There are few artists Becca Van K’s age that are able to incorporate the amount of wisdom and genuine curiosity into their work. It is reflective in the most uninhibited way and that’s the sweet spot that draws everyone in. Early into her career as an artist, she’s authentic in her practice and focuses on her community—key to any successful career.
Van K’s artistic spirit is committed to tenderness, reverence, generosity, and humor. The artist makes a diverse range of objects, which includes needlepoint landscapes, fake plant sculptures, textile-covered furniture, handmade rugs, and upcycled textile collage. Her work is an amalgam of her deepest passions, drawing from the natural world, 80s and 90s graphics, nostalgia, house and techno music, and comforting objects. Van K exhibits her work in various forms, with a passion for immersive tactile installations of soft sculpture, furniture, and wall works. Her practice focuses on the techniques of needlepoint, latch hook rug making, and macramé, which are still largely overlooked in the fine art world. Few combine the set of her techniques, a map of self-taught and mother-taught experiences. The artist takes pride in the time-consuming nature of this work and aims to create pieces that subvert conventional ideas about the function of handcrafts.
Becca Van K’s work is part of “Embellishing the Truth,” a group exhibition with Claudia Santiso, Mandy Chesney, Jennifer Caviola at The Yard City Hall Park through July 23, 2021. Join A Women’s Thing’s IG Live on Sunday, May 2, at 4 p.m. for a studio visit with Becca Van K and AWT contributor and curator Morgan Everhart.
Glitter, iridescence, and kitsch materials come with many associations and often blurs the line of what is excessive in sexuality, popular culture, and “high brow” art. What are your views on these materials? How do you approach them in your art?
Becca Van K: Glitter and iridescence have rarely been a part of my creative practice, but I am drawn to works that have them. Kitsch materials definitely come into play. I love the excessiveness of all three. I make works that are visually very loud, and thus am drawn to materials and works of others that reflect that. I want to shock the viewer’s visual sense with a pop of color and humor. Kitschy materials are a vehicle for that.
Why do you prefer loud materials?
Becca Van K: I don’t always know what draws me to the loud, but I am an extremely visual person, a visual learner and a visual thinker. I am drawn to aesthetics first, when it comes to my own work, as well as others. I think loudness in my work can convey joy in a very genuine way.
Even though these materials may be considered loud or excessive, your work is made with a tenderness and reverence for your previous experiences. This contrast of material and intention mirrors ties together the patterning we see through each of our series. There’s a vibration that’s happening emotionally and visually. Could you tell us a little more about your different series, like “I’m here for you” and “my hands swell when I hike,” and if or how they overlap for you?
Becca Van K: “I’m here from you” works had historically been shown in installation settings where the viewers were allowed to touch everything. I thought of each object as the adult version of a stuffed animal, or really any kind of personal treasure that we personify, particularly as children. I also want to subvert the notion that wall art is too priceless to be touched. We are conditioned not to touch art and I want to indulge viewers in that desire. “It feels cathartic! my hands swell when i hike” comes from a place of deep reverence for the landscapes I have visited. I create these smaller objects that are (intentionally) similar to a postcard. I also use this series as a way to fundraise for indigenous-led environmental nonprofits and activist orgs.
I often have a hard time tying all of my series together, but I agree that there is some kind of visual thread that connects all of my different bodies of work. There are different visual languages happening, but I think you can truly tell that I am the one who made all of them. That being said, I find myself most at peace when needlepointing, hiking, or dancing. The trance-like, meditative state that comes from these various forms of repetition meld together in my creative practice.
I find myself most at peace when needlepointing, hiking, or dancing. The trance-like, meditative state that comes from these various forms of repetition meld together in my creative practice.
Who do you make your art for and why?
Becca Van K: I make work for the child in everyone. I think that galleries and “high-brow” art can be intimidating, and I don’t want anyone to feel intimidated by my work. I want my art to be visually accessible and for viewers to have an immediate (hopefully positive) reaction. Joy, reverence, and love are at the center of my practice and I want my viewers to feel that.
The foundation of your practice is honest and authentic. That’s why I wanted it in the show and why I think everyone should know about your work. Do you have an ideal place where you’d like your work to be shared/displayed? Do you think that having your art displayed in a gallery would add or detract from your work?
Becca Van K: I am always trying to undermine the preciousness of my art and therefore get a bit nervous in galleries to be honest. I want my objects to live in homes, so galleries often feel a bit sterile. I love showing in unconventional spaces. For example, I have shown in airstream trailers, closets, store windows, and home “galleries”, which all feel like the work can have a different relationship to space than in a white wall gallery. I like when my work is in conversation with the lively space around it. Every time work is shown in a new context, each piece has something new to say.
I want my art to be visually accessible and for viewers to have an immediate (hopefully positive) reaction. Joy, reverence, and love are at the center of my practice and I want my viewers to feel that.
What are your artworks recontextualizing or exposing?
