Mikayla Spivey

BFA - Studio Art


5L Fish Tank

Growing up, my mom and I would make afghans or cross stitch together to keep our hands busy while watching TV at night. I never considered it to be anything more than something to do to stay busy.   As I got older, I started thinking more about how traditional practices are increasingly forgotten and overlooked. Scrapbooking, sewing, and embroidery are thought of as skills, but not ones of artistic value. I find myself thinking more about this when I color with my younger nephews.  In a similar vein, fish are often considered to be unimportant, disposable pets.They are often forgotten about, put in small tanks, and used as decoration. Who decides what is important and what isn’t? Is art really just a sum of what it is made of and who it is made by? 

My work explores the dynamics between craft and fine art, human and sea life, and grace and power. 

My process starts with layering. I use scrapbook paper, scrap fabric, or a loose drawing or painting as my base. I use female body imagery with strong color accents to imply lively movement through the work. Aquatic animals are over layed on the human figure to draw parallels between their fluid, adaptable motions. The use of different textures and media creates a sense of play and  draws a connection to the movements of a school of fish swimming past. I use materials that are easy to identify to create a link between the materiality of these collages and the imagery depicted in the piece. Utilitarian materials can feel rigid and cold but juxtaposed with the overtly hand-made qualities of the work, I create a conversation between craft,  fine art and recycled materials.

My work evokes a feeling of play and discovery, like that of walking through an aquarium. I create a sense of overwhelming power in a peaceful manner by enmeshing figures with fish and other aquatic species. Schooling fish are a perfect representation of the idea of power in numbers. They use schooling as a way to overcome predators, so while we see this as a graceful underwater movement, it is a powerful survival tactic. The women in my paintings and collage works occupy their own space on the panels, but in a way, are also grouping together to create an army. 

In 2020, we are facing struggles that are impacting our lives every single day. We have to stand together for what is right, for our survival and fight until we win.

Mikayla Spivey

© 2020 by Virginia Tech School of Visual Arts