When one first walks into Lon Michels Gallery, a person may feel a bit overwhelmed, and perhaps even claustrophobic. However, those feelings quickly dissipate.
The rooms of the small Palm Canyon Drive gallery are filled, almost frame to frame, with art. Those works quickly become welcoming friends.
After wintering in the Coachella Valley for six years, Lon Michels and his husband, Todd Olson, recently decided to make the desert their year-round home.
“The desert is an artist’s paradise,” Michels says. “The colors are always changing. It’s more than just the sky; it is also about the mountains. The mountains produce such wonderful shadows and textures.”
Michels has been painting for more than 40 years and demonstrates a unique style; it reflects his education, influences, travels—and a life-changing event. At the age of 30, while living in Key West, a viral infection attacked his optic nerves. He was left blind, he said.
However, Michels, with the help of an assistant, returned to painting in just three months. After 17 months of intense therapy, his vision returned—and the experience shaped, literally and figuratively, how he perceives objects and color.
His paintings are awash with color. Paints are not spattered; they are not dripped; they are not flat; they are definitely not monochromatic. He selects colors that create an immediate impact—as well as a subtle experience. They complement or serve as a counterpoint to other colors on the canvas.
His style is highly controlled. A similar sensibility extends to his unique, one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable art.
Michels frequently creates recognizable forms within forms—and he also uses those forms as the shell for staccato-like brush strokes. Irrespective of the subject, many canvases, when viewed from a distance, contain hints of pointillism. Michels’ paintings also contain a well-managed freneticism. This quality is a result of his years in New York City, perhaps?
He clearly loves blues and purples. His juxtaposition of these colors, at times, brings out a subdued psychedelic vibe.
Much of Michels’ style is epitomized in “Joshua Tree,” pictured here. This accessible canvas features the rock structures and desert life that define Joshua Tree; each object is outlined in black—and these black lines become frameworks or mini-canvases for paintings embedded in the larger canvas.
Todd Olson, Michels’ husband, is a painter in his own right—and Lon’s influence on him is clear. However, there are definite differences. Olson’s style seems a bit freer, and he employs a warmer color palette; he uses oranges and yellows extensively.
Today, both artists work side-by-side; they share a studio inside the gallery.
The stylistic differences between the two artists can be seen on two canvases, each titled “Princess.” Painting at the same time and using the same models (a tall man and his shorter, voluptuous wife), Michels and Olson worked together, yet separately.
Michels’ work features multiple layers and densities, resulting in tremendous depth and dimensionality. Olson’s painting, clearly an homage to his mentor, is similar, yet different: His freer style and choice of warmer colors resulted in a more-lyrical but somewhat-less-complex canvas.
The Lon Michels Gallery will celebrate its grand opening on Saturday, Oct. 26, from 5 to 9 p.m. In addition to their paintings, Michels will be showing his collection of one-of-a-kind wearable art, presented by live models. Finally, a film documenting Lon’s work and approach to art will premiere under the stars.
The Lon Michels Gallery is located at 1061 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, visit lonmichelsart.com.