury is a tattooer and a seeker. He has been tattooing professionally for 5 years and painting for several more. He enjoys tattooing in a traditional American style that is characterized by simple design, bold line work, a limited color palette and an appreciable amount of black. He is a seeker of the secrets of the universe. Working tirelessly to lift the veil from the great mystery that we all help to create. His paintings and tattoos are often unified with common themes that deal with non duality, death, transcendentalism, mysticism, esoteric wisdom and hermetics. Each creative endeavor is crafted and imbued with as much spirit as one is able to summon.

At best, tattooing is a medium for the indelible expression of deep personal truths. Although our perception and relationship to these truths may change over time, a well designed and applied mark will remain relatively consistent. We live in a world permeated by symbols, most accepting the culturally provided meaning associated with a given symbol. Tattooing is unique in that it offers each of us the opportunity to establish a personal symbolic vocabulary. The act of doing so is inherently self empowering.

You can read more and see examples of his work on his website at

It was a pleasure and an honor to collaborate with him and our model Don in the creation of this piece.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

More art than you can handle

Since I got a new computer, I have been busy going through files that my laptop couldn't store due to their size. I have found TONS of pics that I thought were lost. Thought I would share some with you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Saints: for sale

Saints preserve us!

I recently posted on Facebook a quick poll about which artwork should be sent to South Bend for consideration for their upcoming show. The piece that got the most votes was “Saints among us.”

In honor of mother’s day, I am offering this print for sale at the special price of $20 with half of that going to our local PFLAG chapter. After all, if it wasn’t for all those PFLAG moms out there supporting us, where would we be? If you would like to order a print,( 8” x 10” btw), send me an email at and we’ll hook you up just in time for Mother’s Day.

If your mom was NOT a PFLAG mom (as some are, sorry to say) consider buying one to support our work here in Jackson.

Order soon and order early!

Thanks for your support.


More art to share.

Hit me up if you want copies/signed or whatever. Baby needs new shoes.