Cade Mikaels, Horror Artist

Something frightful befell little Cade Mikaels in 1987. Not even ten years old, the girl who loved to draw pictures of the people she knew saw something so terrifying it changed the course of her life. It was the third Nightmare on Elm Street. The spectacle of the bastard son of a hundred maniacs tormenting the dreaming patients at Western Hills Psychiatric Hospital burned into her psyche. “Part III, Dream Warriors, gave me nightmares for four years straight. I could not sleep as a kid,” she says.

Those four girlhood years of insomniac vigils planted something in Mikaels that would be a long time coming to bloom.

She grew up down in Homestead, Florida, near Miami. She went to college, where she took a few art classes on the side and majored in Criminal Justice. She started her career and moved to central Florida. She forgot about her young interest in pencils, pens, and brushes.

But she’d learned something about herself in the years she’d spent peeking out from under the sheets until sunrise – she really liked being scared. She became a devotee of ‘80s horror like Halloween and Friday the 13th, and her interest continued along through Saw, and The Human Centipede. “I do like the rather gross stuff. I do like B-rated horror, like Killer Klowns From Outer Space and that kind of stuff. But it is my favorite genre.” She even thought about a career in horror makeup. “I go for that horror, gruesome stuff. A lot of blood, any kind of burns. I mean, like, Freddy Krueger’s my favorite.” Why is Elm Street her favorite? “I think that’s what appeals to me most, because that scared me the most as a child. I actually liked being scared.” After four years wide awake, Freddy was definitely in Cade Mikaels’ dreams.

One day in 2006, she just decided to do a painting of the iconic skull-with-eyeballs from the film, The Evil Dead 2. Why not? But then, after a hiatus of eight years, she found she couldn’t put the brush back down again. And what came tumbling out of Mikaels’ brush tip was nightmares.

She found she liked painting skulls. And she’d always liked doing portraits. So these two threads merged into the skull portrait series she’s most recognized for. Bob Marley, George Orwell, Princess Leia – she’s done each and many more as a death’s head.

Today Mikaels is 36, tall, fey, soft-spoken, with pale skin and a preference for black wardrobes. She has a habit of watching your face carefully as you talk. She is the Goth Queen of the central Florida art scene, the overseer of the ossuary on canvas.

How does she choose her subjects for these grave portraits? “It depends on a lot of factors,” she says. “Some people will suggest things to me. Or I will just think about something…sometimes, it will be something that interests me, personally. The Golden Girls is one portrait that I did. I’m a big fan of The Golden Girls show, so I just wanted to paint them, just because I wanted to paint them. It was actually for a show that had to do with the state of Florida, and that show was based out of Miami. So, like, a theme for a show might trigger an idea.”

On her interest in macabre entertainment, Mikaels says: “Yes, I love horror. But I also see the dark side of people every day with my job. So I see the ugliness in people every day…so it kind of bleeds over into my artwork, as well.”

What is her philosophy of art? Is philosophy even necessary? She answers, “I don’t really have a philosophy. I think people look at it differently – they might see it as beauty because it’s art, they might see it as gross. I’ve had people approach me that say, ‘I like art, I can appreciate this, but I would never hang this in my house.’ I get a lot of that. I get a lot of, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to have this, I’m going to commission you for five more pieces’.”

Because she’s such a horror fan, and because of her interest in makeup, I remarked that she must enjoy Halloween. She surprised me by replying, “I don’t really celebrate Halloween. Christmas is my favorite.” But then she described the bloody flesh stocking and the Freddy sweater stocking she made for Christmas last year, and the Freddy skulls she had on top of her Christmas tree. Cade Mikaels has more than a little Jack Skellington in her.

I asked her what her goals are in the next few years, and she told me, “Simply put, just happiness. I just want to be happy with what I’m doing.” She went on, “As long as I’m happy with the subject and what I’m doing, that’s all I care about. Which is not hard if I’m painting.”

Returning to the question of philosophy, she reiterates, “I don’t really have a philosophy, I just paint what feels good.” Cade Mikaels paints for the joy of the work. And the work is the steady gaze of the Angel of Death.

Among the works included here, you’ll find Mikaels’ self-portrait in her signature style.

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Brian Downes
Author: Brian Downes View all posts by
Brian Downes is a writer who lives in Orlando, Florida. His novel, The Berlin Fraternity, about a man who hunts vampires for the Third Reich, is available on the Kindle and through Amazon.com. He enjoys pen and paper roleplaying games and geek culture. He clearly remembers waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters, and vindicate his opinion that of course Vader was not Luke's father. You can't trust Vader's word!

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