Art alumnus (’12) credits his approach to painting instructors at MSUM.

The people you see in Micah Koosmann’s paintings are not people as you see them in everyday life.

Instead, Koosmann’s dark, richly stylized paintings portray the personalities that lie under those everyday perceptions, laying bare their complex psychologies and sides of them that are rarely acknowledged.

“OCD Me,” by Micah Koosmann. Koosmann will show his work at the Wabi-Sabi Winter Show at the Spirit Room in Fargo through April 23. Photo special to The Forum
“OCD Me,” by Micah Koosmann. Koosmann will show his work at the Wabi-Sabi Winter Show at the Spirit Room in Fargo through April 23. Photo special to The Forum

Take, for example, “Mr. Charms,” the artist’s contribution to the Winter Carnival exhibition, which wrapped up Saturday at the Spirit Room. A barely dressed man is slumped unceremoniously against a brick wall, his face completely obscured. In juxtaposition of this unflattering and disagreeable posture, he holds three helium balloons in his hand as if he’s just come from a carnival.

“This was a personality type I was trying to portray, a riff on the role of the swindler or the player,” Koosmann says. “The more you get to know them, the more you realize that they’re (narcissistic). He puts on this face, but you never get to know the real person.”

Koosmann says he’s met plenty of the personality types that he tries to capture in his work.

We all have, once we learn more about what lies under someone’s outward­facing self, and it’s something we all do as part of presenting ourselves favorably to others, he adds.

A few of these figures are visually based on people from the painter’s life, but he says he usually treats them strictly as models or works from stock photography. But that’s not always the case. Koosmann himself pops up more than a few times in his paintings, and some of his earlier work contained elements of his family life. Still, all of these elements continue to work toward the idea of understanding a person’s more intimate nature, he says.

Koosmann’s work will also be part of the Spirit Room’s Wabi-Sabi Winter Show opening Tuesday and running through April 23.

Dawn Morgan, director of the Spirit Room, says the timbre of Koosmann’s work follows from his technical strengths.

“His work is so finely executed, and he’s an excellent painter. Everything he does is completely captivating. The themes are dark, but they’re really heartfelt, and you can immediately relate to these characters,” Morgan says.

Speaking about a solo show of Koosmann’s work hosted by the Spirit Room last year, Morgan says the painter’s treatment of personalities takes on new meaning when considering the artist’s background as an adopted child who moved from Thailand to North Dakota at an early age.

“It gives him a perspective that nobody else has. I really enjoy the ideas that he has and that he presents in his work beyond just the absolute beauty of the painting itself,” Morgan says.

She adds that viewers of Koosmann’s paintings are drawn in by the stories of these characters and that a few have compared them to the writings of Edgar Allen Poe.

Koosmann credits his approach to painting instructors at Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he graduated with a degree in art in 2012. Ever since becoming interested in art at an early age, he had tried to create paintings with thin lines and smooth textures. But he was challenged to change that approach, and his style blossomed from there.

“I had an argument with a teacher about trying to make paintings that look smooth, and he said ‘smooth doesn’t always mean it’s better.’ By graduation, I really liked oils, acrylics and thicker paints, and really laying them on thick,” he says.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit

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