Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Art Space Talk: Michael Velliquette

I recently interviewed artist Michael Velliquette. I observed Mr. Velliquette's art while attending the PULSE Contemporary Art Fair in New York. His work was represented by DCKT Contemporary: http://www.dcktcontemporary.com/
Mr. Velliquette often uses sheets of multi-colored archival card stock that are hand-cut then glued, working from background to foreground, onto a paper backing in successive layers. Narratives ranging from the intimate to the epic address ongoing philosophical quandaries of the human condition including questions of self, other, place, transformation and transcendence.

The flatness of the paper is countered by a dense layering of successively smaller and more ornate pieces; bending, folding and rolling elements coupled with the graphic qualities of the paper cut-out's edges create dramatic spatial relationships. An intuitive use of color supports the works’ handmade aesthetic. The intricately crafted constructions are set in deep frames to heighten the works’ three-dimensionality.

Mr. Velliquette was the recipient of an artist residency and one-person exhibition at Artpace (San Antonio) TX in 2004. He has previously had one-person exhibitions at galleries in Dallas and San Francisco and has been in included in group exhibitions at Western Bridge (Seattle) and Deitch Projects (New York).

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "Around age 19, I met a group of art students at my university (Florida State, Tallahasse). I was undecided in my major at the time (I think I thought I would go into something in theater, but was fairly unfocused.) These young groups of artist were incredibly charismatic. They had a sense of purpose and a connectedness through their artwork that I found compelling. I felt a sort of resonance with their ways of engaging with the world, but art making as a serious endeavor was new to me.

At the time it mostly included these elaborate decorations I would create for my living spaces- I made a bed out of tree branches, painted designs on the ceiling and walls, and would often set up these intricate altars for this sort of do-it-yourself, hippie spirituality I was practicing.

So I then decided to start taking art classes, and my first semester, first class, was drawing 1. The artist Ed Love (who has unfortunately pass on) was the instructor. He sort of looked like a young James Earl Jones, and was totally imposing. He must have been 6'5" or something. He made these politically charged figurative sculptures that were just plain intense. He was also a tough instructor.

Of everything I learned in his class I remember his unwavering belief that art making was not only an important thing for humans to be doing, but a duty. It's something I continue to think about. I guess at some point that first semester it started to make sense to me- this inner call- and response that is the creative process- and it did seem important. I realized that I'd found this direction in life that I would be following for a long time."
Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A. "Well, to use a corny cliche, artist march to a different beat. I think our society here in the US has certain expectations for success that are tough to be gauged by as an artist. We have to be incredibly mindful and determined to be artists. I guess I would say that society influences my art, by constantly challenging me to determine it's importance. And I think there are social implications to being an artist, simply for this fact that we propose alternate ways to live important lives."

Q. On average, how long does it take you to create a piece?

A. "A long time! I don't know- time is sort of elastic for me in the studio. Stuff can gurgle up in my head and in my sketchbook for months. When it comes to sitting down and making the piece, so many things affect one's focus.This recent cut paper work is very time consuming.

I used to make mixed media sculptures that had improvisational or ephemeral aspects to them, and that were produced very quickly. They were very much tied to the lack of time I had to make art and this 'make-do' aesthetic that was coloring much of my world during this period. But at some point, I read this account of medieval monks spending years producing these single pages of illuminated manuscripts. I guess I began to fetishize the idea of focused time and the hand made- that then translated into hours of cutting paper!

I just set up a new studio and started two new 48x48 inch works. I expect they will take me about one month to finish the both of them."

Q. Can you share some of your philosophy about art and artistic creation?

A. "I try to be in the studio as often as possible for as long as possible. I am a compulsive 'tinkerer'- someone who regularly needs long hours of uninterrupted studio time to feel balanced and happy. Discoveries tend to happen for me through a direct engagement with materials. I tend to need to produce large amounts of work to feel creatively sated. I also make significant breakthroughs just because I was staring at something on the studio wall. I think the key is just being there."

Q. What was your most important exhibition? Care to share experience?

A. "I made a very large installation at Artpace in San Antonio back in 2004. It was important in part for the fact that it was one of the first times I was given significant resources to realize a piece. It took about 6 weeks to build and I had 2 full-time assistants. After that experience I realized I really needed to step things up if I wanted to continue to work on that scale and with that focus."

Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "I keep regular hours in the studio, so it's not so much a matter of getting there. And with this current work I generally always know what I'm doing next, so it's really about just setting the mood to produce. Personally I like audio books- and any genre- history, biography, sci-fi, self-help..."

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "I think some of my work is accessible for the vibrant colors, surface textures, or what could be perceived as light subject matter- rainbows, clouds, birds, etc. I'm totally ok with that. And in that sense, my greatest fans tend to be children and the elderly!

I've recently connected to a global community of scrap-bookers and bloggers into paper art, which is very eccentric and exciting. I do have this more challenging genre of imagery, I guess, that involves some darker stuff too- rivers of blood, demonic deities, dismemberment, etc., and many of those works have sold too. So who knows, I suspect my work appeals to collector-types in general, or those who appreciate oddities or the obscure."

Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. "The title piece for my recent show in New York is called 'The Intuitive Jungle"(image above). It's horizontal- 15x48 inches and has this multi-colored jungle made of cut paper plants spread over the length of the surface. Out of the density of the colored brush emerge these white hands. One doesn't know if they are corpses digging themselves out, or are perhaps experiencing the rapture.

They might be lost journeyers on a trek of some sort and are signaling to be rescued. It might be one of the more symbolic works in the show. I think that the jungle itself is representative of an inner emotional landscape and the figures are trying to pierce through its canopy to the more monochromatic skyscape. It's about getting objectivity or perspective on oneself.

Q. Tell us more about your educational background. How did it help you as an artist? What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?

A. "I received an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000. For me, it was three years to focus on the development of my work from this sort of artistic adolescence to "early adulthood". My particular program had a focus on craft, which I didn't totally appreciate at the time.

It's only in hindsight now, as a working artist, teacher, and someone who observes a great deal of student art, that I realize many young artists lack the cognitive ability to effectively craft an object. I believe this is important only to the extent that learning to make something well teaches an artist intention, and the ability to follow through from concept to form.

The other major part of my graduate school experience were the people I met and the community of artist peers I built during that time. Many of these individuals I still speak with weekly- if not daily!- and continue to seek their input in the studio."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "I went through art school during the early years and then later years of the 1990's. By then, this collage-based or mixed-media aesthetic was a sort of standard. Personally I've always had eclectic stylistic sensibilities so that mixing media and materials felt very natural to me. 'A little of this, a little of that' sor of thing. I liked the freedom of flexibility in the material choices. So this has been my approach for years- until recently working with this paper card stock.

These new works are entirely made of paper and glue- no paint, glitter, marker or anything else I would routinely add. It felt odd at first, or I don't know how to explain... cheating something or myself? I know that sounds silly. But then I settled into the process and there was this cohesiveness to the final work that I found very charged and powerful- a sense of unity that I hadn't fully experienced with my work before. So I've decided to explore this for a while.

As for the paper... I'm attracted to it's openness as a material. The blank page is this great metaphor for nothingness and the potential for "somethingness". It can go flat or sculptural, plain or colored. It can be cut, folded, ripped, etc. to create endless textures. It also has this suggested sense of the ephemeral, but can be very strong and enduring. And there is this long history with paper and storytelling that I'm attracted to.

I'm still making other things- other mixed media collages and such, and mobiles, which is an art form I adore. But these are just things for the studio now- not ready to show."

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "Currently DCKT Contemporary, new York, represents me. I just had my first solo show with them this past February. They are really great and pro-active and just generally good folk, which is important to me in a dealer. They are taking some of my work to an art fair in Barcelona called SWAB this coming May."

Q. What galleries have you exhibited in? Can you provide links to their sites?

A. "Apart from DCKT in New York, I've showed in San Francisco a few times, but have primarily worked with Texas galleries including Conduit Gallery in Dallas (http://www.conduitgallery.com/), and Finesilver Gallery in Houston and San Antonio- (http://www.finesilver.com/ )"

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "Work, work, and work! I also always tell my students to find what it is about making art that brings them the most joy and do more of it. It seems simplistic, but I absolutely believe in it as a strategy for a long-term career and fulfilling life."

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist?

A. "I think it is always hard to be an artist, but there really hasn't been a defining moment where I felt that the deal's off. I mean, what are the alternatives? It makes me shudder to think, really!

I co-directed this artist-run project space in San Antonio called The Bower for about 5 years and there were a few periods where I thought I could be a dealer or curator if I really put my mind to it. But the reality is that nothing has ever been as satisfying to me as making art, even during the darker days."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "I'm in the US, and have been based in San Antonio, Texas for the past 6 years. I found Texas to be a sort of hot bed of creativity. It's ver easy, logistically, to be an artist there. It also has a healthy amount of galleries, museums, curators, and collectors, and dialogue with the larger art world centers.

Each city- Houston, Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso, Lubbock, Marfa, Corpus Christi, etc, have their own scene, but also feed into the wider Texas art scene.
There is a great website (http://live.glasstire.com/ ) that covers most of the stuff that is happening. Overall. it's probably a quieter pace than living on one of the coasts, but for me it's translated into much more time for making art. I've also recently re-located to Madison, WI part-time and am in the process of discovering the artist's life here."

Q. Does religion, faith, or the lack thereof play a part in your art?

A. "My father writes me these letters and draws smiley faces on the outside of the envelopes- which to me is an important part of my faith in art. I mean, how can this circle, two dots, and a line make me feel so good? It's very abstract! So if that can make me feel a certain way- then all images can.

I am still discovering how it is that I want my images to make people feel, but I believe it has to do with this complex relationship between pleasure and pain"

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Michael Velliquette. Feel free to critique or discuss his work.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the vibrant colors and the originality of his work. You could look for a very long time at each piece and still find new details. How refreshing!!
He sounds very nice and I wish Michael great success.