Standing on the oval track, waiting for his teammate to pass him the baton, Tariq Mix felt the excitement. The air at Franklin Arena was charged with electricity, and yet Tariq focused on the task at hand as he prepared to sprint the third leg of the 4 X 100 relay. He had but one goal: To put his team in position to cross the finish line atop the leader board. The moment his partner placed the baton in his hand, Tariq was a collegiate track star sprinting towards a dream. 100 meters later, when he handed the baton to his teammate, he said goodbye to that dream.
After finishing the race that day at the 2001 Penn Relays (one of track and field’s premier events), Tariq quickly became ill. What began as a relay race turned into a race for survival. It was hardly the scene the talented athlete envisioned. Tariq’s heart began beating extremely fast, and he could tell something was wrong. “I felt really strange,” Tariq says. “I went over to the side and laid down. At first, my teammates thought I was just tired and were telling me to get up.” They quickly realized Tariq was in dire straits, and called for medical assistance. “My body began to shake, and then it completely locked up.” Over the next hour, it seemed as though fate was throwing obstacles at the situation. Tariq was placed on a stretcher, and it malfunctioned. He was eventually placed in an ambulance, and it broke down. Fortunately, a cardiologist happened to be in attendance and administered medicine to lower Tariq’s heart rate while they waited on a backup ambulance to arrive and transport him to a nearby hospital. When he awoke in the hospital, the doctors told him his heart rate had risen to 297 beats per minute and that he was lucky to be alive. He would later find he had ventricular arrhythmia, a heart irregularity that had taken the lives of athletes such as Reggie Lewis, the captain of the Boston Celtics. His days as an athlete were over.
Tariq was flown to Duke University Hospital. What was supposed to be a three day stay turned into a two week ordeal as he went through several heart procedures. “The time I spent at Duke, I began to search and wonder what my purpose on earth was,” Tariq says. “It was devastating when I first found out the news. I loved track, but I knew I was lucky to be alive. I felt God was telling me that, even though something I loved was taken away, I had to trust Him to show me what I was supposed to do. As I turned myself over to Him, my life quickly changed.” Tariq, now 27, discovered that a second childhood love of his was about to take center stage.
“When I was in middle school, I drew all the time. I would draw comic book characters, and while my friends would be outside playing, I’d be inside drawing,” Tariq recalls. “At the time I thought maybe I could draw for one of the comic books.” Tariq began running track in the 10th grade, and even though he took up the sport later than most track athletes, he excelled. Drawing was an outlet, but track provided opportunities. In 1999 he qualified for, and ran in, the Junior Olympics. He also played football and walked onto the football team at Howard University. He soon realized his best sport was track, however, and was awarded a scholarship on Howard’s track team. Soon after, he dreamt of running in the Olympics.
After Tariq’s heart procedure, he returned to school and art became not only therapy, but an avenue for channeling his talents. He loved to compete to show his talents, and so he began to paint, specifically with acrylics. Tariq says he felt God had closed one avenue in order to lead him to another. “Things just began to open up for me in the art world. And so I continued to paint, picture after picture.” As a symbolic representation of his new calling, Tariq painted a picture of a burning bush — it was Tariq’s way of showing he understood the message that God was sending him.
Tariq sought a way to fully explain his metamorphosis from the track to the easel. Inspired by a professor in a mixed media class his senior year at Howard, he created an installation piece. The professor had recognized Tariq’s talents and demanded his best efforts, but Tariq missed the deadline for the installation piece project, and after a tongue lashing from the professor, he spent nearly three days without sleep to complete his creation. “I did a full body cast, and after (my partners on the project) cast me, I broke the legs, the arms. I painted bronze blemishes on the arms and legs to show that my past wasn’t perfect. I painted sheetrock to make it look like a wall and I put pictures of my past, like of me and my grandmother, in the stomach of the body that represented my childhood. I called the piece ‘Breakthrough.’ When you looked at it you could see my body breaking through to a new life. I even had an EKG readout laid out across the chest of the cast figure as if it were a tape in the race that I was breaking through.”
Tariq was so inspired with his new calling that he became driven to put down on canvas the feelings deep within him. “Take it and use it,” he says he felt God saying. As he did, people quickly took a liking to his work. Though artists may have many sources of inspiration for creating their work, for Tariq, it’s quite specific. “I think art and music go hand in hand,” he says. “I’m a former trumpet player.” And so, Tariq turns on the music, feels the rhythm, and paints. The mood of his painting takes on a life form based on the song to which he is listening. He’ll choose a particular song and let it play over and over. “Sometimes it’s jazz, hip hop, maybe pop, or techno.” When Tariq approaches the final detail of the picture, however, he’ll change the music to something with a slower tempo.
Tariq’s love of music directly relates to his creations, and the bright and bold colors of his work are a masterful blend of art, imagination and musical themes. The colors explode on the canvas, evoking images of the exotic jazz of New Orleans or the smoky blues of Memphis, evident in his painting titled “Blue Sax.” Tariq loses himself in the music and lets his brush produce the images the song evokes in his head. “I have thousands of thoughts of paintings in my mind. And so, I turn on the music and get at it.” Though some artists draw on canvas before they grab hold of the brush, Tariq never does. “I don’t draw anything. I just paint. When it’s done, it’s done.”
Tariq’s paintings appear everywhere from living rooms to board rooms. Through word of mouth, his Web site and art shows, he’s built a growing clientele. He is in the early stages of venturing with galleries to show his work. “I’m trying to find venues where I can do live shows.” Before creating a painting which is designed for a specific individual or business, Tariq insists on seeing the room where the picture will be displayed. “I’ll go to the house or office, get a feel for the room, and then I start thinking about the furniture and the setting,” Tariq says. “Then I’ll come home, turn on the music, and then put it down on canvas.” Once he starts, he likes to continue on until it’s done, though obligations with his wife and two-year-old daughter make that a tall task, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Both my wife and daughter provide inspiration to me on a daily basis,” he says.
Though music inspires Tariq’s paintings, a seed is born inside him based on what’s going on in his life. “The feeling comes from inside: Happy, excited, mad or sad.” That feeling dictates the music Tariq will play as he paints. “I let the seed grow with the music and then put it all on the canvas.” Though music plays a steady theme in his paintings, Tariq plans to become more universal in the themes of future works.
The days of drawing as a child are worlds away from the current one that guides Tariq’s brush across the canvas. “When I drew as a kid, it was a competition to do better than the others. That applied to playing sports or anything I did.” And though he acknowledges his artistic talents, it can overwhelm him. “For me it’s a humbling experience. (My art) is for everyone to enjoy, and making others happy is my driving force.” And yet, the competitive side of him still plays a part in his paintings. “I want to be the greatest. I want everyone to have a piece of my artwork. I’ve had people see my artwork and say that they have to have it. So it’s an honor for my work to have that effect on others.”
Artists appear in many forms: Athlete, painter, musician, and teacher. It’s the artist’s job to find the canvas he or she needs, whether that’s a songbook, a blackboard or the track. And when that canvas is found, the artist must “paint” it the way he or she feels it. That’s what Tariq did that day on the oval track. When the baton was passed, his canvas changed, and yet he still won the race.