Most folks know Addie Wuensch as the owner of Bottega Art and Wine, a hot spot on Fourth Street in the Brooklyn Arts District. In its third iteration of serving the community, Bottega specializes in delivering hefty doses of all art: music, visual, performance, written word. Addie’s mother, Michele, however, knows her daughter first and foremost as an artist—specifically a 3-year-old who used to enjoy dunking paint brushes into watercolors, swirling them around in water to blend myriad colors, then spilling the colorful runoff wherever she could.
“I’d say she still works in the same capacity today: such a free spirit,” Michele says, as we sit in the backroom of Bottega, surrounded by Addie’s street art.
Addie took over as Bottega’s gallery owner two years ago, after having bartended at both its original Front and Princess street locations. While most will recognize her mixed-media pieces—heavily outlined faces decorated with bright colors and objects, text and symbols—from hanging on Bottega’s walls, folks will experience her work in a different dynamic on February 12. Bellamy Mansion is hosting her and her mother’s art in “A Female Gaze.” Each will showcase 16 pieces, some new, some reworked.
“Addie literally will take a tube of paint, put it to a blank canvas, and just begin working,” Michele tells of her daughter’s process. “I am more planned. I have to do drawings and really map out what I will be creating.”
Addie’s graffiti-like art work takes inspiration from Basquiat, whom she discovered in her 20s, while living in Soho New York. She happened upon a gallery showing a retrospective of his work and the tears began flowing. “I was so inspired by the colors, the lines, the representation of symbols,” she remembers.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Michele is inspired by the realistic portraiture and nature-inspired works of Andrew Wyeth. “Mom wonderfully combines abstracts and naturalistic painting,” Addie praises.
Mother and daughter began sharing with each other their love for art when Michele decided to go back to college when Addie was 17. They lived 45 minutes outside of Charlotte, NC, near the rural town of Locust.
“It was desolate,” Michele remembers. “The cotton mills had closed, and the only place people worked was at Corning—which is why we were there. My now ex-husband works for Corning.”
“Yeah, there was nothing to do,” Addie concurs. “I didn’t excel, really, in school. I felt strange and awkward and didn’t fit in. But I had an art teacher who actually believed in me, and that changed my life.”
Addie remembers having a dream once of a doll on a pedestal continuously rising until she reached outer space. It was so vivid and real, she was compelled to paint it.
“It was a woman empowerment piece,” Addie clarifies. “Though I didn’t know it at the time. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and a few days later, my teacher gave me a simple canvas and some paint, and I made the painting from my dream. It meant the world to me; it really connected me to my life as I would know it.”
Her mother also encouraged her work and showed firsthand it’s never too late to follow a dream. As a child, Michele was enticed by her kindergarten teacher to pursue art; at the time she was suffering from Leukemia.
“It was terrible,” she remembers. “For six months I was bedridden. We lived in upstate New York, in a place where Corning basically had been dumping benzyne and toluene into the water supply.”
A doctor ordered her parents to move to the mountains where clean air and water would help heal their daughter. Michele recovered and began doing art, something that offered her respite into adulthood. Though she studied biology at Wells College for Women in Ithaca, when she met Addie’s father, she dropped out of school to have a family and rear her two kids. Once her husband finished his own master’s degree, Michele decided to go back to school.
“When I was studying as a scientist, I always schlepped around to the art building and saw what they were doing and was jealous,” she says. So the second time around as a college student at UNC Charlotte, Michele went after her passion. “I told myself I can study music or art,” she says. “Art is what I chose—and it was the most wonderful experience of my life.”
She took her high-school-aged daughter to class one day, which inevitably became the catalyst for Addie’s post-high-school educational experience, too. Addie admits she didn’t think she’d attend college, much less side by side with her mother. The Wuensches were transferred to Wilmington once Corning shut down its plant in the piedmont region of NC. Michele transferred as a part-time student to UNCW’s studio art program and her daughter was accepted into it as well. “We had many of the same classes,” Michele says.
“We would have critiques with one another, and I always loved Mom’s art; it’s deep and complicated.” Addie points to the piece “Birdseed Brassiere.” The mixed-media is done in oil and birdseed, with a purple brassiere placed among swirling colors of the blues, violets, yellows and whites.
“My work is centered on narrative,” Michele says. “‘Birdseed Brassiere’ represents the support and nurturing we receive from spiritual pursuits and, alternatively, that the physical world gives us but pittance as the reward.”
Michele has done exhibits all over Wilmington and is often sought for her commission work worldwide. She draws inspiration from dream imagery, her Christian faith and in practicing qi gong, which focuses on mind, body and spirit. She chose “The Female Gaze” as a theme rather carefully.
“In our patriarchal society, the male gaze has been the focus of art,” she says. “As female artists, we want to work to get our perspective as artists in the limelight.”
Addie often will use her work to showcase these messages, some politically charged, others emotionally heavy. “Money” is a mixed-media piece featuring a woman who is topless with perfectly placed items, like butterflies and Barbie clothes, over her breasts. “Bellamy won’t allow nudes in the show,” Addie clarifies. “But I actually don’t mind; I feel like it’s pushing my art and making it even more interesting.”
Addie says “Money” references careers and situations she would find herself privy to as a child. “Barbies were a huge part of my life. I would create scenarios I wanted to live by while playing with them.”
Family is also represented, much like it has influenced her path overall. Her father, a musician who studied at Berklee College of Music as well, passed down his books to her. Sheet music from Pink Floyd’s “Money” takes up space beside a key (“to your imagination”) and a packet of flower seeds (“representative of roots”).
“Whomever buys this can grow their own inspiration from it,” Addie says.
“The Female Gaze” opens February 12, with a meet-the-artist reception taking place on February 28, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.