The artist arrives at the museum without an entourage. He greets the press and publicists with a low-pitched “hello” and moves toward the familiarity of his de facto manager. He wears his usual costume — distressed blue pants, a rumpled navy hoodie, the required uniform for the custodial work he does at an office building down the street.
“Don’t get my shoes in it,” he directs the photographer during a shoot. “They know them too much at work,” he fears.
His face, his clothing — all identifiable things are off limits. He does not want real life to interrupt his fame fantasy, which, over time, has taken on a realism of its own. Indeed, Mingering Mike, the beloved Washington-based outsider artist, has always lived between two disparate worlds: the rough streets of his neighborhood in Southeast Washington and a fantasyland of his own making where he was once a soul superstar, selling out shows at the Howard Theatre and whatever happened to exist beyond it. In 2015, Mingering Mike will see the remnants of his private dream exposed, when many of his illustrated album covers and 45s will hang in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.