Standing in front of a collaborative studio space on DeKalb Avenue, I tossed painter John Tindel a minefield-of-a-question, “What is it about your work that represents the South?” The artist, who was walking with a cane due to an injury last month, returned with a varied response.
“Visually, so much of what we do is experiment,” he answered, “we call it a kind of ‘folk graffiti.’” John Tindel and fellow artist Michi call their collaboration TindelMichi, adding the affectionate tagline, “Two Fat Southern Boys that Paint.” Their work combines regional humor with a flare for commercial design and Pop as well as a healthy taste for old Cadillac convertibles, fried chicken, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Tindel and Michi’s paintings are as flashy and cosmopolitan as their images are infused with a delicate sensitivity for Southern culture.
For examples, check out the artists’ work on the web. Go to TheCreativeLife.com and click on the thumbnails at left.
The deceptively simple image, CottonMouth Kin, offers the careful viewer a handful of interpretive options. A cow wearing a rather gloomy expression stands with its back to a horizon suggestive of anxieties about the past juxtaposed with the product logos of the commercialized present. The viewer is invited to enter the painting through the cow, whose pink star-shaped mark links it to a silhouette of a Confederate-era steamer in the background. By chance, the symbolism is strangely similar to the star-marked sheep of the novel, A Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami.
In Tindel and Michi’s painting, the cow wears its pink star and somewhat droopy angel wings with little mirth. The smoky plume of the ship, which vaguely resembles the historical C.S. City of Vicksburg is inscribed with the crossed-out letters “C-O-N.” Like several of the collaborators’ other works, the piece contains stylistic shout-outs to artists like Basquiat, and in the sky overhead, an eyeball reminiscent of Guernica judges the landscape below. Just as in Picasso’s painting, the innocence of rural livestock - here set off by lime and baby blue - contrasts with the grit of history, held prisoner by that ominous, patriarchal gaze.
“We want so much to create this unique Atlanta art experience,” Tindel elaborates, “we want to take you in, give you food and cornbread, and talk with you and tell stories.” This story-telling process is an important part of the artists’ collaboration. Tindel describes his painting sessions with Michi as “less so much a duel and more of a dialog.” The dialog has a discernable effect on their paintings. Visually impressive, the images also contain dialect puns such as “can’t never could” and “Jackson-Potluck.”
The two artists designed a recent show that centered on the real life story of a mid 20th century Alabama bootlegger. Tindel explains, “We staged this show as if [the bootlegger] was actually the one throwing a party for all of our guests.” Tindel and Michi invited the living descendents of the bootlegger to join the celebration. This dialectic between narrative and art is part of what makes the TindelMichi project unique. The artists have made an effort to use these Southern narratives to energize their openings and events without crossing the line into gimmick.
“There’s a balance between the art and the marketing,” Tindel continues. Still, the two artists like to have a good time. In the past, TindelMichi shows have at various times featured a 1920 Rolls-Royce parked on site, authentic mint juleps (and, of course, PBR), and a buffet complete with 150 pounds of fried chicken.
Tindel, who became a father recently, is looking out for the next change in his style. “I was painting like 18 hours at a time,” he explains, “now I either do tons of little drawings or I paint something over a long period, with very little work each time I sit down.” Having a child, though, does promise to expand Tindel’s repertoire of images. He says laughingly, “One day I’m drawing a helicopter, and the kid says ‘helicopter!’ It’s great.”
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