“I don’t really want to say goodbye to Wilmington,” local painter and mixed-media artist Michelle Connolly tells encore from across the pond. She was attending her brother’s wedding in London during an interview last week. “Wilmington will always be one of our home to visit!”
Connolly received news at the end of July that her husband’s contract with Silex Systems Ltd at GE Nuclear had expired. The job actually lasted longer than the Connolly family anticipated when they arrived in Wilmington in April 2007. Though set to lapse in 2009, the work kept steady and in turn allowed them to ably plant deeper roots within southeastern NC. The artist set up shop at ACME Art Studios and embarked on many solo and group shows. She counts upward of 20 at least, while quite a few stand out.
“In February 2011, I turned 40 and had a big solo show at 621N4TH Gallery,” Connolly recalls. “That night it rained, and I remember thinking no one [would] come out to see me and my work—I was pleasantly surprised with a gallery full of people and a great response to the show! Many thanks to (gallery owners) Posey and Dennis Walsak.”
Connolly’s folk-inspired characters—people, and animals, as well as some landscapes—come from found and recycled materials, like wood, copper, belts, bottle caps, wire, paper, ink, and paints. Their fanciful attraction feels culled from a world far away—a place full of twisted yet fun dreams. According to friend and fellow ACME artist Fritzi Huber, Connolly thrives off a wide-open approach and trusts the organic process of her artistic output.
“Whimsical it’s not,” Huber, a papermaker, states. “There’s more of a thinking process [to Michelle’s art],” She’s a seriously funny person. All is fair game—everything. It’s so easy to go to the ‘dark side,’ especially if you’ve been there. She aspires to the light.”
The two met at an Art for the Masses event when another ACME artist, wire sculptor Michael Van Hout, insisted upon their introduction. In July 2010, Connolly, Huber and Van Hout participated in a group show, “Puppet Parlor.” Artists had to inject the marionette art form somehow into their work.
“It was a lot of fun, especially with 49 artists and no air-conditioning back then at ACME—ha!” Connolly quips. “Madness, really! But I met a lot of people, including Bread and Puppet artist Noah Harrell, who recently did a performance at Cameron Art Museum. “
Connolly’s ongoing inspiration and newfound creations became stronger thans to the introduction and association of so many local talents. A few include Pam Toll, Gayle Tustin and Dick Roberts—founders of No Boundaries Art Colony, which gathers artists for a few weeks on Bald Head Island to create and interact. Marshall Milton and, of course, Huber and Van Hout remain on the list, too. Each manage to embolden Connolly’s own free spirit.
“Fritzi and Michael inspire me with their high-energy work ethic,” Connolly confirms, “and their great gift of teaching art. I have taken wire lessons with Michael and handmade papermaking workshops with Fritzi. I have learned so much from many artists here.”
“She’s always encouraging [and] sharing,” Huber compliments, “not just her ideas, discoveries and friends but her family as well. Her enthusiasm is contagious! The amount of energy she puts out seems like a bottomless well.”
Connolly took the lead as director of No Boundaries last year, and will continue to oversee the 2014 event before heading to Petersham, Australia, come November. She will look for an art studio in Newtown, close to where she’ll reside with husband Steve and their two sons, Rory and Aidan.
“I have really enjoyed being involved with No Boundaries International Art Colony organization,” Connolly comments, “meeting and working alongside a variety of artists from near and far, and making connections along the way. I am happy that I am able to attend and run this year’s colony, [taking place November 7th through the 21st].”
Connolly’s daily, multiple stops at Folk’s Cafe to visit the Pacini family, who own and operate the shop, are only one of the connections she will miss. She calls them her surrogate family—and like family they showcase her works on their cafe’s walls at 12th and Princess streets. Quite a few have sold since Connolly’s move announcement.Her works have hung at other businesses around town, too, including Catch, Steven Ward Salon, Bald Head Island, and Canapé. In upcoming weeks, folks will have an opportunity to score a Connolly original before she packs up her studio in preparation to ship everything back to her home in Australia. “Sydney Calling … See You Down the Road” will take place on August 23rd, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. in Connolly’s ACME studio. It will be a culmination of art she has done throughout the past seven years in Wilmington. Many of her characters, assemblages, landscapes, and even sculptures will be available for purchase.
“It’s more of a fond farewell to my studio in the process of packing up and shipping out,” she says. Connolly will be accepting private appointments, too, through September 7th, with plans to ship all work by mid-September.
“Change is difficult but can be exciting,” she admits. “Wilmington attracts all sorts of talent, and I have been lucky to meet lots of wonderful artists and musicians during my time here—there’s never a dull moment . . . I hope many friends here will come visit us in Sydney one day!”
Sydney Calling…See You Down the Road
Art work by Michelle Connolly
August 23rd, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
ACME Art Studios, 711 N. 5th Ave.