Interview: Becca Van K
I keep making sunsets, for the obvious reason
Yarn, latch hook netting, fake fur, E6000
27 x 21 in
1) Could you introduce yourself? Where are you from and where did you attend school? When did you decide to become an artist? When did you know that you were an artist?
I am an upstate-NY based textile/fiber artist, hiker, and raver. I grew up in suburban Chicago and graduated with a BA in Art History from Bard College in 2013. I have no formal art education, but have always been a maker. There was no decision to become an artist. I am a compulsive and passionate creator, and I have been lucky enough that other folks like what I am doing!
The campground was closed (Mount Shavano, CO)
Embroidery floss, needlepoint canvas, nylon cord, and E6000 on wood
5 x 5 in
2) Could you tell us a bit about your art? What questions are you asking, and what answers are you seeking in your art? How do the tactile and sensory aspects of your art making process enter your work through the form of handcraft? Does your art attempt to overturn the patriarchally-derived distinction between the traditionally male sphere of fine art painting and the traditionally female sphere of craft and domesticity?
My artistic spirit is committed to tenderness, reverence, generosity, and humor. I make a diverse range of objects, which includes needlepoint landscapes, fake plant sculptures, textile-covered furniture, handmade rugs, and upcycled textile collage. My practice focuses on, but is not exclusive to, the techniques of needlepoint, latch hook rug making, and macramé, which are still largely overlooked in the fine art world. The diversity of techniques in my pieces create dynamic and highly personal works.
My work is an amalgam of my deepest passions, drawing from the natural world, 80s/90s aesthetics, house/techno music, and comforting objects. My process is extremely tactile and that translates visually and physically to my audience. I exhibit my work in various forms, with a passion for immersive tactile installations of my soft sculpture, furniture, and wall works. Prior to COVID-19, these installations were touchable. I am adapting to new methods of connection with my viewers through “work from home” remote soft sculpture workshops with my community members, though I am still struggling to figure out ways to maintain my ethos when my viewers can’t physically engage with my work. I am always trying to undermine the preciousness of my art and aim to bring pure joy energy into every space I show my work.
I think what is most important to put at the forefront is that women have always been the focus and makers of handwork, and they deserve the most attention for this. Now that the art world is paying attention to craft, a lot of men are now jumping on board, and I am seeing a lot become very quickly successful through the use of handcraft and textile. I don’t know how to feel about it, but it is certainly something that I have noticed.
Close Encounters of the Deep Kind (Mark Henning & Den)
Yarn, recycled fabric, and PVA glue on canvas
44 x 33 in
3) What do you think is the defining distinction between fine art and handcraft? Is this distinction significant or arbitrary? What new possibilities lie within combining the two creative areas within a conceptual framework? What can be achieved in the realm of fine art with a crafty way of thinking and making and vice versa? Is Laura Owens' work a significant influence in your art?
Oh man, I really don’t like to make that distinction, though art institutions would like us to think otherwise. Handcraft has mostly been relegated to the world of the functional, as if that were separate from art, which has been a great disservice. There is finally more recognition for handcraft as a fine art, but I think that it feels a bit meaningless. I also am extremely skeptical of the fine art world, as so many decisions about artistic value are enmeshed in capitalistic ideals.
Laura Owens paintings are new to me but I can see where you make that connection, as it seems like we are both inspired by 80s/90s graphics.
Drexcyen Star Chamber (Drexciya)
Embroidery floss, canvas mesh, pine, and hardware
18.5 x 18.5 in
4) Who are some of your contemporaries and peers that you respect and follow? How are their works different from yours? What sets your art apart from your peers?
Paintings from my friend Kelsey Renko, ceramics from my friend Yiyi Mendoza, photos from my friend J Houston, Yayoi Kusama’s paintings, James Turrell’s installations in nature. I am more often inspired by nature, memory, and pop culture than by other artists though.
My primary unique choice is that of the craft of needlepoint. I only know one other artist who uses this technique!
Installation shot of "feel me," Collar Works, Troy, NY, curated by Kelsey Renko 2019
5) What is the mental state like when you are meditatively doing repetitive tasks throughout your artistic process? Do you focus just on the work, or do you think about your life and the bigger questions?
I am totally zoned out and let my hands go where they need to go. Everything is simultaneously improvised and intentional. Each stitch or decision dictates the next in the moment.
