Without art, Michael G. Dixon would be going through an identity crisis.

“Without art I’d still be wondering who I am,” he said. “When you do art, you make people see.”

Dixon sat at a table in the middle of his exhibit of famous African-Americans in the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center Lounge, pointing out portraits he had drawn.

“There’s Billie Holliday. Her jazz is something you have to listen to. There’s Sammy (Davis Jr.) He ran with the Rat Pack, but he was just Sammy,” he said. “Etta James was almost like a grandmother. I looked up a lot of her biography and video. She had a gift God gave her. Muhammed Ali – people call him a draft dodger, but I don’t think so. He said why go overseas and fight in a war when we don’t fight for ourselves here.”

Dixon’s artwork will be displayed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through March 24 at SKyPAC. There will be a reception from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 17 during the Gallery Hop.

Dixon does a lot of research of famous people before he does his artwork using pencils and pastel colors.

“A lot of the pictures I do at the (Warren County Public) library,” he said. “There’s a lot of things in history (people) don’t know.”

He also does pictures of his family.

“The picture of the young guy in the Air Force suit is my dad,” he said.

Stick figures were his first stab at art, and from there he went to trying those mail-in art tests in middle school and drawing more in high school.

“In high school I went to see the art in galleries,” he said. “I asked my teacher what to do and how to get them started.”

Dixon’s portraits aren’t always exactly the same as the photograph he copies.

“I try to make it my own. People have given me a picture and I’ve changed it,” he said. “I try to make it a little stronger than what the actual picture has.”

Dixon credits attorneys Crocker and Crocker, LifeSkills, VSA Kentucky and others with helping him get art lessons and getting him to where he is today.

“A lot of people tell me they couldn’t do it,” he said. “If you can draw a stick figure you’re an artist.”

Dixon has had artwork in VSA Kentucky exhibits and at the library branches, but this is his first solo exhibit. He has also done a picture for the Bowling Green Hot Rods, but he hasn’t shown it to the minor league baseball team yet.

“Showing my artwork is the most important thing to me,” he said. “My pictures are like putting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together.”

Other people enjoy Dixon’s work as well. Bowling Green’s VSA Kentucky Executive Director Delaire Rowe said the organization assists Dixon as a registry artist.

“He’s a very motivated individual. I admire that in him. He is serious about his career in the arts as an artist,” she said. “His passion is portraiture. He has that extra motivation that has really made a difference for him.”

When Rowe first met Dixon he was focused on family and friends as his subjects.

“He became focused on themes because he had already shown an interest in famous African-Americans. Frederick Douglass is one I particularly like,” she said. “I think he has some interest in exhibiting at the George Washington Carver Center.”

Dixon has always made a way for paying for his classes, Rowe said.

“He has found funding for his art lessons through agencies. He also has paid for his own classes,” she said. “He does need assistance in growing as an artist.”

Sonja Byrd, who is Dixon’s art teacher through VSA Kentucky, describes Dixon as “such a great guy.”

“We’ve been working together for a number of years. He self-promotes. He’s a great joy to work with,” she said. “He picks subjects that are important to him and it comes through. He’s proud of being a black man and of being an artist. You can see how much he cares about his subjects.”

It’s obvious Dixon spends hours researching his subjects, Byrd said.

“I learn right along with him. I continue to be impressed,” she said. “He just keeps on working tirelessly. He’s a real admirable guy.”

SKyPAC Marketing and Visual Arts Gallery Manager Jessica Snodgrass said she’d always wanted a VSA Kentucky artist showcased at SKyPAC.

“We have VSA at the Capitol (Arts Center),” she said.

Snodgrass saw a newsletter showcasing Dixon’s work at the Smiths Grove Branch Library.

“He’s come by several times in the past. I like the simplicity of his lines,” she said. “He’s a good portrait artist. One of his friends he works with reminded me of his work.”

Snodgrass previously worked with VSA Kentucky.

“I’m intrigued by the artists there and their mission,” she said. “I remember Michael from my days there.”

Dixon’s next project will be an homage to women.

“It will be nothing but females,” he said. “It’s like mothers.”

He is thankful that SKyPAC is showing his work.

“I’d been trying to get to SKyPAC for a long time, and now that I’m here I’m enjoying every minute of it,” he said.

– Follow features reporter Alyssa Harvey on Twitter @bgdnfeatures or visit bgdailynews.com.

Alyssa Harvey writes features stories for the Bowling Green Daily News. You can reach her at 270-783-3257 or on Twitter at twitter.com/bgdnfeatures.