Pairing Off: Most Graphic Moments Of The Third Quarter

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The time has come, once again, to reflect on three months of drinking...and art.

Over the summer we paired wine with the good (bacon, deviled eggs), the bad (Boca vegetable burgers), but nothing really ugly. We even tried some classic American desserts--Chips Ahoy, for example.

Long, hot days gave artist Patrick Michels far too much time to delve. Not good, for he is at once anti-social and fully aware of the world around him. Michels despises the mores and values held sacred by others, yet is driven by a strong sense of right and wrong--one messed up dude, in other words.

But so many of our best artists are tortured sots. At least he hasn't sliced his own ear or anything--stains don't come out of these industrial carpets easily. Anyway, from the depraved to the sublime, his best work of quarter three:

1. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese: Though filled with bright colors and childhood charm, in many ways this was his most frightening work. The cartoon recipe is meant by Kraft, a corporate entity, to encourage children into acceptable, wholesome behavior--to which Michels says "start hittin' the bottle now, kids, because life is pointless." Note the box top, essentially the starting point of one's life. The proper "push to open" tab remains sealed. But someone has ripped open the top itself, suggesting a soul forced to enter a world both artificial (margarine) and manipulative (2% milk). The natural cycle of life tumbles downward, falling toward an expiration date that is chillingly near.

2. Apple Pie: An inflammatory piece, from every perspective. The bottle stands like Patton before a large American flag, its neck forming a brazen middle finger. At the bottom sits a pie, already violated and clearly helpless. If the pie represents the earth and the bottle America's military, is Michels telling the world that we've punched a hole in the middle--Iraq, Afghanistan--and now we're taking it all? The fact that 13 stars from the flag appear in this image suggests so, 13 being the number of colonies in the new world and would imply a desire to colonize further territory. Some critics (most notably on Fox News) give this work a wildly different interpretation, however: The flag has been cut down on size and shoved into the background. Apple pie, that very symbol of American goodness, shows signs of mistreatment. Meanwhile the anonymous forces of socialism--note the blank wine label and the generic "pie"--appear in bold strokes, ready to crush our way of life. Either way, this is his most alarming and subversive political statement.

3. Dunkin' Donuts: Though many of Michel's recent canvases depict angry scenes or present horrific visions of our future, this is a return to his enigmatic roots, showing long reach into a past that many collectors of his work are too young to have experienced--yet revealing the artist's own uncertainty about events past and future. At first glance, this is a simple retrospective on South Africa's years of apartheid. A black majority is dominated by the white "king," which tips the world's moral balance (apparently listing hard toward inequitable wrong). Looking again, however, we see he's eschewed the typical "shanty town" background motif one would normally associate with apartheid. Instead, we find a modernistic/futuristic hardscape. Though whites still wear the crown, they are aging--his use of Silver Ridge invokes images of white hair--and their dominance fading (the use of motion and darkness implies such). This leaves the viewer to ponder some essential questions: while racial issues remain unsolved, are we teetering back in the right direction? Or are we caught in a Hegelian nightmare, swinging endlessly between dialectic opposites?

At the end of the year, we will frame Michel's best works.  

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