Cutting Deep


Michael Velliquette is a contemporary mixed media sculptor currently working primarily with paper.  His sculptures, using vibrant colors and bold forms, are visually and structurally complex.  Using paper and glue with gator board (a heavy-duty polyester graphic arts board that is both lightweight and strong, and often used for exhibits or signs) and bristol board (heavyweight all purpose card stock) as understructure,  he creates densely detailed and dimensionally complex sculptural collages that are then mounted on the wall. Velliquette carefully constructs these paper sculptures layer by layer, incorporating a range of sizes and shapes, including circles and other geometric forms, simple paper chains, and pieces cut to resemble feathers, all of which he then folds, bends and rolls into place. Several examples of his work can currently be seen in the exhibit Paperwork in 3D at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont through October 30th and at Chromatopia, a solo show at the Lawton Gallery at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay until October 6th.

Velliquette’s early work involved various media such as installation, paper sculpture, drawings and ceramics.  His current work evolved from his background in mixed-media sculpture and installation, where paper was often only one component among many.  He explains, “At the time my work was about transforming conventional craft or building materials into spectacle objects.  But as the paper works evolved I began to look for ways to move beyond their inherent flatness to achieve the same sense of immersion that had been such an important part of my previous installation work.  I spent time looking at other art forms like mosaic, relief sculpture, collage and other paper-crafting traditions, and I have gone on to incorporate aspects of these forms into my work.  The results have been ever-increasing levels of visual and structural complexity.”

On being asked how his work might change and in what new direction he might be going, Velliquette said, “In recent work I’ve been painting the paper prior to using it to construct the sculptures.  It’s given me a lot of great ideas for marking on the surfaces.  It seems like a natural extension of the material with great potential.  So, I’ve also been spending more time developing my drawings in relationship to these sculptural works and am moving towards a greater integration of the two.”

His recent work seems to reference religious objects and ritualistic icons such as totems, stupas, altars and masks. He takes inspiration from sources that include dreams, spirituality, world myths and the occult.  “The apocalyptic, the mythic, and the decorative are spoken through a method that embraces, by turns, compulsion, ritual and the fanciful” writes contemporary art historian Michael Jay McClure in Laws of the Unconcious, a book surveying  Velliquette’s early career.  In Awaken And Free What Has Been Asleep,  a solo exhibition at DCKT Contemporary in New York City this spring, Velliquette’s work was influenced by the practice of sigilization, an occult-based method for developing personal symbols by which the words of a statement of intent are reduced to a formal design.

For example along the margins of each drawing in one series, “Good Ciphers 1-12” are handwritten statements like “Opening to a deeper sense of self,” accompanied by gestoral rune-like symbols made from the letters of the statement.  Those symbols are then repeated on a larger scale and more elaborately articulated.  The sculptural works are also derived from sigils and convey a ceremonial aesthetic. “Meat Eater” appears to be a mask of a creature that is part vegetable, part animal.   Works such as “Flambeau” and “Illumine” suggest symbolic lights while “Chromasoul” and “Lil’ Orphist” reference the power of color.  “Grey Guard,” one of his few achromatic works, allows viewers greater access into the complexities of the work’s construction. In a New York Times article, “Power Tower” is described as being “shrinelike,” as well as being reminiscent of party decorations and grade school art projects.  In this show Velliquette’s paper sculptures and drawings showed an expanded engagement with ornamental abstraction.  His bold new forms evolved from a self-described “rite” of meditation, reflection and drawing, and showed a heightened prowess with the process of cutting, layering and gluing his colored paper shapes.

In Chromatopia, Velliquette shows his continuing interest in the interaction of form and color.  The works are infused with aspects of tantric drawing, totems, sacred architecture and votive statuary.  Four distinct series make up this installation, including miniature gouache paintings, mixed media drawings, paper constructions and plaster sculptures.  A statement from the gallery states that “Collectively, the works are suggestive of relics or artifacts from a culture devoted to the worship of vivid hues and complex patterning.”

In a description of his work of 2010-2011, Velliquette states, “For me, these works have partly become an exploration of the way emotional responses can be cued by such basic formal elements as color, line, shape, texture and pattern.  But these works also speak somewhat about spiritually driven object-making and devotional ornamentation.”  He also declares: “I also see my recent works as a reaction against the current economic environment.  In times of crisis, people often turn to religion and faith.  For me, I draw a similar sense of strength from my studio practice.  As the country was drawing deeper into recession, everything I was hearing in the media was about shortage and scarcity.  I wanted my work to express abundance and exuberance, and for the viewer to experience an aesthetic of plenitude.  I get a lot of inspiration from visual density, and it keeps me feeling positive and energized.”

Velliquette lives and works in Madison, Wisconsin, where he is on the art faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He has had numerous solo exhibitions around the country, including Awaken And Free What Has Been Asleep at DCKT Contemporary in New York City in the spring of this year, and participated in many group exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad, including Slash: Paper Under the Knife at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York  City and  Psychedelic: Optical and Visionary Art Since the 1960s at the San Antonio Museum of Art in  San Antonio, Texas. He also has two solo shows upcoming: at Blythe Projects in Culver City, California in 2012 and at the Clough-Hanson  Gallery at  Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee in 2013.  He is represented by DCKT Contemporary in New York City as well as by the David Shelton Gallery in San Antonio, Texas.

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Michael Velliquette: Lairs of the Unconscious, Devibook,  San Antonio, Texas, 2011, available on