Michaele LeCompte’s Migration of Form is the sum of a lifetime of collecting

The things and people we acquire in life are inherited into our being whether we choose to address it or not. Michaele LeCompte chose to embrace her inheritances and her past through her Migration of Form exhibit, now showing at JayJay Gallery.

LeCompte, a Sacramento City College art instructor and modernist painter, honed her geometric style through years of pursuing various interests and acquiring creative friends along the way. Eventually she obtained the suitable influence required to produce her latest exhibit. Whether it was a friend’s poem, hand-me-down paints or her own past works, she had the intuition to make sense of their significance.

“The most important quality for me as a painter is my subconscious,” she said. “As soon as I make that mark, I think I’m going in one direction, but the painting starts to speak to me and assert itself. It wants to go in a direction I want to fight like crazy. Eventually I have to investigate where I am supposed to go with the painting.”

As an instructor of 26 years she preaches patience in art and her exhibit is living proof. “A favorite image of mine that I share with my students is this artist named Wolfly,” she said. “He was incarcerated in a mental institution and at some point his therapist saw he had talent. From floor to ceiling in his room he had stacks and stacks of work. I always held that in my mind. When you’ve done that many paintings, then maybe something happens. The idea of being patient with yourself is something I always stress.

“There are lots of young artists doing great work already; some of us just have that luck and the gift. They get carried away on a high energy, but for most of us it’s a slower journey.”

Her exhibit is a vibrant depiction of her collected works, spanning decades, collaged into new discoveries and the transformation of poetry into geometric figures. The glaringly obvious first question was how she found the courage to take the scissors to her past work.

Aerial, 2011

So how did you bring yourself to do it?
Everything you do doesn’t come out the way you think it will or does not hold up to your standards over time. I had a collection of things I felt someday would be a good collage piece. Just this year I had been working on these large paintings and I wanted to have something I could start, put down and walk away from, then come back to.

Was there a specific era you decided was worth using for the collage or is this collected throughout your life?
Some of these pieces have art that goes back all the way to 1975, so there’s little stories in them for me.

Was it difficult to get over the nostalgia for a completed piece from earlier in your life?
Nothing stays the same. What I liked back then does not have anything to do with what I like now, or there will be bits and pieces. So actually it felt like a great weight off my shoulders. To make something from something else that was not working for me and to turn it into something I like better was a neat process. Who knows in 10 more years maybe these will get chopped again.

Looking at these collages, clearly you’ve never had one style. So how did you arrive at the modern geometric forms style that is present in your larger pieces accompanying the collages?
In 2007 I moved into a new studio that didn’t have water. For a very practical reason it made me switch back to oils after many years of acrylics. Plus, I had a friend who had given me a large number of her oil paints…

I didn’t want to use any brush marks. I started using the pallet knife only and that’s how I started the series. My friend Susan is a painter and I asked her how she starts her paintings. She said she starts in the upper left corner and goes to the bottom left corner. It made me laugh so much that I figured if she could do it this way, so could I.

I’ve never been interested in making taped lines. The edge of the pallet knife clogs up and you have to decide if it’s something you can live with or not. Someone was watching me once who was not an artist and he said, “Oh, it’s like you’re frosting a cake,” which is exactly right.

Degrees of Gray, 2010

The piece Degrees of Gray was inspired by the late Quinton Duval’s poem “Oltremarino.” What was it about the poem that spoke to you?
Well, in his poem Quinton uses a quote from another poet, I think it was Robert Hughes, so it’s like we’re all in this line–artists and writers. We have connections and crossovers. But this painting was done so recently after Quinton had died and with the gray pallete, the neutral pallete it was just a perfect thing when I read that poem.

So this is like an artistic time line, in a way?
You can look at it that way. What I aspire to is having my paintings feel like the visual equivalent of what a poem might be. All the parts work, there’s nothing extra. It’s kind of lean and yet it moves you. You get a satisfying, hand-made quality out of these paintings.

Has the overlap of poetry and art always been present in your work?
I’m not making literal connections; I’m not trying for that. I’m not illustrating a poem. There’s a relationship and thread that goes through the work over a long period of time, much the way a poet would rewrite a poem or rework a poem over time.

I got that feeling from your collages. Immediately the words “editing” and “meta” came to mind, which I normally would not associate with art as much as I do with literature.
I’m so bent on working with surfaces that I’ll paint over an old canvas and then you have to deal with the scars that come through from its previous life. I love throwing things together that conflict or press on each other.

Michaele LeCompte’s Migration of Form is showing at the JayJay Gallery now through April 23, 2011. The gallery is located at 5520 Elvas Avenue, Sacramento. For more info, call (916) 453-2999.

    Blake Gillespie

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    Bourbon enthusiast. Infrequent shaver.