Featured Art

Veronica Hillesheim-Pelzel: Abstract Expressionism in the Modern Era

Paints are layered on linen in abstract tones. One color at a time until layers are brushed in an expressive style all her own. Her contemporary art is characterized by nature’s exuberant spirit in one light.  Human frailty, weakness and emotional trauma in another.  Influenced by artist’s such as Shozo Shimamoto and Mark Rothko, Veronica Hillesheim-Pelzel is a self-taught artist who has been published in Folio Weekly, American University, Art Business News, and New Art International. Her work’s have been exhibited in group shows throughout the country.

For many years
I painted and told no one.
It wasn’t that I was trying to keep a secret.
It just never came up.
One day in 1994 I picked up a brush,
had some used paints and
started to paint on a used canvas.
And I never stopped.
I think we all search for something,
that is what life is all about.

Veronica Hillseheim-Pelzel lives quietly in the sleepy town of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.  Life was simple growing up on a dairy farm with 12 other siblings.  Her family lived on the land milking cows and growing their own food.  Inspiration for her future work was everywhere.  Like most artists, she longed for solitude as a sort of spirituality.  Retreating in her home to a small closet as a child, she was fascinated by fabrics and their design. She began to read, study other contemporary artists and write poetry.  She worked in a canning factory for over 35 years, yet her real passion was painting.   Her painting would start later in life.  One day, she picked up a brush and never stopped.  In search of new meaning expressed on canvas or through mixed media.

“An expressive artist whose work is usually abstract but ranges between figurative as spiritual and psychic energies congeal to form.  M. Veronica Pelzel is intrigued by the unknown in our lives and seeks to visually elaborate the indescribable in acrylics and pastel on a path between Rothko and Van Gogh . . .” – New Art International.

Veronica was kind enough to grant Featured E-Magazine this exclusive interview.

Veronica, I found your site on WordPress and was very intrigued by your art work. Can you tell us something about yourself and what inspires you?

Well, I grew up in this very hard-working rural community. I have lived here my entire life. I always thought I would live somewhere else but never made it out. It’s a nice community and usually a peaceful little town.

History inspires me, along with nature, and old buildings. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes it’s something I hear, or read. Things just hit me. Then I try to write them down.

How would you characterize your paintings and technique?

I am not formally trained. I am self-taught. I read, and study other artists. I would characterize my paintings as expressionistic. I always paint in layers. I paint with only one color at a time. By that I mean, I will put down a color, decide what the next color will be by the way the first color looks after it’s dry. I think I break a lot of rules.

What was it like growing up on a farm in Minnesota? You come from a large family. What influences in your family motivated you to become an artist?

Growing up on a farm was a good life. However, it was a hard life. There were no farm programs. Money was tight. We all had to do our share and with a family of 13, there was plenty of work to go around. We were a dairy farm, so milking cows morning and night added to all the fun. My parents worked hard, but my mother was a saint in every sense of the word. My grandfather lived with us, he was the sweetest, most gentle and kind man in the world. He grew a huge garden, and we canned jams and jelly, fruit and vegetables. We had a huge potato bin and huge crocks for our carrots. We purchased coffee, sugar and flour. Almost everything else came from our farm.

I am trying to think of influences from my family that set me on this path. We had one closet in the hall upstairs. I would spend hours in this very tiny closet, looking at old clothes, studying the fabric and design. It was so small, I would take a flash light. There were old photographs and I would study them also.

What was school like for you when you were younger and who influenced and supported you the most in your artwork?

I went to a country school, for the first four years. A one room school-house in Iberia. It had huge windows and when I looked outside to the woods, I just wanted to be there. Not in school. We walked many times, because we lived about a mile away. Then to a parochial grade and high school.

My mother supported me by her wisdom and talent. I started painting after she died. I remember one of our conversations, she said you are never to old to learn something. And she gave Grandma Moses as an example. She was an amazing woman. Now my family, especially my two daughters and my two grandsons are my support. My youngest grandson is quite the critic.

Artist Statement

I am compelled to paint. Working 35 years in a factory it became my salvation. It is complete and total freedom. The style is expressionism and usually abstract. But not always.

