Our interview today features the works from talented paper artist Michael Velliquette, whose works are stunningly vibrate and super complex paper sculptures. Color, playing a very powerful role in Velliquette’s work, acts to convey an aesthetic of plentitude. His vocabulary is bright, dense, ornamental, and is punctuated with recurring motifs such as eyes, flowers, feathers, and mandalas.
Tell us a little more about your background – what path led you to what you are doing now?
My earliest works were mixed media sculptures influenced by self-taught artists I discovered while in art school in the deep South during the early 90’s. Later my work developed into immersive environments with decorative elements made from found objects and craft materials, sort of a “second-hand Rococo”. Paper was often an element that I incorporated into those works. Then around 2004, while preparing studies for an exhibition, I made a series of impromptu designs with colored paper. These studies felt like the most unified work I had ever made, and I wanted to understand what that feeling was about. It wasn’t necessarily about the medium of paper at that time—paper was just the vehicle for me to get to the sense of wholeness that I was seeking. Much has changed since then in terms of how and why I work with paper, but this is really how it central to my practice.
Your sculptural works are bold and bright, how did you come upon this as well as your technique?
Cultures have always practiced customs for ornamenting bodies, objects and spaces, and they’ve done so for myriad reasons, but the core intent has always been group cohesion. I see my work as flowing out of that impulse. I am interested in how the act of making something creates the potential for individuals to connect.
In terms of my own visual style everything I do seems to bring forth an aesthetic of abundance. It’s a tendency that runs throughout my work from the beginning, and I think it connects with ideas I have about the practice of creative generosity and the effect of sensorial fullness brought about through the act of looking and experiencing a work of art or crafted object. Seeing colors and shapes foreground the act of experiencing my work. Using these visual elements to communicate with each other is an act that’s pre-verbal, so I think we respond to them in very deep and instinctual ways. The longer viewers look at my work the more complex chromatic and spatial relationships they experience. I like the feeling of being held in visual gravity to something you just can’t stop looking at and I try to make things that do that.
What have been some favorite recent projects/clients/collaborations and why?
Recently I created an enormous painted paper collage on the walls of the Mount Mary University art gallery in Milwaukee, WI. The piece covered 1800 square feet of the galleries wall space and was made in situ over the course of 4, 15-hour days. It was the closest I’ve come to having viewers walk through one of my paper sculptures.
What is the average time for a piece from start to finish?
Like many artists I work much better under a deadline. So when I am motivated by the terror of disappointing someone, or not living up to my professional duties I can work magically fast. In a good week I average about 30 working hours in the studio and I can usually complete one medium sized work during that time. I’m in the process of starting new work right now, so it’s going much more slowly, painfully slowly.
Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? If so, where and when?
I say this more or less without regret—currently I have zero upcoming exhibitions or commitments for my work. This comes after what has been for me a highly active schedule for years. I’ve had the opportunity to travel abroad quite a bit this summer in Europe and currently South Korea, and I have seen tremendous amounts of inspiring art and culture. So I guess you could say I have been in absorption mode lately. I’m also using this moment to interrogate my commitment to the studio, which includes developing new ways of making my paper works. It’s terrifying and thrilling.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I would loved to have been a student of Oskar Schlemmer’s during his days at the Bauhaus, and assisted him designing and constructing the costumes for the Triadic Ballet.
What are some of the tools used to create your paper projects?
Well, if we’re talking shop I have several favorites in my arsenal. My primary paper stock always includes Canson Smooth Bristol board. I use it to build much of the support structure in my sculpture. However my lifeblood is a 200# watercolor paper by an Italian company called Pesto. I bought several reams of it on sale at my local Artist and Craftsman Art Supply store, and I’ve been working with it for years. It is gorgeous stuff. For my colors and stains I use Liquitex acrylic paints and inks, and recently been experimenting with Krylon enamel spray paints. I swear by Fiskar’s xacto knives and blades, but I cut almost everything with a simple pair of 8” flat edge scissors I buy in bulk from Hobby Lobby. Finally, my secret weapon is a pair of 4” needlecraft scissors from a Japanese company called KAI. They are so precise I could slice atoms with them.
What is the greatest invention ever made?
Wow, that one is tough. I have a thing for Stone Age hand axes. As I understand it they are some of the earliest tools, as well as earliest works of concrete aesthetic expression our species created. When I stumble upon them in museums I just gush.
If you had an extra hour each day, what would you do with it?
Practice my tap.
Is there anymore information you would like to share with our viewers?
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time and I will leave you with a blessing my Buddhist friends taught me: May you feel safe, may you feel strong, may you feel loved, and may you live with ease.
Thank you Michael for taking the time to share your process and wonderful work with us. To our viewers, be sure to post below with your thoughts and if you know of any artists that work with paper that you would like to be interviewed, be sure to shoot us an e-mail.