24 Hours in the Life of Mike Wirth
By Page Leggett
Mike Wirth, associate professor of graphic design at Queens University of Charlotte, is probably best known locally for his murals. He is a founding member of the Talking Walls Festival, Charlotte’s first annual, citywide mural and public art festival. He’s known way beyond the city limits, too. His art has been exhibited in New York, Miami, Croatia, Poland and Germany. Social justice is a frequent Wirth theme, as is his identity as a Southern, Jewish American. He participated — virtually — in Contemporary Art Week in Paris during the last week in October 2022 where he exhibited with a group called Jada Art (jadaart.org), or Jewish Dada. “They’re creating platforms and international art spaces for Jewish artists, which is amazing,” Wirth said. “I was part of their digital exhibition. It was great to be selected from among international applicants.”
He is one of 15 local artists participating in The Mint Museum’s Picasso mural project. It’s a local tie-in for the Mint’s blockbuster exhibition, Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds, organized by the American Federation of Arts Wirth’s mural is a landscape scene from Freedom Park. “I chose it because every Yom Kippur, hundreds from the Jewish community come out for a ritual called tashlich,” he says. “You toss bread into the water and speak your transgressions at the same time. That’s how you release sin.” When Wirth is in a creative or emotional low, he’ll wander. “I just go for a walk with no agenda. I don’t have any destination in mind. I’ll just throw myself to chance. And I find that it’s a tremendous way to reset when the need arises.” He’s a “girl dad” whose oldest daughter, a student at North-west School of the Arts, is already a budding artist and wants to be an illustrator. His youngest also loves to draw. Artistic talent runs in this family. Wirth’s days revolve around his daughters, his students, and his art.
5 OR 5:30 AM I wake up on my own — no need for an alarm. That’s when my internal body clock dictates that I get up. I say my morning prayers, and have a bagel and coffee.
5:30–6 AM I spend a little time every morning reading on my couch or my porch. I love Jewish folklore and the daily lessons I can take from it. I’ll get some wisdom from the Oracle, so to speak. All these stories are allegories, so they unpack a lot for me. If I can spend 30 minutes reading in the morning, it’s a miracle. But that’s what I aim for.
6 OR 6:30 AM I wake my daughters up — they’re 13 and 10 — and make them breakfast and get them ready for school. We have to be at the bus stop by 7 AM.
7:15 AM I drive to campus where I teach in the graphic design department — illustration, typography, ideation, animation, and web design. I’ve taught at Queens University for 14 years. When I’m not teaching, I have office hours. The seniors working on their capstone projects often need to consult with me then. During the day, I try to carve out a little time for my scholarship. As a professor, I have an obligation to stay current in my field and to accrue a certain amount of scholastic achievements. I’m either applying for shows or hunting for the next opportunities and conferences.
4:30 PM I meet the kids at the school bus, get them home and settled with a snack and help them get started on their homework.
5:30ish PM Dinnertime. I’m a one-pot-meal type of cook. My kids know my famous chickens, vegetables and rice dish — one of my go-to’s. Once the kids are fed, clean and educated, we all have our free time. AFTER DINNER I head to my studio, which is in our garage. Art projects have a way of expanding, and I can’t currently get my car in the garage. When the weather’s colder, I have to scale back the amount of space I have dedicated to art so I can use my garage for its intended purpose. I turn on some music; get a cold beverage. My cat, Garfield, will come hang out with me. I digitally paint, illustrate, and animate and make my interactive projects. I’ve been concocting a giant interactive installation that explores the “big bang” moment in the Jewish creation story as described in the Zohar — The Book of Radiance. The story describes the moment HaShem (God) poured their essence into a series of glass spheres that then shattered due to being overwhelmed with power. The broken shards of glass then spread across the universe. My vision is that viewers will enter a room filled with panoramic wall and floor video projections of shards of broken glass that, over many minutes, will spread outward from a center point in the room and then rewind back into a singular sphere. Viewers can interact with the shards while exploring the space.
I don’t have a home yet for that interactive installation. It requires funding because it needs projection, sensors and a larger space. I also get commissions from individuals or institutions. I’ve been creating a lot of custom hamsas. Those are hand forms that originated in the ancient Middle East. Once the client has commissioned me, we’ll talk through their wants and needs, the purpose of it — is it purely for aesthetics, or is there a spiritual purpose to it? Then, I’ll send them a mockup and we’ll proceed after they give me the OK. I design each one digitally and then paint the final version with acrylic, spray paint or paint markers. My girls and I aren’t big TV watchers, and we definitely try to avoid it on the Sabbath, but we will occasionally watch a show together. We also like playing image-based board games. Usually, free time lasts until it’s bedtime for everybody. 8:30 PM Bedtime for all of us. I’m not very exciting.
Page Leggett is a Charlotte-based freelance writer. Her stories have appeared in The Charlotte Observer, The Biscuit, Charlotte magazine and many other regional publications.