Among the many pieces of art in Union South’s Gallery 1308, brightly colored sculptures and drawings are rather noticeable in the Time (Im)material exhibition. This collection of art, coined as mixed media sculptures, comes from the creative mind of Madison artist Michael Velliquette.
“I’ve always gravitated towards things that are quick and easy, sort of expressionistic. … I call myself a sculptor, but I don’t do stone sculpture or anything like that,” Velliquette said.
When he began his work, Velliquette focused on installations, particularly one large-scale piece titled “You in the I” that allowed viewers to walk inside the space made of cardboard, plastic and aluminum. Since that piece, Velliquette has developed a standard of materials to use for his work – specifically paper.
“Around 2005, in an effort to focus my practice, I started working with paper exclusively,” Velliquette said. “I explored the scope of pushing the paper and sort of seeing what form it could take the longer I worked with it.”
After some time creating more dramatic works, specifically one based on mythical gods, Velliquette is revisiting the concepts of his earlier repertoire. After the release of his first book earlier this year, “Lairs of the Unconscious,” which details his work since 2004, Velliquette is reliving the nostalgia of his artwork from the beginning of his career.
The artist’s pieces, which can be seen on his website, www.velliquette.com, are intricately detailed through his use of multiple colors and shapes. In order to have more more freedom with his color palette, he has been painting his own construction paper over the past couple of years.
With each project, Velliquette calls the art an evolving process, which he understands can be difficult for people to conceptualize.
“You push that hobby to a point that there’s this space when people see what it is that you’ve done,” he said. “They have no frame of reference for how that’s possible. But the truth is, it’s just a lot of looking and observing at this intuitive process.”
Although his use of bright colors and complex constructions could be seen as a representation of more modern art, Velliquette has specific reasoning for his technique.
“I’m interested in art that is generous to the viewers. Generous for me is not necessarily easy, but generous in terms of that amount of visual information that it gives to the viewer,” Velliquette said.
Color, for him, creates many visual contrasts and a visually stimulating encounter – embedding a positive experience for himself.
“So, I equate that experience of hyper-color as something that also stimulates a positive experience in the viewer,” Velliquette said.
The attention to detail in any sort of artwork is very exciting for the artist. Throughout his experiences with artwork from around the world, he said he is always impressed by what can be created with merely the human hand.
“There are some evolutionary biologists who talk about the need for art – the ability to exercise their skill, with creating out of a raw material. That became advantageous from an evolutionary point of view, that level of sophistication and problem-solving,” Velliquette said.
With each project, Velliquette has a formulaic planning routine with the basis of each art piece. First, a general drawing is sketched onto paper for the shaping of the piece. From there, the sketches are cut into three-dimensional forms to create a base. Finally, he adds multiple layers of colorful paper for the bright design.
For the many layers of bright paper, he uses an acrylic paint. In a recent exhibition at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, titled Chromatopia, Velliquette tried to create an important significance for the colors in his work.
“I like to think of them as being relics or pieces of a culture that is not a culture necessarily of Earth, but part of a culture that worships color or form,” he said.
When he reflects on his history, there is a consistent interest in art. However, when he arrived at Florida State University, he intended to study English before realizing art was more enjoyable and interesting. After he switched his major, he began to compile his own portfolio.
While studying art, Velliquette began to grasp an understanding of how to make art out of all materials available. He was also influenced by artists Paul Thek and Ed Keinholz, who are artists from the late 1960s and made art with found objects and mixed media.
“I have a lot of eclectic interests with things that inspire me visually. It could be anything from a haircut on a poodle to some exquisite Mandala painting. That kind of range of eclectic interests was easy for me to express in a lot of different materials,” Velliquette said.
Now Velliquette has the opportunity to teach University of Wisconsin students what he discovered from his experiences. In an attempt to broaden its course offerings, the art department allowed Velliquette to start “Art 100: An Introduction to Art,” a studio and lecture course designed for non-art majors that offers a broad introduction to all forms of art media.
“It’s important to people that even aren’t artists to have the ability to think creatively because if you can think creatively, you can see multiple solutions to any given problem,” Velliquette said.
With a large collection of art in his toolbox, Velliquette loves every body of artwork and is especially happy to have continued pursuing a passion. In advice to students about pursuing an art career, he urges aspiring artists to test their commitment to the field of study.
“Go for a period of time without art-making as a career goal, and just to do something else. See if they continue to make art during that period. If they find the time and desire to make art and if that time and desire overshadows their desire to do whatever else their doing, then they should consider a career in the arts,” Velliquette said.
Looking to the future, Velliquette has multiple shows to prepare for that keep him busy, including one that will not begin until 2013. While in preparation for these exhibitions, Velliquette would like to experiment with other forms of art such as stained glass, lighting and weaving.
For now, he continues to provide the Madison community with positive and energetic artwork – hoping to convince Madison of the value art can provide to enrich lives.
“It’s proof of the imagination. It’s proof that humans have the ability to think in the most complex and abstract ways and to try to make those abstract thoughts visible in material,” Velliquette said. “It’s the celebration of imagination.”
Michael Velliquette’s gallery Time (Im)material will run at Gallery 1308 in Union South through Nov. 29.