I usually am listening to music or watching TV while working. My brain slows down and I am actually not in a very philosophical mindset. I try to empty my mind and listen to what feels right. I often am guessing and just hope it works out though!
Recycled clothing (fleece), new fleece, yarn, latch hook netting, fabric glue, and Fireline thread
18 x 24 in
6) Do you see some of your works that come in smaller sizes and vivid colors as collectibles, almost like pieces of jewelry? How do the feelings that you have towards your work differ between smaller and bigger works? Do the smaller works become more accessible and more personal, as opposed to the bigger works that are more expensive to produce and may have a more serious aura?
The majority of the work I make is actually on a very small scale. I do not have a studio space separate from my apartment and am therefore limited by what I can easily fit into my home. This works hand in hand with my desire to create emotionally and *financially* accessible artworks. I try my best to not upcharge and want folks to be able to comfortably purchase works. The majority of my audience is made up of millennials, and we are largely on tenuous financial ground. I want my viewers to know that their interest is valuable, and therefore I try to price my works in-kind. I think the works do have the potential to be like collectibles, but I want art to feel homey, so I don’t want the objects to feel too precious. My art is meant to be loved.
I have made a handful of larger works, but they become cumbersome and more expensive than I feel comfortable with.
Installation shot of "i'm here for you" solo exhibition, HiLo, Catskill, NY
7) Do you try to make good works or bad works? What is the benefit of trying to fail, sometimes in a big way? Does it feel self-destructive and wasteful? Or is failure a natural part of the learning and creative process?
I try not to think of it in those terms, as “good” and “bad” are so personal. My goal is always to try to make something that I personally like and am proud of. If other people like it, that’s a bonus. If something doesn’t work out, I recreate or repurpose, as most things I do are forms of collage. I don’t mind failed experiments, because the moment I find a new purpose for it is so special. Without fail, I am always so grateful I didn’t throw it out. It feels like a never-ending puzzle.
Amongst the Goblins (Goblin Valley State Park, UT)
Embroiery floss, needlepoint cnavas, nylon cord, and E6000 on wood
6.75 x 6.25 in
8) What are the limitations and strengths of weaving with a needle? How does it differ from painting with a brush, or drawing with a pencil? Does the less efficient and more time-consuming method of making give more value and validation for your art?
I don’t ever create anything out of thin air. I consider myself more of a collage artist, taking ideas, fabrics, fuzzy pieces, graphics, etc. that already exist or I use mediums that have initial limitations, like the grid of needlepoint canvas or latch-hook rug canvas. I work often with a needle because it is one of the most innate actions to my body. I learned to sew at five and have always seen it as therapy. I used to paint and draw, but nothing feels as good or as rhythmic as sewing/weaving. I don’t think of my process as more valuable or valid, though. Everyone has their own form of expression, and I just know that this is right for me. I also think the time-consuming nature is not limited to needlework. I probably take less time to make some works than many painters or drawers.
Plant Hanger 2,
Nylon paracord, metal ring, needlepoint plastic, yarn, pompoms, E6000
9) What does the rhythmic snake-like linework that appears frequently in your work represent? Does it have a meaning or any biblical significance? Or are the additions of the linework purely formal in nature?
I am completely non-religious, so no biblical references! It is loosely based on this 80s graphic squiggle that was around one-use cups (the purple squiggle with teal), but it is a gestural line that reminds me of a lot of 80s/90s graphics and Nickelodeon aesthetics, which I feel very sentimental about.
This Is Acid (Maurice Joshua)
Lisa Frank stickers, paper, PVA glue, matte medium, and polymer varnish on canvas
20 x 16 in
10) What are your plans for the future? How do you want to grow further as an artist? What new exciting works do you want to create, and where do you want to go next?
I am interested in incorporating environmental activism more into my practice and I hope to do a public lands-focused artist residency in the future. I was accepted to do one at Yellowstone National Park, but they unfortunately eliminated the residency program during COVID.
I also am interested in focusing more on craft than a gallery career. I am thinking more about applying to creative programs like those at Arrowmont, Penland, or Yestermorrow, which are all craft-focused and proximate to wilderness.
I have just begun a series of macramé woven chairs, which is an exciting new direction that I will continue to enthusiastically pursue. I love the idea of creating functional objects. I specifically use broken, neglected chair frames, which feel great to repurpose. My growth is unpredictable, but I am moving forward with generosity, humor, and passion.