In spring 2011, during one of Puget Sound’s first full days of sun, Joey Veltkamp met artist Victoria Haven at what was her then-studio in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. The two hopped a ferry for a day-long journey to the Olympic Peninsula, where they hiked the trail to Lena Lake (hike no.89 in Haven’s 2011 book Hit the North). The two talked about Haven’s art and the influence of the Northwest on her approach.
|Wonderland by Victoria Haven, photographed for Pacific Standard in Discovery Park by Natasha Kroll|
Haven’s recent work, simultaneously raw and precise, feels at home in a region whose settled areas are never far from an expanse of untamed wilderness, one where punk rock and nature can live as two sides of the same coin. Her lightness of touch and allusions to transience also serve as a reminder that lives here are separated from the successes and failures of past enterprises by a history so recent as to be barely cold. Whether purposeful or not, Haven’s is undoubtedly an individual iconography that speaks directly to fundamental Northwest themes.
|North x Northwest Mystic (Gore-tex® version), 2010 by Victoria Haven|
Gore-tex, silver marking film, thread, 27.5" x 24"
Joey Veltkamp: In your recent work you’ve been letting the personal become more visible, revealing and letting us see your influences, and connecting your work to physical place–which has resulted in a decidedly “Northwest” vibe. With themes of hiking, skiing, music (and even GORE-TEX™) as markers, you are clearly marking the path of where you’re taking us. What made you decide to go in that direction?
Victoria Haven: The revealing of the ‘personal’ in this work really came as a surprise to me in that my initial motivation was to make a body of work that was purely abstract—free of references outside of the work itself. As I asked myself questions like ‘how can I push abstraction to its limits and what does that look like?’, the answers I came up with kept pointing me toward specific moments in time/in my life that have had a transformative effect on me. My hope was that I could achieve some reconciliation between the universal and the personal by focusing my attention on these specific moments. As I started drawing and collecting research materials, certain themes (Northwest wilderness, rock music and abstraction) began to emerge and overlap in an exciting way.
|Decline of Western Civilization (after DFL) by Victoria Haven|
Western red cedar, 23" x 22" x 12"
JV: As someone who doesn’t typically reveal their influences so overtly, was it hard to be so open? Did you feel exposed?
VH: At first yes, I struggled with how much to reveal and in what way. A part of me wanted to shout out “look…this is what this work is ‘about’ and has ALWAYS been about—mapping space, transition, multiple perspectives.” But I was also feeling tentative about defining the meaning too rigidly and cutting off the works’ open-endedness. One evening, in a state of self-absorbed anxiety, I whined to a friend about my fear of exposure. She kindly reminded me that she had just finished writing “a fucking memoir!” This afforded me both the perspective and the permission I needed to proceed and from that point on I didn’t look back.
|There's No Place Like Home, 2010 by Victoria Haven|
Ink on paper, 60" x 70", image via Greg Kucera Gallery
JV: What was so terrifying about it? That the viewer could see so much of you in the work?
VH: It was a double-edged dilemma. On the one hand I worried about the work being read as too sentimental or nostalgic and on the other I felt a strong sense of responsibility to protect my source material. In the end I decided to put aside my control issues and let the work dictate the direction, even if it made me uncomfortable. The first step I took was to make this huge wall painting in my studio—a blown-up version of the jacket of a mix tape given to me by friends the night before I moved (back) to London in 1986. It’s an amazing portrait of Seattle at a particularly vibrant moment and it’s an object that I’ve always lived with…even though I lost the original tape years ago.
|Noise Reduction A & B, 2010 by Victoria Haven|
JV: I love that story. You mentioned that whenever you move into a new studio, you’ll paint a piece on the wall to initiate the space. Is that the artistic equivalent of a smudge stick; a ritual to purify the space?
VH: Initiating the new space with a wall intervention is something that developed over the years (after witnessing so many of my studio buildings fall prey to the wrecking ball). It’s not so much about purification as it is a sort of bonding ritual—similar to making a territorial mark or an offering of sorts.
I’ve documented the demolition of several former studio spaces and there has been something cathartic about watching the chunks of these beautiful buildings crumble into a heap with my pieces attached to the walls
Last month, in a twist on this ritual, I made a decision to retrieve a chunk of studio wall (with the mix-tape drawing on it) just minutes before the building was razed.
I’ve been working on a project which maps my studio trajectory (11 spaces in 22 years) through a series of recordings, walks and works I’m calling ‘portable monuments’. This preserved wall-drawing will exist in its new form as a component of this project.
|North x Northwest Sampler by Victoria Haven|
JV: Do you have any plans for this artifact?
VH: Yes, I do! It’s going to be included in a show of my work at the Seattle Art Museum, which will coincide with the Elles exhibition there this fall.
|North x Northwest Mystic|
JV: Where some artists shrug off the label of Northwest artist, you seem okay with it. Is that because with the exception of 4 years spent in London, you’ve been here your whole life?
VH: The physical and emotional geography of the Northwest have shaped me and my work in a profound way and I do embrace this (for better or for worse). I think it is because I value this relationship that I’m able to engage in a larger conversation with a broader audience. The mix tape piece is a perfect merging of these concerns.
|Experts Only (black), 2010 by Victoria Haven|
Acrylic on panel, 18" x 18", photo by Richard Nicol
JV: I think your piece Wonderland (which opens this story) is also a great example of this. Can you talk more about that?
VH: Yes, that work has also had an adventurous journey. What’s pictured here is actually a fragment of the piece called Wonderland . It’s a hand-cut linear matrix of fake-woodgrain shelf paper (which I recently painted blue) and it references the trail that circumnavigates Mt. Rainier. I love that this ‘mountain’, which is usually seen as a destination point of its own, has been so many places. It’s traveled to New York, Illinois, Austin and Spokane but seems most at home here in this natural setting just a scant degree north of the ‘original’.
|hike 89 from Vic's book, Hit the North|
JV: Last year, you mounted a dual exhibition in Portland and Seattle. The bridge between the shows was a wonderful book called Hit the North which was full of related notes, images and an essay. Can you talk about why that was so important?
VH: I was excited to work with Publication Studio and had been talking with them for a while about making a book. The dual shows and the work veering further into personal territory allowed the perfect opportunity to make my source material more visible and offer people a glimpse inside my studio practice and thought process.
|Northwest Field Recording (Extended Play), 2010 by Victoria Haven|
Cut vinyl on paper, 18.5" x 18", created for Open Satellite
JV: So what’s next?
VH: There’s the show at SAM this fall and in August I’ll head to Pilchuck. for 3 weeks as the visiting artist-in-residence. I’m also working with New West Editions on a series of prints. And of course I’ll need to squeeze in a couple of glorious hikes!
|Vic with her art in Discovery Park overlooking the sound|
photo by Natasha Kroll for Pacific Standard
Victoria Haven is represented by Greg Kucera Gallery (Seattle, WA) and PDX Contemporary Art (Portland, OR).
Joey Veltkamp is an artist and blogger living in Seattle. He writes the local art blog, best of.
** This entire interview was originally published in Pacific Standard Magazine. Purchase a limited edition copy here. **