Some people see the world in black, white and gray. So as Lon Michaels art bursts on you like a collision between a rainbow and a kaleidoscope, it’s clear that his life is one of enlightenment. “I love color,” he says, and after a lifetime of painting, the Palm Springs transplant is set to open the Lon Michael Gallery in October. But before arriving at the culmination of this lofty vision, he had to literally endure a darkness that turned his life upside down and took him from his passion for almost two years.
In January, 2004, as he was painting, the lights above him seemed to dim. “I thought it was a brown out or maybe a cloud was coming over the sun, and within 15 minutes, it went from cloudy to black – I could not see,” he remembered.
Diagnosed with an infection in his optic nerve, Michaels was told he would never see again. “It was the most horrible thing,” he says.
So much so, he spent all his time feeling sorry for himself, not wanting to get out of bed. In this, he was to find out who his real friends were. “Some of my dearest friends had an intervention,” he says.
They flatly told him he had to start painting again. Michaels promptly told them to get out of the house but eventually he got the message. Setting up with boxes of paint and large canvases, he says, “My objective was to be like a child holding a sparkler, shut my eyes and then motion a flower shape.”
It was simple but effective. “It gave me hope again,” says Michaels.
It also gave him the chance to look inside and realize all the things we take for granted. He was then lucky enough to appreciate this gift with eyes wide open.
After a number of experimental procedures from the doctors at the Baskin Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, a glimmer of light was revealed. I woke up one morning. I turned my head to where the window was,” he says. “It was lighter.”
The full impact to come was unmistakable. All artists - whether with a paintbrush or onstage as singers or performers - have doubts about their ability to deliver, he says, “but after being given this gift, that apprehension left me.”
His painting thus followed suit and colorfully extrapolated well beyond where he was originally. “It’s an explosion of love that happened on canvas. My painting increased in intensity by a hundred fold,” says Michaels.
Not that where he started was dim by any measure. His mom in charge of the family during the day, the only way she could keep painting was by putting brushes in the hands of all the brothers and sisters. “I was the only one who continued as a career,” says the Wisconsin raised artist.
And he credits a lack of direction – in a sense – to the success he enjoys today. “My mother was very inspiring and motivating, but no one ever told me what I was painting wasn’t right,” he says.
It’s certainly has paid off, as many academia of the day consider him the Picasso of our time, but he’ll definitely take the reaffirmation that comes with a sale. “Every painting an artist paints is a self portrait, so when someone loves my work enough to live with it, I get the feeling that I’ve done what I was put here for,” he says. “It’s like I’m following God’s plan and we’re on the same page.”
Michaels also does a good deal of painting by commission, which provides a more human sort of bonding. “There’s a beautiful connection that happens with a commission where people become part of the process,” he says.
Now, as he is about to open the gallery with the relentless promotion of his partner Todd, he feels it culminates a dream come true that traveled the long road of hard work and perseverance over tragedy. “I feel I’ve come full circle and I get to see my name on that sign that says the Lon Michaels Gallery,” he says.