A quick note from Sinclair: I moved to New Jersey from Florida in the third grade, and Billy Joe was the first person to walk up to me and truly make me feel welcomed, included, and seen. I’ve never forgotten that. So, it’s truly an honor to feature her work and journey here, so many years later. Okay, on with the conversation.
Sinclair: What’s your three word bio?
Billy Joe: Billy Joe can.
Sinclair: Your painting titled “Black in the Box” was featured on Billboard.com. What inspired you to do the painting?
Billy Joe: I’ve been painting pieces about prison reform, highlighting injustices and for equality for a few years now. When I heard Meek Mill had been arrested and put in jail for 2-4 years FOR POPPING A WHEELIE 10 YEARS AFTER HIS INITIAL CHARGE, I started to cry.
Not specifically for him, but for the fact that what he was going through was so common and so unjust. It was only a year or so prior that a white man had been charged 3-6 months for raping a woman, but Meek got 2-4 years for popping a wheelie. So I decided to paint what I see in my head.
Artist Billy Joe Michel brought a piece of art she started painting called "Black in the Box" after Meek Mill was sent back to prison. She said it's a commentary on the judicial system. pic.twitter.com/3NG4zG5ler
— Daniel Gallen (@danieljtgallen) November 13, 2017
Sinclair: What’s one of your favorite Meek Mill track?
Billy Joe: A track called Hardo
Sinclair: Back in March, you were asked to do a piece for Adidas. How did that happen?
Billy Joe: That was for a themed show about Kanye, it wasn’t for Adidas. The painting was in reference to my thoughts on his song New Slaves. I painted the YEEZYS tied up together on the couch with piles of money beside it to symbolize the craze that society has become enslaved to. Which ironically he’s most recently been in the headlines for stating slavery was a choice.
Sinclair: What’s it like to be getting this type of exposure for your hard work?
Billy Joe: I am thankful for all of the exposure that I get. I was especially thankful for the exposure from the Meek Mill piece because my heart lies in activism art, and to be recognized by such a large platform for a piece calling for change felt fulfilling. I often wonder if anybody hears me when I paint, and this was so reassuring that my voice can and will be heard.
Sinclair: Your Instagram photos of your children always make me feel joy. What’s something you love about your kids?
Billy Joe: I love most that they love each other 🙂
Sinclair: Back in middle school, you were one of the kindest, talented, and driven people I knew. Where do you get your drive from?
Billy Joe: I had a really crazy home life as a child, and I found security and stability in school. I don’t know why but it always hurt me to see people hurt. Probably because I was always hurting.
I went to Temple University for psychology, and looking back now, I had a lot of abandonment issues because of my biological father. And I believe that I filled that hurt with the joy I felt to help and love others.
Sinclair: What’s the best part about going to work each day?
Billy Joe: Well, I don’t have to go very far most of the time for art because my bedroom is my studio. I love every bit of that. Dancing, painting, and creating all alone in my room, and then putting it out into the world feels, in a weird way and not as extreme, like giving birth to me.
It’s a very prideful feeling, and the wonder of releasing it into the world to watch it do it’s work is like a parent watching their children be the people they raised them to be.
My work is self-care. I often cry when I paint, not sad tears, but it really moves me. I feel like I’m being cleaned from the inside out. – Billy Joe
Sinclair: Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?
Billy Joe: I go to my mom for Love. I ask friends who I feel have good intentions and seem to be succeeding in the area that I’m needing help in. So it varies.
Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care? What did you do?
Billy Joe: My work is self-care. I often cry when I paint, not sad tears, but it really moves me. I feel like I’m being cleaned from the inside out. To get my feelings out and see them in real time lifts so much weight off my shoulders. I also dance a lot, and that feels so good.
Sinclair: Outside of art, what else do you put your energy into?
Billy Joe: I still bartend once a week at Fat Tuesday in Philadelphia where I’ve been working for the last 11 years since college. That and all of my energy goes into mommying my three chickadees!
Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?
Billy Joe: Cooking on the grill… it tastes so good!
Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?
Billy Joe: The lack of compassion in our government. The way the older generations have failed us, and also that the false realities that social media glamorizes are really creating so much ugliness and hurt.
Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?
Billy Joe: In art I have so much confidence, but in life, on this journey of mine, I think the most I’ve ever asked myself if I was I good enough has been when I’ve been in love.
Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?
Billy Joe: Well I do my best not to hurt people, but if I do, I am the first to say I’m sorry. In raising my children, I’ve definitely become most clear of what I value and of my boundaries. In knowing my boundaries, I try to use that knowledge and treat others the same as I wish to be treated.
I often wonder if anybody hears me when I paint, and this was so reassuring that my voice can and will be heard. – Billy Joe
Sinclair: Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why?
Billy Joe: I like Amanda Seals and Joey Coco Diaz. They both motivate me in different ways. Amanda reassures me that it is ok – and more importantly needed – that I continue to push my art with purpose, and use my voice to stand up for what’s right. And Uncle Joey helps motivate and reassure me to just keep going. I listen to his podcast, The Church of What’s Happening Now: with Joey Coco Diaz.
Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to an artist struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?
Billy Joe: Paint for yourself and not for others. My best art is the art I make for my own sanity. The art I make to voice my opinion. Also I love to give. It feels so good. Maybe they could make a piece and gift it to someone. The joy of seeing someone appreciate their art should be reason enough to keep on going.
Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?
Billy Joe: Hmmm… this is a good question. I would say that – overall – this life is a good life. It gets so hard but you’ve got to go through it to get through it. If you’re scared you’re on the right track. I’ve been scared so many times and so many times what was on the other side of my fear was far greater than anything I could imagine. Always be kind and don’t take anything personal. Most of what people unload on to you are the burdens then carry themselves. So even when they go low, we go high because hurt people hurt people and the only way to stop that cycle is with love.
Billy Joe is a south Jersey artist and mother of three. She went to Temple University for psychology, but found a career in painting as a self-taught mixed media 3D artist. She hopes to paint the world a better place. Learn more about Billy Joe and connect on Instagram.