Our December artist of the month is the talented Michael Veliquette. The USA based artist creates incredible paper sculptures
Full name: Michael Velliquette
"Paper comes in endless textures, colors, and weights.It can be used in multiple dimensions. It’s easy to handle and to manipulate, and it’s available virtually anywhere. "
Where do you make your paper Art?
I’m based in the US and have moved around quite a bit during my life. I began my career as a young artist in the early 2000’s while living in San Antonio, Texas and that’s where I first started working with paper. I’ve lived in Madison, Wisconsin for the last 12 years. For those unfamiliar with the state of Wisconsin it’s in the northern middle of the US. I’m about 3 hours north of Chicago. Madison is the state capitol and a big university town. I have my studio here and also teach at the University of Wisconsin.
How long have you been working with paper?
I began my investigations into paper art about 15 years ago somewhat accidentally, as I was using paper models as studies for larger installation work. Over time, I became more interested in the ability of this single, simple material to encapsulate all of my formal and conceptual interests by itself. Paper comes in endless textures, colors, and weights. It can be used in multiple dimensions. It’s easy to handle and to manipulate, and it’s available virtually anywhere. It’s inherently ephemeral, but given the right conditions, it can last for centuries. It has been used in all aspects of human civilization, from record keeping to ritual, architecture, and communication.
How would you describe your approach to paper art?
My early paper pieces were image-based. Throughout a period spanning ten years and over two hundred works, I investigated paper-crafting traditions from around the world and integrated them with my own wholly unique techniques. Over time, my work has become less tied to pictorial schemas and less concerned with representation than with process.
My current approach has become more improvisational: instead of relying on drawn studies, I simply allow works to accrue cut-by-cut and piece-by-piece. This handcrafting process is slow — depending on scale, finished works can take up to five hundred hours to manifest. This results in the production of fewer individual works, but each piece invites a greater wealth of interpretations. They can be displayed both horizontally as sculpture in the round or vertically as bas-reliefs. I encourage their investigation from multiple perspectives, both visual and conceptual.
Where do you find inspiration?
I see parallels between my approach to art-making with religious, conceptual, and process-based art practices where expansive patterning and ornamentation, and where visual complexity and abundance are meant to allude to the infinite mystery of who we are.
Describe your work to us in 3 words?
Breath, contentment and devotion.
What are your favourite papers to work with?
For my sculptural series I prefer mid to heavier weight papers and card stocks in the 250-300gsm range. I like papers that cut, score, fold, bend and roll easily while still maintaining their structural integrity.
I’ve used the Stonehenge Legion series and am currently working with Daler-Rowney’s Canford line of card stock. These are commercially made, so they are quite smooth and uniform in terms of surface texture and color. In fact, those physical qualities of uniformity and evenness have underpinned some of the conceptual aims of this work in relation to my interest in making objects that manifest states of equanimity and balance in the experience of the viewer. But for the first time I’m starting to work with handmade paper.
This past summer I taught a paper crafting course at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine. There I had the opportunity to work alongside papermakers and natural dyers who had a vast knowledge of the materials and processes used to make and color paper. I gained a much deeper affinity for the organic and varied surface and textural qualities of handmade papers, and subsequently have begun a series of experiments for new works using these.
I am currently on a research trip in South Korea to learn about their traditional paper, hanji. If you follow along with my Instagram feed you’ll see lots of photos from my trip and some of the things I’m experimenting with in my little makeshift studio here.
What tool could you not live without?
Kai Scissors are my absolute hands down favorite brand. I have two coveted pairs from their 5000 series that I use daily—their 4” 5100 and 8” 5210. I have instructions to be buried with these.
As far as the other necessities I’m looking around here in my studio in Korea to see what I brought along with me. They include a 12” x 18” cutting mat, an xacto knife with #11 blades, white PVA glue and a pin-head glue bottle, a quilling roller, a pair of tweezers, a bone folder, a 4” L-square, a 12” ruler, and some drafting templates for basic geometric shapes.
What is the best thing about working with paper as a medium?
As a material it has been used in human culture for at least two thousand years, and there is something that resonates for me about working with a medium that has such a longstanding presence in our lives. And, since it’s been around for so long humans have been able to explore— and exploit— an astounding range of paper forms and functions. It’s unparalleled in terms of its flexibility as a medium. I also think paper has so many beautiful contradictions. It can be durable or ephemeral, rigid or soft, sacred or disposable.
Who are your favourite paper artists?
Oh man. I know there are folks I would forget, so I won’t even attempt a list of contemporary artists working with paper whose works I adore (many who are members of the PAC). I will say that recently I’ve been building my collection of books on the paper arts and here are some titles I have found informative and inspiring to my practice:
The Art of Modern Quilling by Erin Perkins Curet
Folding Techniques for Designers: From Sheet to Form by Paul Jackson
Quilled Mandalas by Alli Bartkowski
Paper Quilling: Chinese Style from the Zhu Liqun Paper Arts Museum
Up in Flames: The Ephemeral Art of Pasted-Paper Sculpture in Taiwan by Ellen Johnston Laing and Helen Hui-Ling Liu
Paper as Art and Craft by Thelma R. Newman
Hanji Unfurled: One Journey into Korean Papermaking by Aimee Lee
Papercutting by Claudia Hopf
What are you working on at the moment?
There are a few different directions happening in the studio right now. I have a solo show scheduled for next October with the David Shelton Gallery in Houston, Texas. That show will be a collection of new and recent monochrome paper sculptures similar to what I have been making over the last few years. I love creating that work. It’s laborious and exhausting in the best kind of way, and it fulfills something fundamental in me as a maker. Their only drawback is that they take me so long to make I can only do exhibitions of them every couple of years, and it’s harder to take on as many professional opportunities as I would like to with that work.
So I’m taking time over the next few months to also explore work that I can produce in tandem with the time-intensive paper sculpture. I’ve been returning to my drawing practice, and some of my earlier, looser cut paper work that was first inspired by Matisse.
I’ve also gotten very interested recently in the tradition of making ephemeral paper objects that are destroyed in religious or spiritual ceremonies. I collaborated with the students in my paper course at Haystack last summer where we made an elaborate paper sculpture that was filled with handwritten notes containing thoughts and intentions that folks wanted to release into the world. Then we set on fire. It was a surprisingly powerful experience for everyone including myself. It’s something I’m interested in continuing to explore, plus it’s thrilling to burn things you make!
And as I mentioned I’m currently in Korea for two months. Part of why I’m also here is to get some distance from my established paper practice— to just make whatever I feel like making. I think every artist needs to do this from time to time. Actually, I whittled a wooden walking stick a few days ago, which is technically sort of paper-related, right?