Micael Priest, whose poster art remains deeply representative of Austin music, passed away yesterday at age 66. He had been suffering from multiple health issues, including diabetes and a bad heart.
“Micael Priest was the most prolific of the Armadillo Art Squad,” says South Austin Museum of Popular Culture Director Leea Mechling, referring to the legendary in-house team at the Armadillo World Headquarters, which included Jim Franklin, Guy Juke, Danny Garrett, Bill Narum, Henry Gonzalez, Kerry Awn, G.L. McElhaney, Ken Featherston, Nels Jacobson, and Sam Yeates. “Known for his iconic laconic style of drawing, his work was unmistakable. Quick witted and with an incredible sense of humor, Micael drew his way through life.
“He created some of the Austin music scene's most important posters,” she continues. “Like the 1972 Willie Nelson poster for the Armadillo World Headquarters, a performance that could be arguably be said to have changed Willie’s career and life. From monthly calendars to performance posters and many of the newspaper ads, Micael was the defacto organizer of the AWHQ Art Squad. He ramrodded several poster exhibits at the ’Dillo.”
As a young boy, the color-blind Priest demonstrated such gifts for cartoon artistry that he was awarded a scholarship to the Disney art school in his home state of California. His family relocated to Texas before he could enroll.
“I have always been enamored of Disneyesque,” Priest reflected in a 2006 Chronicle feature. "Which was actually a brush style where you used the varying thickness of line to imply weight, depth, or shadow.”
He moved to Austin in 1969 and, three years later, was commissioned by Armadillo owner Eddie Wilson to begin creating posters for the venue. Among the acts Priest posterized were the Pointer Sisters, Ramones, Frank Zappa, Commander Cody, and New Riders fo the Purple Sage.
“Priest was a walking, talking, real-life cowboy hippie cartoon character artist,” offers Kerry Awn. “Ink ran through his veins. When he came to town he changed everything just by being himself. He never heard a story he couldn’t embellish, an experience he couldn’t top, nor a chance to let you in on a pearl of wisdom spoken in a down-home manner so thick you might have thought it was all an act.
“It wasn’t. He was an original. He was an Artist, capitol ‘A.’”
Billy Perkins, who won Best Poster artist at this year’s Austin Music Awards, counts Priest among his biggest influences.
“His work, along with Guy Juke’s, quite literally inspired me as a young artist to begin doing poster art for bands,” says Perkins. “His drawing style and his skill at hand-drawn text defined the Austin music scene in its early glory days. He deserves a lot of credit for helping turn Austin into the music town that it became.
“Micael was also my friend. I told him often, and even recently, of his influence on my work. I’m glad I said those words. His influence will live on in my art.”
“To many, Priest rules as the godfather of poster art in Austin because his work is among the most enduring. Jim Franklin had created the armadillo as the symbol of the hippie counterculture in Texas, but Priest, with his cartoonist’s sensibility, used black ink to fill their veins with red blood. His anthropomorphic ’dillos didn’t simply jump around, they danced, flirted, talked, gossiped, drank beer, smoked pot, and celebrated life.”
Priest was also a talented graphicist, illustrating designs for ads, games, logos, and album covers. Interest in his art endures, with original copies of his posters continuing to net hundreds of dollars online.
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