At first glance, you might have a hard time guessing what material Michael Velliquette uses to create his intricate sculptures. Its rooms look like small-scale architectural marvels where you don’t know where to begin, but each entry point leads to endless exploration.
“I like that there is something everywhere the eye falls [on] that kind of engages you or pushes you to the next thing,” says Velliquette.
What makes each piece even more fascinating is the fact that each stacked structure, each circular gear-shaped piece, each shape, each layer and each accent is made of thick cover paper. Using glue, paper and various tools, Velliquette spends hundreds of hours – he says an average of 500 hours per piece – assembling his monochrome fine art paper sculptures for exhibitions in galleries across the country.
A classically trained artist, Velliquette graduated from Florida State University with a BFA in 1993 and from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with an MFA and MFA in 2000. The native from the Gulf Coast of Florida then moved to various locations. , where he practiced mixed-media sculpture and created large-scale installations before returning to Madison to teach a college summer course in 2005. He met his current husband – Tehshik Yoon, a chemistry professor at the UW–Madison–that summer and officially moved to Madison for good in 2007. He still works with UW–Madison as a faculty associate in the art department while maintaining his private art practice and its exhibits.
Early in her career, Velliquette created immersive environments using cardboard, foil, paper, curtains, sound, lighting, mobiles, sculptural furniture, and other materials. He also worked on paintings and drawings. The inspiration to experiment with paper began 15 years ago when he was working on a large mixed media painting – he had tested it with paper before moving on to his intended material, which was a painted cut-out canvas.
“It was just a moment of inspiration – maybe I could just work with paper for a while instead of all those mixed bells and whistles,” says Velliquette.
From there he continued to create art from paper, eventually finding critical and commercial success. These early pieces were multicolored and varied in size, and they often incorporated eyes, animals, his own profile, and hands reaching for objects.
“At some point you know it’s paper, but then it doesn’t feel like paper anymore,” says Velliquette. “He’s accessible on a level where people know him because he’s so familiar to them.”
Velliquette estimates he made 200-300 pieces in 10 years, but he took a break in 2015 to work on a piece of public art for an elementary school in Queens. This piece took a year and a half, and just when he was ready to go back to the studio and get back to his early colored paper work, he decided to start researching what was next. He says he thought, “Maybe I’ve said everything I’m going to say, maybe I’m done.”
He pivoted to a new way of expressing his paper practice – one that continues to this day. Velliquette says it all started by cutting simple shapes out of paper.
“I got interested in this idea that a blank sheet of paper, traditionally…you think it’s not about the material but what’s on the material, your words or the image,” Velliquette explains. “The blank surface becomes space [in which] this world is taking shape, but if I take it away and just use this material, can I also make the material produce… the things that are in my imagination?
And that’s what he did. Velliquette began repeating designs, stacking sheets, and finding new ways to use paper. He created sculptures using the basic shapes and elements of quilling, an art where pieces of paper are rolled, shaped and glued together to create patterns.
“A lot of trial and error, a ton of trial and error, thousands of hours of trial and error,” says Velliquette. “I probably have the 10,000 hours invested in it that they say you have to master something.”
Over the years, he has produced around twenty sculptures. Each takes months to create from start to finish. “The pace of my work has really slowed down,” says Velliquette.
While Velliquette’s work incorporates lots of vibrant color, each of her paper sculptures is monochromatic, using only one color for the entire process. Velliquette says he felt like he lost touch with color after returning to his artistic practice, but the use of singular color allows the viewer to look at dimensionality without having to understand different layers.
Each piece is different from the one before it. “Often the discovery of a tool or technique comes to fruition by assigning a new piece,” he says. The first couples were made with matte paper. Then he opted for taller, brightly colored structures and he is now working on a series of metal-coated paper pieces.
He says he’s constantly finding new ways to make them and new tools to use, which has caught his interest. “It’s just endlessly fascinating,” he said.
He’s also gone from two pairs of scissors in his toolbox to a trolley full of gadgets, including leather punches, a Japanese punch tool, tools used for ceramics, several varieties of chisels, and different bottle tips. of glue. There is no laser cutting – Velliquette cuts each piece by hand. He says he often lets the work guide him as he progresses and will build along the way, maintaining symmetry and repeating the elements. Then he will think about how to fill in the gaps so that there is something in every corner.
“[I have] two intentions. One is just pushing paper art into these kinds of new territories,” says Velliquette. “Then the second is to convey to the viewer a similar sense of calm and peace…a sort of concentrated, quiet concentration, which [excitement] that I get when I make them.
Maija Inveiss is associate editor of Madison Magazine.
COPYRIGHT 2022 BY MADISON MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED.