Micael  Priest
Like everyone, Micael Priest was unique. But, his was a very special way of being. There was never any doubt about whether you knew him or not; once you met Micael, you could never forget him.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, to Dorris Jean Hinds Priest and H. Wayne Priest, he was to be the oldest of their three sons; his two brothers are Al, born in 1954, and Gary, born in 1958. Micael married Paula Holloway, and they had a son, Brennan, born in 1970. Brennan married Erin in 2016, they had a son - Micael's only grandchild, Corlin Priest, in 2017.
After Micael's birth, his family moved to Wichita, Kansas, and from there to Chicago Heights, Illinois. Transferred to Los Angeles in 1959, Dorris and the kids lived in Bedford, Texas, while Wayne was purchasing a new home in Gardena, California. It was here that Micael's artistic light first shined publicly, as he received a scholarship to the Disney College of Art in 1965. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The family was transferred back to Texas that summer, just before the Watts riots. Settling once again in Bedford, they were all back in the Lone Star state, this time for good.
Micael left Bedford and moved to Austin in 1969, where he attended the University of Texas for a year. In 1970, he got married and moved to Austin; later that year their son was born. At this time, he also worked briefly for the Texas Education Agency. After that, the family moved back to the Metroplex, this time to Arlington, where Micael attended UT-Arlington for a semester. It was during this period that he left academic arenas for artistic ones, joining Don Ivan Punchatz's Sketchpad Studio as its most talented and prolific intern. Feeling restless, and separated from his wife and son, he moved back to Austin. After freelancing for a bit, Micael helped form Directions Company in 1972, where he served as Art Director.
After the company dissolved, he went on to establish Sheauxnough (pronounced "Sho Nuff") Studios in 1976. Joining him there, over the years, were Guy Juke, Danny Garrett, Dale Wilkins, Bill Narum, Robert Eckstrom, and Scout Stormcloud, as well as other itinerant artist types, and for a while, even the Austin Chronicle in its infancy. Micael later became Art Director for Austin Scenic Design Group, who mainly did film production in and around Austin. In 1992 he entered the digital age by accepting an artist/art director position at Origin Systems, then Austin's premier computer game company. About two decades later, he went to live at the Rebecca Baines Johnson Residential Tower, where he passed away on Sept. 12, 2018.
He's probably best known for the work he did at Armadillo World Headquarters. Of the entire Armadillo Art Squad, Micael was the most prolific, creating well over 100 posters, fliers, banners and backdrops, LP and EP covers, apparel designs, and visual iconography for the legendary venue that was the cornerstone of Austin's music edifice. He became the art sergeant of that Squad when its founder, Jim Franklin, took a sabbatical, and he also took on Jim's mantle as the house MC, becoming both the voice and the presence that emanated from the stage. In that regard he became the major domo of those boards, introducing and regaling the performances that paraded across that stage, sparking magical musical moments still alive in the hearts of those who were there.
It wasn't just the Armadillo, of course. Micael produced art for any number of places where the music lived - from Castle Creek, to Fleetwood Mac at the old Municipal Auditorium, to Alvin Crow at the Broken Spoke; from Corn Festivals to Grateful Dead gigs at Manor Downs; from painting giant faces on beer trucks to eventually pushing pixels around phosphorescent screens. But it was the musicians themselves who benefited most as he passed pen and pencil over paper and illustration board. Priest was a consummate portraitist, with bands and individuals constantly commissioning him to capture their images and impart them to flocks of album covers and promotional pieces, as well as personal occasions such as weddings, birthdays, benefits, births and deaths, tributes and memorials. He depicted them as they were - regular, unique people who just happened to be working musicians.
He also chronicled the economic life of the city, or at least its counter-cultural precincts. Priest was the motivating force behind the very first counter-cultural advertising firm, Directions Company. As art director and general visionary, he secured contracts and clients, creating the first coherence of the art that formed around the music with the businesses that developed within this community and its culture. He even did shopping centers - well, alternative ones, such as Dobie Mall and 'Bluebonnet Plaza,' an un-centralized amalgam of scattered businesses around UT, catering to the freak-flag crowd. And eateries - he did 'em -- from the Raw Deal, through Green Mesquite BBQ, to South Austin Flying Pizza. All were done with the Priest touch: tight rendering, informed and insightful cultural coloring, and of course, exquisitely crafted lettering.
In this arena - lettering - Micael was beyond stellar. There is much that distinguishes Micael's work. There are his obvious abilities as an artist of course, as well as the wit, knowledge, and creative embrace of themes that only comes with a deep understanding of culture, in all its guises. But it was his command of letter forms, coupled with an innate sense of the way type and script work, that led him to design fonts previously unthought of, but nonetheless resident within his conceptual horizon. The lettering he created often out-shown even the art it was there to embellish.
Besides art, Micael was a master of the story. He was never short of them. The city and the state it capitalized; citizens of all stripes and denizens of cafes, bars and clubs; the countryside and its critters; the music and the musicians - especially these - were all grist for his mill. Stories constituted the air he breathed, with the exhale always more than the inhale. Always. He was a counter-cultural sage, and frequently dressed the part. So much so, in fact, that in his later years, he cut the striking figure of a hippie Gandolf, parting the air with a yarn, and the pavement with his serpentine walking stick. Colorful in language, and wicked smart in perception, he crafted tales that still glow like embers in deep memory. When you observed the Priest story train passing, a chuckle was always the caboose.
Micael Priest not only inhabited - but also helped to define - our world as we passed through it with him, from the 1970s up to this 21st century moment. He delineated the fiber and texture of that world through the precise strokes of his Rapidograph. Through line and tone, letter and glyph, image and story, he has provided us with a map of its dimensions and directions. He essentially drew us all into it.
Please join us in a celebration of Micael's life on Sunday, Nov. 11 at Threadgill's World Headquarters Beer Garden, from 2-5pm.
Published on November 5, 2018


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