Lon Michels creates paintings that pulsate with detail. His subjects vary from still-life, landscape and portraiture and are guided by visionary-like perceptions. Vivid colors and layers of innovative patterning create rhythms and energized fields. Like Pointillist Georges Seurat, Michels aspires to paint at a near molecular level.
Michels grew up in Marquette, Wisconsin. After earning his BFA from Ripon College, he moved to New York City and became the studio assistant for sculptor Louise Nevelson for five years. Lon received his MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was nominated for a Joan Mitchell grant in 2007. He currently resides in Lodi, WI with his husband Todd and their dog Bazzy.
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Review: Lon Michels in Madison
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mary Louise Schumacher, August 10, 2012
Lon Michels was named after a Catholic saint, Longinus.
Thanks to a happy accident involving a mispronunciation of the name around the house and because some children do believe what their parents tell them, Michels grew up believing he could be a genius.
The idea was inspiration enough for Michels, who grew up in a small central Wisconsin town, to aspire to be an artist.
By age 8, encouraged by his mother who was a painter, he was making paintings with titles such as “Deconstructed American Flag.”
After studying art at Ripon College, Michels set off for New York in 1984. He landed a job working for sculptor Louise Nevelson and modeled for Calvin Klein Obsession ads. Eventually, he moved to Key West, where he lived for many years, making paintings and hosting a local TV show about art.
Some of those years were misguided and painful, he says. He lost his sight for nearly two years because of an infection, a loss that would be hard to accept for anyone but particularly so for a visual artist.
The doctors told him he might not see again, but somehow Michels had faith that he would.
Today, Michels is back in Wisconsin with his sight recovered, his partner Todd and a new body of work on view in Madison. Living in Lodi, a spot that overlooks the Baraboo mountains, it seems like a second chance at life, he says.
The paintings are an eruption of color and astonishing in their intricate detail. With hard edges and crisply defined shapes, everything is saturated with rich patterning. Every face, every fold of fabric, every inch of space is brimming with textile like designs.
Visually, it is as if paintings have been nested within the paintings. The eye continues to sink deeper in to find new layers of detail. Some of the finest detail is left for the natural world, the fields of grass and trees filled with confetti-like leaves. It’s a miracle these works are not a visual jumble.
Like the work he made when he was 8, there is no icon – cultural, art historical or religious – that Michels won’t embrace as his own. From Oprah to Picasso, he incorporates freely.
In his version of Picasso’s famous painting of a brothel, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” Michels’ nudes fall somewhere between Picasso’s angular bodies and Vogue magazine, a fashion sensibility that’s perhaps a throwback to his Calvin Klein days. He inserts some art history and Christian iconography as well, laying the body of Christ across the work, an image borrowed from Michelangelo’s Pieta.
Borrowing from Edouard Manet’s “Olympia,” Michels offers us a woman in red fishnets, watching Oprah.
But it is his 8-by-10-foot interpretation of “The Last Supper” that is the knockout of the show. The figures are based on the people Michels loves, including art teachers, friends, fellow artists and his partner. Imagery from many of the world’s religions are embedded within it.
“This painting is about diversity, so it covers every type of union, every type of connection that humans can have,” Michels has said. “I want to create an environment. I want to show you my world.”