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Pairing Off: Most Graphic Moments Of The Fourth Quarter

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There were some punishing stretches over the three months past, where latkes from a box or a Snickers bar purchased from some convenience store were standout dishes.

Plenty of suffering to go around: popcorn shrimp, candy corn, cranberry sauce from a can...

At least I was favored by some decent wines and workable pairings, thanks to some expert guidance from folks at Vino 100, Goody Goody,.Centennial, Pogo's, PK's, Veritas--the list could go on.

In the meantime, demented artist Patrick Michels went through two distinct phases. One showed a reliance on simple, commercially appealing, logo driven MADI-style derivatives. The second proved darker, invoking images of fear, danger and even dismemberment.

It is these we feature this time around.

1. Latkes
This is one of Michels' most recognized and commercially successful modern works--and one that has often been used to illustrate the soullessness of pop culture. But the artist intended something more far reaching, even sinister, with this canvas. Yes, there is the televised image placed in front of a stage--one replacing the other. Keep in mind, however, the rumors that Andy Kaufman faked his own death. It's a critical clue to an idea Michels' tries hard not to divulge: what we yearn for from life does not exist. Note the two ghostly images of Kaufman. The fuzzier one has turned from the viewer, yet appears to appeal directly to the viewer, as well. In sharper focus is a Kaufman fixed on us with manic eyes and a Mona Lisa expression. Two Kaufmans--one fading from us, one distinct; one we want to be real, the other we don't. What we want is the warm, beckoning reflection, but it's inside the bottle and fading from our grasp. Yet we still avert our gaze from the second, more frightening Kaufman to follow this illusion. End the end, as the bottle says, the effort leads to blankness, to nothing. Shakespeare said "All the world's a stage." Michels says "All the world wants Latka, but he's not real."

2. Popcorn Shrimp
This is obviously meant to shock the viewer. And at first, the obvious overshadows Michels' trademark subtleties. The bottle--you and me--lies helpless on a dark, serrated landscape, threatened by an ominous form. In this construction, the black and white surface is existence, patterned by good and bad, ups and downs. Instead of reaffirming life, however, there's a clear sensation of impending doom (note how the bottle's reflection--a symbolic stand in for the soul--begins to separate and ebb). But just what is it that threatens us? The alien shadow? Poe's "Stranger" turns out to be the author himself. It's a thought echoed in this piece: evil is within all of us. There's no escaping. Not even the soul can wriggle free.

3. Rice Krispies Treats
In Michels' most controversial work to date, critics have always recognized happiness or childhood wonder being crushed. The cause remains a mystery, though--disguised by the artist's adept use of well-known modern images, some of which are meant to obscure his purpose. Temperance crusaders have long used Rice Krispies Treats to illustrate how human spirit is crushed by the bottle. Dick Cheney had a copy framed in his study while vice president, as he saw in it a reminder of the dangers posed to American values by foreign--specifically Mediterranean--ideals. A few critics have gone so far as to suggest the "Pop" cap was some sort of reference to missing fathers and the damage done to child welfare. There are, however, a few art scholars who look to his use of "Sherry"--symbolic of women--and "fino" (they believe is an abbreviation of "finito"). The young, once happy male characters lie smushed and splayed beneath the Sherry. Is there a mysogynistic intent to this canvas?

Because Michels has always refused to discuss this work, we may never know.

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