First published: Winter 2008
‘Once you see what I have seen, you just cannot shake it from your mind’s eye.’ So says , an American artist, speaking from his adopted home city of Melbourne, Australia, where he has lived since 1994. ‘When I am doing my artwork, images emerge like a vision in front of me. I do not feel like they come from me, the artist, but through me.’ Michaels’ drawings take viewers on a journey into an uncanny region that rarely promises any comfort and yet is somehow irresistible. The terrain is the ever-mutable, treacherous solidity of the dreamscape.
Michaels is no spiritualist, but his Christian faith ensures a belief that people have access to much more than the limits of their own physical perception. He regards his art as revelatory and message-laden. Yet there is nothing of the preacher here. In works like It Comes! viewers are left to intuit meaning through the image, without the aid of the texts that characterise the work of other apocalyptic artists.
Born in Virginia in 1969, his earliest years were nomadic owing to the demands of his father’s job. In the mid-1970s the family settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the age of eight, Michaels experienced his first epiphany, in the form of a visitation from his dead cousin Annie. While playing outside his grandparents’ house, he sensed a presence behind him and in his body. Annie’s voice (at the time he believed she was alive) spoke softly to him, saying she would love him and be with him throughout his life. He ran to the house, where his grandmother was on the phone receiving news of Annie’s passing.
‘Most of my childhood was wonderful, especially with precognitive abilities and connecting with "the other side",’ he explains. ‘I was very comfortable with it and loved spending that time alone to indulge my spiritual side. Yes, I saw some terrible things, but overall it was mostly good.’ Since that time Michaels has experienced various levels of openness to visionary experience, although he believes that in general children ‘experience déjà vu and other phenomena more regularly than adults’, who are somewhat ‘dulled to their world’.