photos: Kara Stewart story: Joshua Corbelli
Artist Joe “Tiger” Michiels
Joe “Tiger” Michiels is an interesting guy. He spends much of his time at his home office, or “Tiger’s Den,” in South Redding. The Den sits above the garage and apart from his house. The walls of the stairway are filled with his works – his style bears traces of Van Gogh, but a more predominant influence of Mexican and Native American forms prevails.
Michiels’ art takes many forms, and his latest creation involves a canvas of a different medium: Jeans. Plain old denim. Michiels has taken to painting them much in the same way he does on a traditional rectangle. On the walls in the Den hang vibrant colored jeans, with a pair that have just barely begun to be painted draped over an easel.
At the top of the staircase is a wall of photos featuring Michiels with influential notables like Steve McQueen, Jesse James and Robert Mondavi. At the ready, Michiels is happy to recount stories of his adolescence in Nichols Canyon, painting the picture with strokes of innate desire, of a boy in the 1960s progressing to manhood.
“I didn’t think I’d live to see 21,” Michiels says, mentioning his unintended initiation at age 16 into the Mullholland Rollers, who roll their cars and survive to tell the story. His stories have become legendary in their own right. In fact, some of his Tiger’s Tales were recorded in Michael Walker’s “Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood.” Michiels takes an unabashed stance to his experiences. “If you’re out there, living life, sometimes things happen.”
Michiels’ travel experiences mix with Hollywood, what he calls the “epicenter of energy,” to create energetic and captivating pieces. When asked what inspired him to get involved in art, his response was simple: “I never really got involved in art. It’s just something I do,” he says with the smile of somebody not digging for compliments. Michiels began painting in his 20s, and most of his early works were given away. When asked about the sale of his paintings, Michiels says, “I love to paint. I’ve sold a few pieces along the way, but my problem is the time,” he says.
After more than three decades painting, writing poetry and photographing, Michiels took a few years off of his artistic endeavors. What made him snap back? “I got married. I’m happy,” he says of his wife, Susie. The two married in 1994.
A man of ever deepening adventure, Michiels is also a man of collections. A display case loaded with antique cameras (which were bought for less than a quarter or given to him), a collection of classic motorcycles (a story to be told with each one), walls plastered with photos of notable figures in the Southern California scene – this is just the beginning.
He plays instruments like the guitar and the didgeridoo, takes copious photos (some tens of thousands, he said), writes poetry and anything else you can likely imagine. Traditional masks displayed in his living room are reminders of adventures to remote villages in Costa Rica, where he has photos celebrating with the local tribes. The collection of metal bottle openers, a hanging surfboard, a blown-up photo of Michiels and his friend at an ancient religious temple in Oaxaca, Mexico; everything in his possession tells a story.
As is his nature, Michiels, 60, is a workhorse. A self-made man, Michiels moved to Redding in 1976, a few years after he went into business buying, processing and shipping lumber to manufacturers in Japan. “I’m an entrepreneur, he says. That sentiment might well carry through to his works. Bright, vibrant colors capture the eye, and bring to life the subject of the work. As a youth, Michiels was fond of Western artist Joe De Yong. “When I saw his work, I was drooling – the sculptures, bronzes, paintings – it was great,” he says.
A longstanding and highly active member of the Rotary Club of Redding and Rotary International, Michiels’ work is never done. Two years ago, he spent time in Columbia fitting 200 amputees for prosthetic arm extensions. And he’s currently preparing to go to India to fulfill the same endeavor. ”I especially enjoy giving back, since I’m still here and able to do so.”
Michiels’ postcards can be seen in town at Crown Camera (1365 Market St.), Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Pages Copy Center (1698 Market St.). Some of his paintings are hung at Westwood Motors. Visit www.tigerjoe.com for more info, and maybe a story to boot.