With his subtly satirical humor and deeply intricate ink drawings, Paul Michel creates stop-and-think images of layered, comedic art. He'll debut new work in The Fanciest Tiger, a show opening tomorrow at Civilized Living, the monthly First Friday event at Fancy Tiger Clothing.
In advance of that opening, we caught up with the local illustrator to chat about graphic design, poking fun at mainstream America, and differences between Denver and Portland.
Westword: Does using humor in art open up people's minds in a way that more sober art cannot?
I do think that humor in general is something that everybody wants more of. Life can get so exhausting and serious at times, and I know that for myself, oftentimes playing the humor angle is something that feels natural and therapeutic. I have always enjoyed making people laugh, and it is something that I incorporate into a lot of my art. Also, just because I am making humorous art doesn't mean that I'm not sober while making it. Horrible joke? Got it, thanks.
Your art often relies on subtlety when delivering a concept or a punchline. Do you often come to the point when making a piece where it gets too complicated, and the idea is lost?
That happens all of the time. Oftentimes, I will think of a funny idea -- but probably not that funny -- and work hard -- but probably not that hard -- to make it into a visual piece, but it usually does not work out, so I write it down and store it in a Lord of the Rings lunchbox for later.
You've lived as an artist in Portland and Austin. It always seemed to me that those artistic communities are very similar to Denver. Has that been your experience, or are there big differences?
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I do believe that special things are happening in Denver right now, and there are so many talented people moving here every year and really pursuing their creative goals. While Portland and Austin are similar in that regard, I think the fact that Denver is so much less publicized nationally plays a role in all of us working really hard to put ourselves on the map and gain recognition as a city. Also, the weather in Portland sucks and Austin is still, after all, in Texas. I'm kidding-- who doesn't absolutely love Texas?
How do you feel about showing your work in a clothing store?
I'm excited. As long as I'm producing work that I feel connected with and sharing it with others, that's the main issue. Also, Fancy Tiger is a wonderful store with a neat space that is pretty conducive for showing art.
You put so much intimate detail into your work. What is it like working in your medium, that is so personal and hands-on, at a time when digital art and screen printing are becoming so popular?
I actually studied graphic design and worked in that field for four years. I think that plays a role in how slowly and deliberately I like to produce things now. In my opinion, there is nothing at all minimizing about using technology in the creation of art. My roommate is an amazing graphic illustrator. I have just found that a more basic approach of pen to paper helps me let out my emotions more accurately and transparently.
You also seem to have a love-hate relationship with mainstream American lifestyles. It seems to inspire your work, and you retain the heart of it, but there's definitely a subtle layer of cynicism there. Do "normal" lifestyles inspire your work?
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I have had more than a few failed attempts to plug into the system and work a desk job, but it has always led with me either struggling immensely with depression or just flat-out losing my mind. I think that says just as much about me than it does about corporate America. However, I think that it's crucial to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, as well as work really hard to find what you want to do, not what is expected of you. Therefore, that cynicism is probably a reaction or emotion that I have to just how overwhelming and terrifying the system, and expectation in general, can be. Paul Michel's The Fanciest Tiger will open at 7 p.m. Friday, April 5 at Fancy Tiger Clothing, 55 Broadway; the show will be up in the store through June 2.