Becca Van K: I think of myself as primarily a collage artist. As a millennial, my materials are full of a specific nostalgia. I take materials that already exist, which are already imbued with millennial cultural meaning (Lisa Frank stickers, 80’s/90’s clothing), and create new combinations, messes, and relationships. I also often use handcraft in unconventional or unusual contemporary ways. Needlepoint, for example, is still often viewed as a “granny craft. I also make flashy macramé chairs, which have rarely been seen since the 1970s macramé craze.
As we get older, will you incorporate new nostalgic items, let’s say from your 20s when you’re 40?
Becca Van K: I have no idea, but it will likely not be the case. Our childhood nostalgia has a particular draw on us that I don’t know will be replicated for my 20s when I am in my 40s. Additionally, the color palette of the 80s and 90s was just so visually arresting. The 2010s palette doesn’t inspire me as much.
Your artworks in this exhibition appear non-representational. What is the significance of that absence of human presence?
Becca Van K: I have never made work that is representational, but I think that each piece really has a human-like presence. This is intentional. I want viewers to feel familiar, like a friend. The fuzzy works (ie: “Casey” and “Caleb”) are actually given human names based on the personalities that have emerged from them. Prior to COVID times, works from this series “i’m here for you” were touchable and meant to be loved and interacted with on a personal level.
How would you describe Casey or Caleb’s personalities? Do you think they’d get along as well?
Casey is a generally joyful gal who always puts the happiness of her friends first, sometimes to her detriment. She hugs everyone she meets. Caleb is a gemini who doesn’t care what you think. He smokes an e-cig and his biggest celebrity crush is Christian Slater. I think they’d get along just fine, but they don’t fully “get” each other.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or events?
Becca Van K: I am in an upcoming group show called “Wall Power”, on view from April 24 through May 30, at Tanja Grunert Gallery in Hudson, NY, and am providing a free pillow decorating workshop for teens at the Columbia-Greene Youth Clubhouse in Catskill, NY as a part of my NYSCA Decentralization Grant from Greene County Council on the Arts.
What is some advice/feedback/reflections that you would like to share with other artists?
Becca Van K: Take care and love/support your local community arts. I pay no mind to most coveted residency and MFA programs and instead think about investing in smaller, more DIY spaces/programs that will provide a supportive, reciprocal, and uncompetitive environment.
This is fantastic advice. If artists are looking for opportunities, their communities are more likely to engage and support them. What are some examples of smaller, more DIY spaces/programs near you that you’d recommend?
Becca Van K: I love the Prattsville Art Center, as the director there is incredibly passionate and generous. ArtPort Kingston and LABspace in Hillsdale have really wonderful vibes and energetic curation. My local arts council Greene County Council on the Arts (CREATE) has been a wonderful support throughout the years and I always try to catch their shows and support them in kind. Paradice Palase is Brooklyn-based but I have been lucky to connect with them regularly and I really believe in what they do.
Look for your local arts council, as well as the orgs they support. There are lots of new art initiatives in the Hudson Valley, but I do think that many of them are still highly focused on NYC talent/mid-career wealthier artists, so I try to invest my time and energy in places that are doing the work of supporting the emerging local artist economy.
Becca Van K work is in “Embellishing the Truth,” alongside Claudia Santiso, Mandy Chesney, Jennifer Caviola at The Yard City Hall Park, 116 Nassau Street, Floors 5 & 6 New York, NY 10038 through July 23, 2021. For information and appointments, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.morganeverhart.com/curatorialprojects
Decorative and fine art is a false dichotomy informed by a systemic misunderstanding that reality should be mundanely visible. Beauty gives us different degrees of reality and this exhibition, “Embellishing the Truth,” curated by Morgan Everhart, shares four artists’ convergences of their truths through adornment. The name of this exhibition is purely ironic because there’s nothing to hide with Claudia Santiso, Jennifer Caviola, Becca Van K, and Mandy Chesney’s work. Each artist openly welcomes the implications their materials and references have. In some cases, there is so little rejection of their mediums that the works are inherently sculptural.
In a time where we are transitioning out of our solitude and re-establishing our new day to days, we deserve to celebrate what makes us who we are and share that with others. This is a chance for us to be unabashedly ourselves like these artists are.
About the artist, Becca Van K:
Becca Van K (b. 1991, Chicago, IL) is a mixed media fiber artist based in New York’s Catskill Mountains. She translates her deepest passions into vibrant colors & pattern combinations with various handcraft and fiber art methods. She has exhibited widely in the Hudson Valley & Capital Regions and firmly believes in art as a conduit for community support/engagement. She is a 2021 recipient of an NYSCA Decentralization Grant through Greene County Council on the Arts and a 2020 recipient of the NYFA “Keep NYS Creating” Grant. She has recently participated in exhibitions at Columbia College (Columbia, MO), ArtPort Kingston (Kingston, NY), and Collar Works (Troy, NY). Torn between city nightlife and the woods of the Catskills, she’d only leave New York if there were techno clubs in the desert. The happiness of her viewers is at the center of her practice. Website: beccavank.com, Instagram @beccavank.