Studio Visit appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with artist Melissa Mitchell, who created the signature image for the Boneyard Arts Festival , which runs April 19-22.
Q: How do you feel when you see on a billboard your photo as the signature image for the Boneyard Arts Festival?
A: It felt like a quiet exclamation point. Quiet, because I was alone in my car when I first saw it.
Q: Are you going to show your work during the Boneyard?
A: I'll be at five venues, which is why my to-do list took me all morning to compile.
Q: What venues?
A: I will have a solo exhibition at the 40 North 88 West offices (106 S. Neil St., C). As the Boneyard signature artist, I was invited to show my work there. It will be mostly digital prints on metal panels and assemblage pieces. Also, our studio suite (518) in the Lincoln Building (44 E. Main St., C) will be open. And Claire Billing, Sherri Stinson and I will show mixed-media shrines on a window ledge inside Ratio Architects (10 E. Chester St., C). Then I organized for the I.D.E.A. Store (28 E. Springfield Ave., C) a two-day event called Persephone's Treasures.
Q: What's that?
A: It's a spring bazaar hosted by the I.D.E.A. Store at the I.D.E.A. Store, featuring a dozen artists who create using recycled, reused and repurposed materials. It'll have a festive atmosphere with refreshments.
Q: Where's your fifth Boneyard venue?
A: I'll have at least one piece in "The Something You Love" show at the Art Coop Gallery at Lincoln Square in Urbana.
Q: Aren't you the communications director for the I.D.E.A. Store?
A: Yes, since the summer of 2010. I've volunteered at the store practically since it opened.
Q: Don't you have a background in arts writing?
A: Yes, for 30 years I worked at the University of Illinois News Bureau, promoting the arts. I retired in 2009.
Q: Did you ever take art courses?
A: I did take art and design courses at the UI for a year, circa late 1970s, when I temporarily switched majors from English literature to interior design. And through the years, I've completed courses and workshops in photography, ceramics, printmaking and, most recently, mixed media, combining painting and photography. Most of my life, whenever I was "supposed to" be writing, I'd find myself making art and vice versa. That's the great thing about being retired: There are no more supposed to's. And there are no rules or schedules to keep. I love being the master of my own destiny.
Q: What kind of art do you make mostly?
A: For quite some time, I've made assemblage art. I also have had an interest in photography, off and on, for more than 30 years. Some of my photographs were published recently in specs, a nonprofit journal for the arts published annually by Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.
When I first rented the studio space downtown, I was interested in doing more painting because the light is so fantastic in that space. I wasn't even going to bring all my collections and odd bits I used in assemblage art from my home basement studio. But an artist friend said, "Take everything there." As I began to unload things I didn't even know I had anymore, all sorts of ideas and assemblages resulted.
Q: Do you call your art-making business anything?
A: I call it ACME Elfworks. The name comes from a couple of places. ACME means a place that makes everything, so I thought that was appropriate. And it's also a nod to the Lincoln Building, which has a very noir feeling.
Also, some of my assemblages tend to have a slightly creepy feeling, so I like to say it's not me that makes them. Rather, it's the elves, working into the night.
Editor's note: The Boneyard Arts Festival will be Thursday at the UI, Friday in Champaign, Saturday in Urbana and Sunday in surrounding communities. The Persephone's Treasures event is set for 4 to 7 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the I.D.E.A. Store. For more about the Boneyard, see the schedule in Monday's paper and another preview in our e3 entertainment magazine on Thursday.