Speaking to Michele Arroyo is like talking to a shadow. Although she radiates confidence and beauty, her quiet voice conveys only a shade of the color and boldness that her canvas and board creations suggest.
But the 25-year-old art major at Augusta State University has a lot to say loudly; she just paints her messages instead of speaking them.
Inner Bean Cafe owner Casey Warner called her a mix of mystery and modesty.
“She’s one of those people who are genuinely nice; you wonder if she has a bad bone in her body,” Warner said. But at the same time, Warner said that she would characterize Arroyo as introspective and very focused on her art.
It’s not introspection, necessarily, that drives Arroyo’s work, the artist said. In explaining her art, she displayed some of the subtle humor that draws people to her.
“I do a lot of self-portrait-type stuff because it’s mostly what I’m familiar with,” she said. “So I draw myself a lot. It’s not a cocky thing; it’s just that I’m available.”
And yet, despite what might seem a lack of variety in her subject matter, Arroyo is fearless when it comes to experimenting with imagery, themes and style.
She moves fluidly between figurative and abstract work, but said thats he goes through phases. Last year she spent a lot of time with abstract landscapes with some figural representation.
She may focus on a series of similar images — such as her previous abstract landscape phase or her current “face-pulling” series, that explores grotesque distortions of her own image — but each of her works stands alone in style and subject.
“It’s a meditation,” Arroyo explained. “I stare at it for a long time before making the art.”
That thoughtfulness is part of what attracts people to her work, Warner said.
This year, she’s moving in a new direction, one Warner is interested to watch.
“I think it’s still abstract,but it’s going in more of a simplistic direction, from what I’ve seen so far, kind of childlike, to a certain degree,” she said, citing some of the new works she’s seen, such as “Flora in a Cup.”
“The colors are childlike, but there’s something about it that’s kind of scary.”
It’s that successful mixture of bright colors, some drawing techniques that are intentionally raw and adult themes that lends a sort of subversive air to Arroyo’s work.
“I use interesting plays on colors that I think will draw people in to look at the lines,” Arroyo said.
The piece “Furgina,” for example, pits strong but still feminine drawing against the robin’s-egg blue that permeated homes in ’50s and ’60s. It’s a piece that comes from a very physically personal viewpoint for Arroyo and speaks of both innocence and knowledge.
“I love that one,” Warner sighed. “It looks like something growing. It looks like life. And it looks like a dying flower, in a way.”
And it is, but not in the way that people might expect. The trick is to look at it upside down.
Arroyo laughingly admits that her work often focuses on the feminine.
“I don’t try to make it obvious or anything… but it keeps coming back. People ask, ‘Is that a vagina?’ and I’m like, ‘No, actually it’s not but…’” she shrugs and grins. “The human form is really beautiful, especially the female.”
It’s one of the things that has inspired her to explore a future career in medical illustration.
“I don’t really plan on using a degree for anything,” she laughed, but creating the highly detailed and specifically proportioned drawings for medical students might allow her to “actually help people with art.”
That’s not to say that her studies at ASU are for nothing, or that she treats them lightly.
She’s made the Dean’s List, after all. But as Arroyo said, she can paint at home.
“What I can’t do at home is printmaking because I don’t have a press and I don’t want to mix acids in my room,” she said. “Intaglio: That’s mostly what I like to do, with deep etching and aqua tint.”
So she tries to take the classes that interest her, like printmaking with Kristin Castaletto or Jackson Cheatham. She’s found further inspiration in the works of contemporary printmaker Robert Marks, and in the medium itself.
She speaks of its democratizing power as though it was the Guttenberg press, and, in many ways, it is a very similar process.
“Printmaking makes art less of a commodity and puts it in more people’s hands,” she said.
“You can decide on how many to do and do them all. It’s easier to produce enough to give to friends or put it out there so people can see it.”
‘You Want to Look at This’
Opens Feb. 21, 7-10 p.m.
Runs through April 3