“i’m here for you” will be exhibited at HiLo in Catskill from February 5 to March 18, 2018 with an opening reception on Friday, February 9th from 6-9 PM.
“Rarely as adults do we seek solace in objects of tactile comfort. The wall works presented are created to offer you respite from this condition, to assuage a desire we rarely indulge. Like the comforting effects that children develop personal relationships with (blankets, stuffed animals, dolls, and figures), all works are given personal names to reflect their individual characters. The artist invites you to touch the artworks with the hopes that they provide physical and emotional comfort or a personal connection. You are welcome to hug, kiss, pet, or hold them. Engage with them because they love you.”
Becca Van K is a mixed media artist based in the northern region of New York’s Catskill Mountains. Her work is highly sensory, with a strong focus on tactile comfort, the sounds of house & techno music, and vibrant colors & patterns. Her work is marked by loud, but deliberate color combinations. Listening exclusively to dance music mixes when working puts her in a meditative rhythm through which she transcribes her sensorial experiences. The works in “i’m here for you” are almost exclusively created from recycled clothing from which 80s/90s color schemes and graphics emerge. A Bard College alumna who has exhibited around the Hudson Valley, she spends much of her time exploring the woods and mountains of her adopted home.
Becca Van K interviewed by Red Hook-based artist Jenny Ghetti, a Libra who is concerned about ghosts:
Jenny: Where do you source your materials?
Becca: For this series, “i’m here for you,” I spend a lot of time on half-off day at Salvation Army looking through clothes. It allows me the opportunity to use fabrics I covet, but can’t wear because they’re made for children or just aren’t a style that I like. I’ll buy bags and bags of clothes. I just seek out really bright colors and crazy patterns. I’ve also been using a lot of rope and yarn from Joann Fabrics and Ocean State Job Lots.
J: How do you decide when a series is finished, and where do you know that one series has ended and the next will begin?
B: There’s always been overlap. It’s when it feels finished, I’m bored, or I’ve exhausted my combinations. With my Lisa Frank pieces and the yarn pieces, I felt that there was nowhere else I wanted to take the works, and I was really proud of the final pieces. The Lisa Frank collages are all within a specific palette, and I had exhausted almost all of the combinations that were possible. There are still a couple Lisa works I haven’t finished though. I don’t really have a good answer as to where the fuzzy pieces came from, except that I had a bucket of old clothes and fabrics that I really wanted to repurpose. I saw a call for art submissions for a show at Greene County Council on the Arts, which focused on recycling objects/repurposing things into art. This resulted in the first fuzzy piece, Phoebe. I didn’t end up getting in the show, but I was responding to the concept. I wear a lot of comfortable clothes because that’s one thing that provides me with physical comfort (I’ve always worn big fake furs), which I value a lot, and I wanted to translate that to art. Also, I still really respond to the hyper strong visual language of my earlier works, but these new ones are a lot more minimal than the yarn pieces or the Lisa Frank pieces, which are really kaleidoscopic. These take less time, because they’re more minimal. Still, each color/pattern decision takes a long time.
J: They do make sense with your other work though, because I feel everything you’ve done has been extremely tactile. Being familiar with your work, I feel that you’ve been kind of climbing to that point where you get to this point of actually touching the work.
B: Absolutely. A lot of my earlier work stems from my love of dance music, and my visual translation of how those sounds make me feel. At one point, I had imagined a gallery space where I would have this enclosure, where you would be hearing dance music all around you but it was a fuzzy tactile space that was a little cave. This series doesn’t really relate to my interest in dance music, but I still like, I clearly have wanted pieces that people could touch for a while.
J: Totally! Can you tell me something that no one knows about your work?
B: There’s only one person who knows this, and it’s my roommate because she’s in my space, but I exclusively work on the floor.
J: How would you describe your work to someone who couldn’t see it?
B: Kaleidoscopic visions would probably be a phrase I would use a lot, especially with the Lisa Frank series. Really loud and insane, but very considered combinations of color and pattern, with a strong emphasis on trying to engage people on their most visceral level, with sight and now touch. I’m trying to figure out where that goes moving forward. Feeling that lot of art is highly inaccessible, I want to appeal to people on their base level, and just look at something and be like, “oh I like that!” That might not be super deep, but yeah.
J: That’s what art is though! If you could be one of your pieces, which would it be? I know they all have names, so…
B: In this series, yeah they all have names. Oh! I know exactly which one I’d like to be. It would be Rocko, the one that is probably the loudest. It was inspired by 90s Nickelodeon colors, and one of the first ones into which I incorporated any yarn and rope.
J: Can you describe how your work has evolved and where you’d like it to go in the future?
