Michelle Wilkie is a self-taught textile artist and designer of modern quilts who embraces Improvisation and Minimalist styles. Quilting is her passion and drives her art practice and creativity. She relates to this traditional women’s craft as a means to document stories about community, the maker, and history. Michelle has been exploring ways to continue this tradition through her work. Her designs are often inspired by her interpretations of her surroundings, community events, and personal experiences. Photography plays a significant role in capturing her experiences, either as standalone images or as a source of inspiration for her design process. Michelle brings her designs to life as she explores her emotions and connections through the medium of textiles.
My art was a lifeline during COVID and other events the past couple of years. It provided me a why to explore my emotions and connections. Quilting helped me to cope with the isolation and some of the events going on in the world that were important to me. This exploration started with a piece called “Isolation”. While being in isolation, I found it difficult as our families are in Germany and New Zealand and I was able to focus my energy on feelings of being an outcast and away from my friends and family into this design. “Home” uses my favorite up-cycled clothes, many given to me from my late mum and others had connections back home. I didn’t know when I would see family again, so this helped process some of those feelings. Then there were the events of violence and the general polarization of our communities during this time frame as well, “One of These Things”, is an expression of all my hopes of people embracing differences, seeing them as a celebration rather than using them for hate and violence. I don’t feel I can express myself well through writing or speaking and my art gives me an avenue to do so.
ATP: How do you navigate the balance between artistic exploration and the need for technical skill development?
MW: Quilting can be a very technical based skill depending on the style you are using. I think I was lucky starting in the quilting world, being taught by quilters a variety of skills, and having a close group of people who I learn from every day. Now, from an artistic exploration, quilting techniques/skills never limited me, but gave me what I needed to see the design into reality. In my current journey, I am starting to look at the “rules”, and experiment to see how I can maintain traditional techniques to connect and tell my stories, while pushing the boundaries of traditional expectations.
Michelle Wilkie “New York Highline” 2019
ATP: How do you handle criticism or feedback on your artwork?
MW: I like to get feedback on my work, as it can give me either things to improve on or new ideas. I love it when the feedback can provide me something I didn’t see myself. Art is personal and everyone will have their on perspective on it, so I don’t get hung up on if I am accepted or not into a show or if someone likes or doesn’t like my work. I like it and it explains my journey, if it connects with someone else then that’s a bonus.
ATP: Can you discuss a particular piece of artwork that holds significant personal meaning for you?
MW: I have a piece that was a collaboration – Aroha (means love in Maori). I had a few US-based friends contribute to the quilt based on a prompt and particular color palette, so that they could learn more me and about New Zealand where I grew up. Then when I was pulling each of the parts together for the final quilt, a tragic event was happening in NZ and it gave me comfort to be working on this piece that was about my home. I love that this quilt was a collaboration with people here in the US but also allowed be to have connection back home, when I most needed it.
Michelle Wilkie “One of these things” 2021
ATP: Can you share any insights or advice for emerging visual artists who are just starting their creative journey?
MW: While I have been quilting for the last 10 years, I really have only started looking for avenues as an artist recently. So, as an emerging artist myself, finding a good community or person to give you feedback is important. Join whatever local art groups you can, volunteer and attend meet-ups and other events to meet people. I struggled knowing where to get started, for example, with a resume, artist statement, bio and portfolio. There are people who will help you. Lastly, look for call for entries/ residencies where you think your work would fit and apply for them. You may not be successful but that’s ok. It doesn’t mean your work is not good, it just wasn’t the right fit or the aesthetic they were looking for. Keep going, you never know.
To view more of Michelle’s work please visit her Artrepreneur profile.
Michelle Wilkie “Aroha” 2021