Pairing Off: Most Graphic Moments Of The First Quarter

Allow us to reflect on these three months past.

Looking back at our antics--pairing wine with sausage biscuits, Buffalo wings, Arby's and such--we realized that graphic artist Patrick Michels deserves occasional recognition. Each week, after all, we ask him to risk sizable fines--or at least phone calls from copyright infringement lawyers, just to illustrate a blog column. In return, he gets nothing. That's right: zilcho...unless personal satisfaction in a job well done counts for something.

Yeah, right.

Anyway, we pause in our weekly attempt to pair good wines with ordinary food to review Michels' most graphic moments, the very best of his illustrations so far. The four depicted after the jump now have a shot at our year end top ten honors.

Jimmy Dean's Sausage Biscuits
When an artist captures the true spirit of golden age programming, you have to applaud. The values taught on Saturday mornings way back when are all in evidence here. Friendship, for instance. The importance of family, as implied by the dog--and if anything, the puppet adds a sense of good, clean fun. Proper grooming comes into play. And, very clearly, the idea of sharing. Note how the Jimmy Dean character seems eager to pop open his ill-gotten bottle of wine. You just know he'll allow his underage puppet dog friend to take the first swig. So in one stoke of a computer mouse, Michels pays homage to a long lost era. Looking at his work you, too, want to knock over a liquor store and get some kid or canine totally sloshed. And had it truly existed back in the 50s, any kid watching would have learned proper values, growing up to be the kind of adult who happily passed every joint down the line.

Frozen Fish Sticks
Here bridges two cultures--or rather, he brings them into sharp counterpoint. On the choppy yet somehow orderly and refined waters of a Japanese painting, he casts adrift the alienation of America's throwaway culture. Exploring further, you begin to grasp his concern that western-style marketing prowess is polluting tradition. Once again, it is a question of values--but on a global scale. Looking at the work, you feel impending loss and concern for things already lost. You want to snatch the refuse from those waters and calm the storm, but you can't. Indeed, Michels makes you feel helpless.

General Tsao's Chicken
Unlike his previous works and their sensitivity to traditional values, Michels here steps out to flaunt those very same beliefs. Using a whimsical style, he courts miscegenation, bestiality, the masking of identity, animal cruelty--he even goes so far as to challenge the political emergence of China by depicting one of their great military minds in paper form, as if to say "you're just a paper tiger." Or worse, a paper chicken. But this is a piece of great complexity. On the surface it appears to mock the Chinese. Note, for example, how the bottle, serving as a stand-in for the genitals, misses its target. Are the Chinese inept lovers? Did the chicken outsmart its suitor? But as you study the image, you begin to realize that it is an American who has taken on a Chinese face. Symbolic of our country's growing financial debt, we seem to be sinking as the "paper tiger" grins. Diabolical.

Big Mac
But Michels was trained in the classics. He always returns to styles that would be familiar to the great masters. In this case, he decides to use a simple still life to depict our cultural debt both to Italian immigrants (using a Sicilian wine to express this point) and the forms of government developed in ancient times by the Greeks and Romans (note the prominence of "Nero" in the composition). In addition, he showcases the French--in the form of fries--who helped secure American independence by sending troops and a fleet to aid Washington's army. Although these features either tower over the American creation or outshine it (the use of red in the French fry box being key), they are also fading. See how a shadow begins to engulf the word "Nero"? The burger stands in the foreground: proud, triumphant, yet unwilling to look back. In the end, Michels presents us with a composition, unremarkable on the surface, that doubles as a commentary on our shortsighted nature. 

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