Why do we love ornamentation? Why do we deck up our houses, our bodies – when we could survive with the bare minimum? Plain walls, simple clothing. What makes us inject colour and craft into our surroundings and onto our own physical forms? The American singer, pianist and actor Władziu Valentino Liberace (1919–1987) had an explanation. He is believed to have said: “Nakedness makes us democratic, adornment makes us individuals.” In other words, through adornment we express our identity – our affiliations and beliefs. We become unique.
The sculptures of Wisconsin-based mixed media artist Michael Velliquette (born 1971) are built upon this human instinct to accessorise, to decorate, to stand out, to show off. With the help of glue and scissors, he transforms the humble everyday substance of paper into grand totem-like constructions. Squares, circles, flowers, feathers come together to define the specific character of a mysterious clan or tribe. Everything is intentionally bright and excessive.
Michael writes: “My work is invested with attributes of our species’ core creative impulses—where we do more than what is necessary to the objects and environments around us, where we practice adornment. The aesthetic traits I am most interested in could be said to be present in ritually driven object making, devotional ornamentation, or our natural human impulse for razzle-dazzle.
“I liberally take inspiration from art, architecture, and design from throughout humankind’s history, and often consider what I make suggestive of pan-cultural amalgamations of objects I have owned or places I have lived throughout my numerous past lives. However, the works are rarely direct quotes—it’s important to me that they maintain a certain ambiguity over how, when, and where they were made.
“Color plays a powerful role in my work and acts to convey a sense of optical fullness, or visual generosity in the viewer. The labor-intensive nature of my practice is also foregrounded in much of this new work and correlates to a kind of studio-induced mindfulness. Ultimately I want this work to express abundance and exuberance, and for the viewer to experience an aesthetic of plentitude.”
Michael obtained a BFA from Florida State University in 1993 and an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000, where he is now a Faculty Associate. He has recently had solo shows at David Shelton Gallery, Houston, and DCKT Contemporary New York. His museum exhibitions include Slash: Paper Under the Knife at the Museum of Art and Design, New York; Art on Paper at the Weatherspoon Art Museum; and Psychedelic at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
His work is in the collections of the Art Museum of South Texas; the Museum of Wisconsin Art; the Racine Art Museum; The Progressive Corporation; Western Bridge, Seattle; The John Michael Kohler Art Center; The State of Wisconsin; Boston Children’s Hospital and the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Some of Michael’s pieces from 2009 to 2013 are displayed below. He is currently at work on a new set.
Images used with permission.
ART FROM 2009-2013