It’s a youngster’s rite of passage to awkwardly wield a pair of safety scissors, snip into a sheet of construction paper, swipe a glue stick across the scraps, and see the whole masterpiece stuck up on the fridge at home. Artist Michael Velliquette has taken the basic skill of cut-and-paste to a whole new level with his incredibly intricate paper sculptures. Ripon College in Wisconsin hosted his most recent solo exhibition, which showcased a survey of his work over the past seven years. “The title of the show–One From Many From One–was about the expansion and contraction of an artist’s process, the evolution of a body of work over a lifetime,” he tells Co.Design. “It was a chance to see the various ways technical, formal, and conceptual threads have woven together during a period of intense personal and creative growth.”
Velliquette’s passion for craft predates his paper explorations, but his desire to derive the biggest impact out of the most modest component parts has always been a major motivator. “I’ve long had a love of sparkle and camp, and gravitated towards things that were bright, flashy, glittery, and ornate–things that could easily be added on to make something banal into something fabulous,” he says. “As a resourceful young artist I used mostly found materials or cheap things from the craft store. Over time these evolved into elaborate objects and large-scale installations that spoke about a kind of imaginative transformation of everyday materials like cardboard and string into something ‘special.’”
He transitioned to using paper exclusively in 2005, and has since experimented with watercolor, drawing, and card stocks from all over the world, plus acrylic inks, paste, and “straight up” hot glue to achieve the effects he’s after. “Last year I began coloring my own paper in an effort to get more complex colors and to add visual texture,” he says. “But most all of my cutting is done with a standard pair of flat-edge paper scissors–nothing fancy.” It takes a solid 40-50 hours a week for Velliquette to keep up with his projects, which start as a mere twinkle in his mind’s eye. “I usually ‘see’ the piece in my head, like through a fuzzy lens, and then do a very loose sketch. I’ll then refer back to that sketch regularly as a work evolves, and sometimes take digital images of it in progress, print them out and draw on the photos to refine the composition,” he explains. “Even though the drawings can be quite detailed, there are still many improvisational ‘moments’ in them–the liquid nature of the media I’m using, the hand-cut quality of the paper, etc. Most of the art that I respond to has that same mix of planning and happening going on in it.”
In addition to his own projects, Velliquette teaches introductory classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as well as weekend workshops for younger folks, and feels that the lessons learned will benefit even those who aren’t generally attuned to a hands-on kind of lifestyle. “More and more research proves that individuals in all types of professions perform better by being skilled with the creative process,” he says. “Plenty of people in all types of careers engage in their own work environments in very similar ways to what I do in my studio; they start with a raw material–maybe theirs is data, research, a theory, or diagnosis–then engage with a series of interpretive (and often imaginative) steps to ultimately create some sort of meaning from it. I truly feel that one of the ways we remain vital to contemporary society is by being teachers of that process.”
Maybe it’s his all-inclusive spirit shining through, but looking at his work there is a sense, however slight or improbable, that given a crack at those safety scissors again, you too could make something truly magical.