Michelle: “I never felt I was taking a risk with my style as I was just being true to myself in what I painted. I found my own voice and I am grateful that people enjoy my style.”
Sian: You have been a part of the upward trend of figurative art. Do you feel like you were taking a risk using this style of painting? What inspired you to adopt this particular style?
Michelle: I never felt like I was taking a risk with my style as I was just being true to myself in what I painted. I found my own voice and I am grateful that people enjoy my style. I never knew that figurative art was on trend until recently, how fortunate for me.
Sian: I was attracted to those signature “big eyes” in your work. Can you please explain the significance behind this trait?
Michelle: I started with fashion gesture drawings and posting to Instagram less than two years ago. I started to take notice of fashion illustrators on Instagram and was influenced by their styles but determined to find my own signature style. My full figurative drawings evolved to portraits using acrylic paint and by the summer of 2015, my “Big Eyes” style came to life right before my eyes.
Sian: You have had the opportunity to work with a large celebrity client base. You were recently commissioned by Diane von Furstenberg to paint her portrait. How did this opportunity come about? What was working with Diane like?
Michelle: I have been very fortunate and owe so much of my success to Instagram. I started drawing/painting celebrity portraits and began posting to Instagram hoping that they would take notice, share and tag me. Last June 2015, I posted my portrait drawing and painting of Diane and as I was having coffee with my sister Marjorie, my phone lit up with “DVF is now following you” on Instagram and Twitter, then commenting “I love this, I want to buy it”, “I want this for my collection”. Well needless to say I almost fell off my chair. I was able to follow up through email and she replied immediately saying she wants to meet me and asked that I bring my portfolio. Since I was going to NYFW in September with W Magazine I was able to deliver the portrait to Diane in person. I waited in the lobby of the DVF headquarters, surrounded by portraits of Diane painted by artists like Andy Warhol, Francesco Clemente and more. It was such an honour that my portrait of Diane would be amongst such famed artists. When we met she embraced me and was so kind, full of compliments about my work. We took photos in her office of us with the portrait in her office and then she introduced me to the DVF team parading my portrait around. Diane even gave me one of her Secret Agent handbags and invited me to her fashion show. A few weeks later, I was featured on the DVF.com blog and Instagram.
Sian: Your recent “Eyes of Desire” exhibition includes fashion icons and even a portrait of Penelope Cruz. What sparked inspiration for this collection?
Michelle: My figurative painting series were inspired by Artist Alex Katz who once said “ I am painting the society in which I live.” So I did just that in my first series called “Lake Life” was inspired by lifestyle at the cottage (lake house) and for me, I was painting my time in Muskoka. The “Eyes of Desire” series started out as “social lifestyle”, depicting social scenarios which soon evolved into the glances of desire between men and women. Fashion is definitely an influence and enjoy that I can incorporate it into my series as it is part of the society in which I live.
Sian: What message would you like to communicate through your work?
Michelle: When you look at my paintings I want the viewer to relate to it in their own way, create their own storyline and enjoy it for what it is to them. Two of the paintings “Eyes Inspired” and “Eyes on Fashion” are self-portraits and tell a bit more about me as I painted artists and fashion icons that have inspired me. I am not wearing shoes in either painting showing my respect. The eyes tell a lot and I enjoy hearing the different interpretations, there are no wrong answers.
Sian: You are currently working on an exciting fashion collaboration with an Italian designer. Do you enjoy the collaboration process?
Michelle: I am very excited about my current collaboration, it’s been so much fun and I can’t wait to tell you more when we launch in a few weeks. This collaboration started over a year ago and seemed impossible as we met on Instagram, I live in Toronto, Canada, she in Sydney, Australia while the product is designed and made in Italy. We have become great friends and even got to meet in Italy this past summer to work on our collaboration.
Sian: What’s next for you? Do you have any projects or shows you are looking forward to in the next year?
Michelle: Currently, I am painting a series called “Hats Squared2″, There are twelve 12″ x 12” (acrylic on canvas) in each series, they are close-up portraits of women and men wearing hats named after the months of the year. My next twelve will be “Eyes Squared2” where eyewear will be the focus. You can have 3 or 4 hanging on your wall, or just one. It’s so fun and affordable. They will be available for purchase on my website michellevella.com.