She and Paint are Back Into a Manipulative Relationship

The fire of a fresh start: Michelle Wise burns up the studio.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

“Panic sets in when you go out on your own and you’ve got to figure out your artistic voice,” says multimedia artist Michelle D. Wise. She illustrates the fear: “‘Do I even have a voice? What does it look like?’”

But, she continues, “I have a history of my own, of how I manipulate the paint and how the paint manipulates me.”

Lately, she’s been getting in touch with that history to raise her voice in new ways. As a college student, Wise majored in fine arts with an emphasis on painting and printmaking. Then, as she explains, “Life happened” — including hectic jobs, raising kids, and a more than 30-year career as a designer, illustrator, and art director for major-market newspapers and municipal government. 

Number Twenty
Photo by Rachel Pressley

“It was creative experience, and I loved the work,” Wise acknowledges. But she was also keenly aware that her job was to execute someone else’s artistic ideas, not her own. “It was their experience, not my experience. There was lots of speed and rigidity, and the routine and process never changed.”

Then, a couple of years ago, Wise moved from Portland, Oregon to Asheville, to be closer to family. “I knew that it was also time to do some different things, and becoming a fine artist was one of those things.”

The World of Matter
Photo by Rachel Pressley

So she turned her garage into an art studio, where she now combines her love of painting with graphic design. “I tried to wrap my head around making the transition. I wanted to take the history of graphic arts and move it forward into fine art.”

Photo by Rachel Pressley

Wise collects examples of vintage graphics, especially from the 1920s. Some are accounting ledgers, filled out by hand in Japanese or Chinese, or gardening books with hand-drawn images of flowers. She has old dress patterns that have a wonderful linear quality to them, and a beautiful booklet of someone’s handwritten travel notes in Madagascar. “I will flow and drip paint over those images and then put transparent cellophane on top, to create wild colors and patterns,” she explains. 

Language Obscura
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Often, Wise is in her studio until three or four in the morning, which she admits can be exhausting, but exhilarating.  

“My mind has not been on fire like this in a long time. It’s the feeling of a new beginning. I am a cancer survivor, and this is my last big push, to do this. But I’m learning that I have to give myself some slack and relax. It’s the process and experience that matters, and living it. The important thing to me as an artist is the personal growth, which is so exciting. I am thrilled beyond words.”

Michelle Wise outside of her home in East Asheville.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

Michelle D. Wise, East Asheville. The artist’s work can be found on her website,, on Facebook (Chelan Creative), and on Instagram (@michellewise.chelancreative). She’ll participate in the upcoming Kenilworth Artists Association Studio Tour that happens 10am-5pm on Saturday, May 25 and Sunday, May 26. For more information, visit

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