Arts Visual Arts

Cover Artist: Michelle Hamilton

Catch Me If You Can. MIchelle Hamilton, artist

By Gina Malone

A well-lighted, clean space, a span of time, and a blank canvas are the elements Michelle Hamilton needs and is inspired by when she creates. After those basics are in place, she says, she sits exploring the many ideas in her head and asking herself, “What medium will I choose today? Encaustic? Acrylic? Resin?”

A self-taught artist, Hamilton lives on top of a mountain where she is often visited by bears, turkeys and birds. “My connection to nature is animals—all animals,” she says. “I could paint them all day. Realistic is great, but lately I’ve been twisting it up some and making them more like characters in my mind.” Her favorite animal is not native to North America, but that doesn’t stop her from wishing she could look out into her backyard and see a giraffe.

Dapper Donkey. Michelle Hamilton, artist

She explored many mediums before finding encaustics to be the most inspiring. “The versatile nature of encaustics allowed me to delve into mixed media and texture,” she says, “which opened my mind and made me feel even more passionate about my work.” Inspiration is found everywhere—from Japanese fashion to Tim Burton’s movies—but nature serves as a longstanding and steadfast muse for her.

It was the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains that drew her to Western North Carolina nearly 20 years ago. “My husband, a motorcycle enthusiast, and I would visit from Florida to go to these sidecar motorcycle rallies,” she says. “The beauty of the mountains and the people really drew us in.”

Elements of folk art, “from the primitive to the most refined,” she says, abound in her work. “Colors,” she adds. “I love colors—bright, fun ones.”

She comes from a family steeped in artistic and crafting traditions, with a grandmother who was a painter and a mother who crafted in various mediums. As a child, Hamilton liked to draw and would lose herself for hours with a sketchbook. “It really wasn’t until I was in my early twenties and out of college that I started to pick up paint,” she says.

Blue Barn. Michelle Hamilton, artist

Through the years, she has traveled to other countries, opening herself up to the different cultures, art and people she encountered along the way. That exploration, she says, has taught her more than anything else. And the support of her family, especially her husband and her mother, has been invaluable. “I’ve done some pieces I won’t sell—or my family won’t let me sell,” she says.

She tries not to limit herself to a particular theme, wanting instead, she says, to be “mutable in my creativity, always growing and changing along with my work and my proficiency with the materials.” Kristen Edge, owner of ArtPlay which represents Hamilton’s work and where she is also a teaching artist, says that she enjoys watching Hamilton approach a canvas and admit to having no idea what she is about to create. “But the interesting thing is that it never feels unsettling to her that she doesn’t know where a piece of work is going,” Edge says. “She gets started, she experiments with what’s in front of her and somewhere along the way something strikes her. All of a sudden, there is a fascinating character starting to take shape, like Ms. Flossie or Dapper Donkey, and the piece just flows out of her from there.”

Bird. Michelle Hamilton, artist

Hamilton does not rush her creative process. “I need days at a time from setting up to completion,” she says. “Maybe weeks if it’s a bigger piece. I find during these times when life’s chores and obligations get in my way, I start to get prickly. But when all is good, I can free my mind, even open it to a higher power, I’m the happiest ever. I believe art is my form of meditation.”

At ArtPlay, Hamilton has led classes on everything from mixed media collage to folk art with acrylics and resin. “She always shares new techniques with our students, but really the magic is her playful and spontaneous approach to art-making,” says Edge. “I have had more than a few students tell me that Michelle’s classes were responsible for helping them to let go of judging their work so that they could simply dive in, play and trust their own creative process.”

Michelle Hamilton’s work is available at ArtPlay, 372 Depot Street, Suite 44, in Asheville’s River Arts District. Gallery hours are Monday, and Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 12–5 p.m. Learn more about the gallery and upcoming classes at ArtPlay-Studio.com.

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