The paint is on canvas, linen the favorite. Incorporating recycled plastic, or old slides offers challenges. Copper metal , composition gold and silver leaf generate energy. Bold rich color, soft hues and interference paints help unify seen and unseen. Ideas are unlimited. Rules are most likely broken. Ritual is not. Gratitude is given for those who preserve history. Painting expresses my love and admiration to all who were here before me.

I was fascinated by your work “Blackbirds Starting to Gather”. It is somewhat abstract, but easily recognizable as birds on a wire. Can you describe your thoughts when painting this work.

I just put myself back in time, on our farm. The orange sunset, the birds on the wire, and more flocking in our grove. Autumn is my favorite time of year, the smell in the air, the crispness, the feel of it. Then the colors are so vibrant. My imagination doesn’t rest much so I imagine a situation and try to paint the feeling.

How did you study art/technique and who influenced you the most as an artist?

I am self-taught. I try to read and study other artists. I really admire Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Vincent Van Gogh. Just a few of my favorites. I am also influenced by photographers, I so enjoyed the article you did on Vivian Maier: Secret Photographs.

When you are not painting, what are some of your favorite pass time activities?

When I am not painting, I like to read, go for walks. I also enjoy cooking and baking. You learn that when you come from a large family.

You work in a variety of media. Can you tell us which media you like best?

I like painting the best. I usually work with acrylic, but I did an oil series of 9 with a palette knife that I really like.

The Brick Series

“My Brick series, is oil and done with palette knife. This series is prompted by a combination of things. My admiration for Frank Scobie’s photography of the many brick buildings and nature scenes he photographed. Frank and I both love brick. He made his living photographing people, but he loved doing nature and buildings. Colors and that feather you see on each brick were chosen for my respect of the Dakota Native Americans. The farm land I grew up on was once a Indian reservation. I didn’t even realize this until many years after the farm was sold.

“Almost all old buildings were built with the red brick
probably because of fire.
Frank Scobie took so many photos of buildings.
Then with my added respect to Native Americans.
I was walking on a trail, and a bright yellow feather
floated down in front of me,
And I never stopped.
that is how I knew what would be on those bricks.”

There was a uprising in 1862, a war that took many lives over the state, the early settlers and the Dakota Indians. I started that series about the same time as that 150 year anniversary of the events. Maybe a coincidence, that I started this series at that time.”

In your Artist Statement, you state that you worked in a factory for 35 years. Can you tell us more about your work and how this influenced your art?

Yes, it was a canning factory. We canned peas and corn. I was the warehouse clerk. It was long hours and painting helped me survive working there. I was always thankful for the job, but took its toll. Someone said it is like working in a prison.

Who has most influenced you as a painter?

I named a few earlier, plus, Maxfield Parrish,and Shozo Shimamoto. Mr. Daniel Schnee, a fellow blogger and brilliant musician told me about Shozo’s work.

How would someone purchase your artwork or could they also purchase prints?

They can contact me to purchase , I am sorry I don’t have prints.

The work “Rains and Ravens” seem so simple and yet, so beautiful. I notice the caption is quite poetic. Do you get some of your inspiration from written works such as poetry?

Thank you so much, yes it is simple. What I am feeling many times that gives me inspiration. I also pick up on other people’s feelings and can apply that.

You have shown your works at a number of galleries. What was some of your favorite showings?

I am always happy anytime I have a chance to show my work, but I would say showing my work in Canada and Kentucky were exciting. I wasn’t at the show in Canada, but did make it to Lexington.

What are you working on now and do you have any showings scheduled in the near future?

I am working on a painting called Marking Time, I hope to have completed soon. There is an annual juried show this October in Springfield I will enter. I watch for shows that have low, or no entry fees. It really narrows the selection, some are very costly.


self-portrait VPelzel

Veronica Hillesheim-Pelzel is a freelance artist living in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. “Where I grew up, life experience, and nature offer inspiration when I paint. My paintings are varied. Some are nature-inspired, some carefree and fun to thought-provoking and serious. Windows and doors are often represented in my work. They are portals. Old buildings and brick stir the imagination.”

You can contact Veronica at artveronica8@gmail.com or visit her website at artveronica.com

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