#BlackImagination, as per artist and director Mike Carson
We’ve collaborated with artist Mike Carson for the creation of an original art installation celebrating #BlackImagination. The artwork was projected in various Soho House locations between 26 and 28 February. Here, Carson discusses art, affirmations, and his work with Soho House with Los Angeles-based member and director Curtis Taylor, Jr
By Curtis Taylor, Jr.
The Chicagoland native and force that is Mike Carson was the creative mind that music didn’t know it needed. From leading creative direction on the 2020 Apple Music Awards to building stages for the likes of Netflix, Big Sean, Travis Scott, Swae Lee, and Normani (and the list keeps on listing), Carson knows no bounds. With such a sure point of view and an imaginative approach, when Carson’s residue is on a project, you don’t just see it – you feel it too. His imagination is constantly colouring outside of the lines and bringing to life things that some have dreamed of in bedrooms, yet never experienced IRL.
I’ve never seen a world built from the mind of Mike Carson that I didn’t want to get lost in. Sitting with his work is the equivalent of being at the epicentre of a supernova. Waiting between the bated breath. There is no world in which this work is not later notated as a moment in which the pendulum shifted. His name cannot be erased; it will be etched into the mountainsides that the designers of tomorrow climb. Carson is revolutionising the presence of Black thought and imagination in the world of lighting and stage design. However, his creative prowess cannot be constrained into the simple box of ‘just’ a designer. He is a director constantly hungry for adding more into this practice than he takes.
‘Lithuania’ music video. Director: Mike Carson
Travis Scott 2019 festivals. Image: @rayscorruptedmind/Instagram
Roddy Ricch BET Awards 2020. Creative director: Mike Carson
Bryson Tiller ‘Set It Off’ tour. Image: Ro.lexx
Curtis Taylor, Jr: ‘Walk me through your inspiration behind your latest portal installation with Soho House.’
Mike Carson: ‘I saw this as an opportunity to marry motifs that have been themes throughout my 10-plus year career. I approached it as a space to be a highlight reel of everything I’ve done, while also celebrating Black imagination in a new way. It was about creating a piece that was essentially to myself. From me to me. I see it as an affirmation of what I find I need to remind myself of daily: messages I iterate to myself, but also ones I believe apply to the rest of the world.’
CT: ‘What does Black Imagination mean to you?’
MC: ‘Me, my peers – anyone who is Black and thinking is Black Imagination. I think it could be as simple as a kid dreaming in his bedroom about where he wants to be in life, [or] as broad or extreme as a Black director or writer spearheading a motion picture. Even kids in their houses coming up with TikTok dances and recording skits for Instagram is Black imagination.’
CT: ‘That last part is such a good thought to sit with. With that in mind, what impact does technology have on the future of Black Imagination?’
MC: ‘Today, all you need is a smartphone to create. That’s impact. Kids today can make beautiful images with just their phones – and they are really already doing it. We’re in a space where we’re seeing technology and sensibility go hand in hand. Technology has allowed the world to see things that have been our truth forever – both good and bad.’
Big Sean and Jhene Aiko BET Hip Hop Awards. Creative director: Mike Carson
MC: ‘I think as a kid when I wanted to be a film director it was Spike Lee. I mean he was the famous Black director I remember seeing. Kanye for sure, especially between 2004 and 2010. Just being a Black creative from Chicago, and seeing him break barriers in the way he was, was incredible. I would [also] say Robert Rodriguez.’
CT: ‘Wait, what? Robert Rodriguez? That’s so random, but also I’m impressed at the same time and love it.’
MC: ‘He was definitely my entry into “film school”. Growing up, I remember watching his 10-minute film school segment on the extras that used to come on DVDs – this was all on the old Spy Kids movies, by the way. From there, I just fell in love with [behind the scenes], and it has always been something I looked at for inspiration. So yeah: Robert Rodriguez.’
CT: ‘Switch gears a bit: these are rapid-fire questions, so let me know the first thing that comes to mind. If you had to describe yourself in a colour, what would it be?’
MC: ‘Blue. It’s moody and it has a pretty fire spectrum of colours. Not sure if I can do this, but really it would be Hype Williams Blue.’
CT: ‘The crazy part is, when you said that, I knew exactly what blue that was. If you could direct and remake any film or show, what would it be?’
MC: ‘Curb your Enthusiasm. It’s top two for me. 10/10.’
CT: ‘I’m gonna be honest: I’ve never seen Curb Your Enthusiasm, but if you say it’s a must-watch, I’m there. What are you excited about most for the future of your career?’
MC: ‘I’m excited mostly about pushing the limits of my own storytelling ability, and continuing to fuse that with surrealism. So having things that are eye candy but also maintain substance, as opposed to just creating beautiful images. It doesn’t have to be deep or heavy-handed, but I want that to be what I’m known for. I want people to come to me and be able to say we love your eye and work, but also [we love] the intent behind it. I’m just excited to grow as a storyteller.’
Carson’s work makes the viewer wish they could take the light he brings to his practice with them. After being the man behind the veil for so many remarkable artists and cultural moments today, I’m most excited about Carson’s new journey as his own headline. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to gift Mike Carson back what he’s given the world. But as a brother, I can plant beds of flowers at his feet, so he can smell them while he's here.