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Local artist feature from UICA: Madison May

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Madison Nicole May is a printmaker and interdisciplinary artist who graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design in 2016. In the spring of 2017 May opened Bend Gallery on the Avenue for the Arts specializing in affordable gallery space for emerging artists.
Art by Madison May

Art by Madison May /Courtesy of the UICA

Underwriting support from:
Artist, Madison May

Artist, Madison May /Courtesy of the UICA

Art by Madison May

Art by Madison May /Courtesy of the UICA

Madison Nicole May is a printmaker and interdisciplinary artist who graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design in 2016. In the spring of 2017, May opened Bend Gallery on the Avenue for the Arts specializing in affordable gallery space for emerging artists. In June, she traveled to Massachusetts and completed her first artists residency at Zea Mays Printmaking. At the end of the day, if she's not working on a new project, Madison May can be found relaxing with her two cats, Taco and Turtle, watching awful cooking shows.

How would you describe your work? 

I have been fluctuating between bodies of work recently. One body of work investigates traditional gender roles, abuse, and violence against women in my local community, while the other is an examination of conversations, thoughts, and emotions stemming from my personal and intimate relationships. Both bodies serve to exist as a proof of intimacy, honesty, and vulnerability in an increasingly isolated society. Using a combination of printmaking, collage, fiber, and sculptural processes I transform everyday items and create relatable imagery such as pillows, beds, clothing, and household objects. Signature materials in my work include beeswax, soil, thread, and grass seed. There is a sense of quiet stillness in my work which encourages a meditation on the concepts I am presenting, though the way I treat the objects, materials, and compositional choices can be loud and expressive, creating balance.

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking? 

I would say that the biggest influence on my way of thinking is what I learn from intentionally being aware of the people around me and their essence. I often find myself watching, listening, and observing the way each person interacts with each other and the world differently. Above all else, human connection is the most important thing to me. I make a point to really try to listen and be intuitive and sensitive to the subtleties that make each person individual. When making such personal and vulnerable work I think it is integral to be learning about people at all times. Empathy and understanding is a virtue.

Do you have a piece of work which stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you? 

Hm, not particularly! I am always looking for ways to improve and grow from what I have done. If I had to pick, my piece “Confronting the Cycle” as part of the (RE)compose exhibition in ArtPrize 2016 would be one of particular importance. The piece consisted of personal everyday items I had collected from women which were related to their history with domestic violence and abuse. I sunk the items in plaster, grew grass from them, and presented them in a row on shelves in a closet. This piece was very challenging and painful as I listened to each and every person I collected items from recount the pain, the anger, and the impact that their experience still has on them. I would say I am most proud of the conversations I overheard and had with the public during that exhibition. I observed visitors viewing this piece and talking openly and honestly to their children about the work presented. Some confessed to their loved ones that they had experience with domestic violence too. It was really moving to see positivity come from something so awful and be able to start meaningful conversations.

What new projects do you have on the horizon? 

I recently started a daily collage practice called Confessions, where I make time every day to sit down and create a collage. The collages are about my relationships, my responsibilities, and my thoughts. It almost serves as a visual diary and a timeline of intimacy and honesty with myself and others. It is really superb to see how they progress and evolve over time and I plan on showing them, along with new works exploring similar themes, after a year of collages have accumulated.

What do you want others outside of the creative workforce to understand about careers within the arts? 

It is so much work! There are so many different hats you wear as an artist and business owner. To support my practice and my business, I work multiple jobs at a time. I love everything I do and wouldn’t give any of it up. This work is fulfilling, it is fun, it is exciting - but it is really a lot of work!

How can communities, specifically Grand Rapids, better support the creative workforce? 

Personally, I would like to see more involvement from Grand Rapids with the arts year round. There is always a big buzz in the art scene around ArtPrize in the fall, however, I would love to see a greater involvement from the outskirts of the community with exhibitions, events, and shows year-round in local galleries. It is something that both the community and the creative workforce have to work on together. I also think that there could be more diversity in our creative spaces, and it is something I am always consciously trying to work on. I would love to see more local galleries, businesses, and institutions work on reaching out to other communities to make events more welcoming and accessible to everyone.

What are you passionate about besides your work? 

Besides my personal work, I am super invested in looking at and learning about art, as well as facilitating others’ artmaking. I love doing workshops, demos, and volunteering to help others get as excited about making and their own work as I get about mine. That was one of the main reasons for opening a gallery. I love talking with artists and learning about what they want to make as well as helping them figure out how to do it. Creating a space where I was able to do that regularly was a big goal for me with Bend Gallery. I also make sure to find time to travel to different galleries, museums, and institutions to see different art shows and exhibitions, it is informative and satisfying to see what other people are doing. 

What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others? 

When I was a student, I would talk through these ambitious ideas with my peers, my professors and my mentors. I would always be (and still am) nervous and hesitant to dive in and begin to make whatever it was, but I noticed the conversations would always end with someone telling me “Try it. See what happens." After that, I would get right to work.

Hesitation and doubt is such an integral part of making. To me it means that the artist is considering every possibility, which is great. However, letting that feeling become so large that it gets in the way means that things do not get made, work does not get done, and happy accidents and discoveries are left unknown. Now I have noticed that same phrase is my advice to others if they are hesitant or doubtful of themselves. If it does not work out in the end, at least something happened and you followed through. You have that at the end of the day. You tried. That is something that I am always proud of. 

Looking for more?

Learn more about the artist here and check out Bend Gallery here.

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