Twins known as Mr. Atomic featured in summer exhibitsWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Everything about Mark and Michael Kersey, the twin artists behind Mr. Atomic Studio, is a little bit surrealist. Their colorful artwork, the fact that they’re white-haired twins and even their jokes are both fun and bizarre.
“I had a dream and in it, God spoke to me and said, ‘I don’t want it to go to your head, but I’ve decided to make you two the greatest artists in the history of the world,’” said Michael, the older twin.
“Did he also say which one of us was gonna be above the other one?” Mark replied.
“Yeah, he said me. He was very clear,” Michael said. This kind of banter is commonplace between the twins, whose studio sits atop of several primary-colored stairs in Common Space, an artists’ venue that used to be an elementary school.
For 20 years, the twins have operated under the moniker Mr. Atomic, although each does his own painting. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell the difference between their works, they said.
“Nobody’s gonna know unless you tell them,” Michael said. “Sometimes I will lapse into a fine art mode whereas [Mark] does not, meaning [he] keeps almost like a commercial sense to it.”
“I like to tell people the great pieces of art are mine and the more average although ambitious pieces are Michael’s,” Mark joked.
Jokes aside, Mark said each brother reviews most of the pieces coming out of the studio.
“When you see a piece, he or I exclusively worked on it, but we have a shared quality control,” he said.
Their work is on display in the lobby of the Hylant Group, 811 Madison Ave. in Downtown Toledo through June 30. Ten percent of sales from that exhibit benefit the Arts Commission. In July, the Kerseys have an exhibit at the Toledo-Lucas County Main Library, 325 N. Michigan St. They will also attend the University of Toledo’s Art on the Mall event on July 29.
As children, the Kersey brothers were inspired by pop culture and their art classes. Even the name Mr. Atomic is a throwback.
“We’re a product of the ’50s, and in the ’50s that word (atomic) was very prevalent. It crept up in the comic books we read and the science fiction we watched,” Michael said.
The pair graduated from Start High School (although they plan on saying they graduated from Harvard or Hollywood High School on their revamped website). After high school, Michael attended the University of Toledo and Mark went to work for Marvel Comics.
“It wasn’t really a happy association. I didn’t like being stuck in a room with three other artists where you have personality conflicts. I mean we have them in this room (with his brother). I’d be more peaceful by myself,” Mark said.
“You hurt my feelings,” Michael said with a faux pout.
Being twins also affected their artwork growing up. “If Mike had been a [non-twin] brother, he’d be two years older or two years younger and he’d have probably taken a different course and I wouldn’t think necessarily that he’d be working alongside me,” Mark said. “If he went to see a movie, I was there to see that movie, too.”
The twins moved to New York City in 1974 and tried to make it big. Although they worked for the Beatles’ Apple Records (and saw George Harrison in the lobby once), they returned to Toledo a year later.
“The city can drive you nuts when you’re at the bottom,” Michael said.
“We were like a breeze that blew through the downtown corridor and we were gone,” Mark added. Upon returning to Toledo, the pair designed brochures, menus and other materials for advertising agencies and other businesses. However, many advertisers didn’t have much use for illustrators and computers cut into their work, the Kerseys said.
“Eventually, the computer and its applications entered that field and we didn’t want to adapt to that so we came full throttle back into the arts,” Mark said. In 1992, their studio was born and the artists are now celebrating their 20th anniversary with a summer full of art shows and exhibits. The two also recently started selling $35 prints of their paintings, which will be available at art shows this summer.
Right now, Michael and Mark are producing a lot of celebrity portraits, including of Bob Dylan and a green-haired Elvis. They are both excited about their current and future exhibits.
“Hylant is actually an ideal place to exhibit … It’s airy; there’s a lot of light, the large windows and of course, I think the cobalt blue wall is an excellent backdrop,” Michael said.
Mark said the public can expect great things from Mr. Atomic Studio in the near future.
“We’re like explorers. We’re always trying to find new expressions to excite ourselves,” he said.
For information, visit mratomicart.com.