B: I’ve always done a lot of handwork; my mom taught me to crochet when I was very young, and I was a painter/jeweler as a teen. I really slowed down with that kind of work when I went to college, (I got into photography), but then ended up in art history as my final major. I was going crazy writing my senior project at a computer all day, which is when the glued yarn series started. I would put my headphones on and listen to a four hour long dance music mix, moving to the rhythm of the music and transcribing the way the sounds made me feel. So I did that for a couple years. It was still casual though because I didn’t know if I wanted to present as an artist, or if I was just making them for fun. Then, I made one Lisa Frank piece when I was going through depression. I put it on my wall with all my other yarn pieces, and people kept being like, “oh, what’s that?” I made one really big one, then I brought it in to work to photograph and my boss bought it on the spot. I made a couple more, and then I showed them publically at a friend’s house, to which I received very positive response. It was honestly the encouragement of others that made me pursue it further, because I just didn’t have any self-confidence in it at all. I was just doing it on my own, not really thinking about it in that way.
J: Totally, more like a therapeutic thing.
B: Well that’s really what it is for me. All the work I do is highly repetitious. Actually a lot of the works in the “i’m here for you” series are not that way. They’re more minimal. However, I’m doing more of the rug hooking in them lately, which I think is because I want to do something that’s very repetitious and time consuming. I’m trying to figure out where I want to go next, I think I want to do things that are more sculptural, but at the same time I’m definitely limited by space. My art practice is growing, and I have pieces from three or four series now. I don’t know what to do with it all. I’d love to get a residency. I can’t even anticipate at this moment what I would do with that kind of space or resources.
J: And time.
B: Yeah, exactly. I think I would make works that are a lot bigger, but then also I don’t know what the hell I’d do with them after.
J: Sell them.
B: That’s the hope. I also do want to do more fund raising-based work.
J: Yeah, do you want to talk about that at all?
B: Sure, um I have never been an activist, but I should be. (J: I mean, I think you are! You’re doing it!) Immediately post-election is when I asked myself, what is something actionable that I can do that’s still something I feel comfortable with? So I made little paper Lisa Frank pieces that are only 6×7 inches (because people had responded to them and were familiar with them at that point) through a couple round of auctions. I ended up raising around $1200, which is way more that I could give on my own. I’ve also given seven or eight pieces to Planned Parenthood auctions that I didn’t put together myself (J: in the area). I’m happy to get my art out there, but apparently I undervalue the prices of my works (because I don’t feel comfortable selling things). I liked the auctions because people could set what they wanted to pay, and also the focus wasn’t entirely on me.
J: Cool! My next question is, what has moved you the most in the last sixth months? It could be anything.
B: In the last couple years, I’ve really fallen in love with this landscape. I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate my love of nature into my work. The Catskills have been a huge part of my life, and I’ve just fallen in love with them. They move me every day. I grew up in Chicago, where there are no mountains. I mean the Catskills are one of the oldest ranges in the world, which is partially why they’re so smooth and small. But, they are the mountains that have taught me to love mountains. I find them really inviting and accessible in a way that I think a lot of other mountains are not.
J: It’s funny because you started this by saying you didn’t think it really applied to your work, but the sentence you just said could also apply to your work. So, I don’t know, I think we got there in the end. Your work is also inviting and accessible, and I think that your love of the mountains informs your work.
B: I would love to see it more expressed in the visual language, or, for example, incorporate materials from my hikes or something. I have a giant rock collection, and I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate that in my work.
J: Alright, I have one more question. In what ways do you seek comfort?
B: Well, most importantly, I take off my pants the second I get home.
J: Yes, absolutely, same.
B: I get right into sweatpants, and take off my bra, then I’m ready. I love soup, nuzzling in somebody’s neck, good coffee. I hug a pillow when I sleep almost every night. I think I made this series for other people, but I also made them for me. Every piece is my visual language, but also I’m really informed by 80s and 90s graphics, colors, and patterns. I make pieces because they’re something I’d actually want to have in my home. I feel everybody has their own version of what they find comfort in, but there are very few things that are like the adult version of stuffed animals, blankets, or dolls. We don’t really indulge in that brand of tactile comfort very often. I wanted to provide two things: objects of comfort and to indulge people in the desire to touch something that’s on the wall. No one ever gets to touch art, and we are highly conditioned not to do so.
J: And I always want to, very badly.
B: I had a show last summer where people touched a bunch of those pieces, and they ended up fine. I go back and forth about whether I’ll be sad if they get ruined in that process, but I think it’s worth it.
J: I was going to ask if you have a contingency plan. What would you do if something got dirty? Would you just clean it and put it back up?
B: Yes. At the opening, I’m going have signs that say, “touch with clean hands and an open heart.” I hope that’ll get the message across. I know it’s at a bar and cafe, so I can’t anticipate what will happen, but at the opening I think people are going touch them. When the event is over, maybe people just won’t even think to touch them or think they’re able to touch them because there is no one around to tell them it’s okay. I do want people to touch them!
J: That’s really nice. I’m excited for your opening so I can touch all your art!