Beth Hoeckel: Kitsch Collages


Written by Betty Wood
Photos and illustrations by Beth Hoeckel
13 Saturday 13th August 2011

Baltimore native Beth Hoeckel creates surreal kitsch and vintage-inspired collages that playfully toy with the natural landscape whilst tapping into a childhood sense of whimsy. We chat to her about her love of the surreal and just why she thinks Baltimore's art scene tops those of New York and Los Angeles.

Where do you source the images you use in your collages? Do you use vintage magazines? Books? Or do you draw them yourself?

I have a large collection of vintage magazines and books of all sorts.  I don't stick to specific publications; I use anything that strikes me as beautiful or interesting.

Sunbathing, 6 1/4" x 7 1/2"

In some of your collages there's a really overt 'surreal' element to them where faces are blanked out and identity is subverted. At the same time, in your more landscape grounded collages the 'surreal' comes into play through the creation of bizarre natural landscapes made from mountains of cream and crochet… Can you tell us a bit about your interest in the 'surreal' and where it stems from?

Personally, I am not very grounded in reality; I am a daydreamer and always have been.  I still have my head in the clouds most of the time. As a kid I used to think things like "what if the sky was red… I would like to see that. Maybe one day it will be". I used to get in trouble at school for 'zoning out' and being lost in my own world. It still gets me into trouble in some ways!

Cat Dance, (collage, ink, and colored pencil on paper) 8.5"x11"

How would you typically create one of your collages?

I search through hundreds of images I have archived in folders - physical folders that is, not computer folders - then experiment, putting together pieces (sort of like a puzzle) until I feel satisfied. I generally use as few individual pieces as possible, often only two. I don't make any of them digitally.

Cream, 6 1/2" x 8"

Where does the inspiration come from for your work? Some of your imagery is quite bizarre when pulled apart into its individual elements, but when put together it looks really beautiful...

I can't really define the exact place that my inspiration comes from; I rely mostly on feeling and intuition.  I look through my materials almost meditatively and extract anything that speaks to me.  I try not to think about it too much.  I think certain things I am going through in life definitely influence what images I choose but it's never really constant; nothing is planned.

Antique Quilt, (acrylic and gouache on wood panel), 8" x 10"

Your paintings in particular reveal a real fixation with geometry and shape - where does this stem from? Do you think art and maths/science are more closely intertwined than most people think?

I do think art and math/science are intertwined but that isn't exactly what that work is about...  Within nature, shapes and patterns and symmetry are all perfect. Snowflakes are perfect; crystals are perfect; seashells are perfect. I wanted to try and make repetitive patterns similar to ones occurring in nature but without using any rulers or grids, just free-hand, showing all the human errors.  Repetitive drawing is also extremely meditative; I would completely get lost in what I was doing, it was like an exercise for my brain.  

Seabirds, 6 1/2" x 7 1/2"

You've lived in New York and in LA and are currently residing in your home state of Maryland - I imagine the art scenes in these places are very different to each other. Can you tell us about some of your experiences and their influences?

I moved to Baltimore not because it's my home town, but because it's a place where I can actually afford to be an artist. There are so many talented people there, it's extremely inspirational. Unlike LA and NYC - where the art scenes are in large part a popularity contest - in Baltimore my peers are genuinely interested in working and doing their own thing. There's less distraction and people aren't afraid to try new things or be themselves. Status symbols aren't important in Baltimore. You can be completely nuts; you can shack up in your studio and work all day and then go to work at a crappy restaurant and no one will judge you. It's encouraging and I find it motivating.

Finally - can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have a lot of freckles.

You can check out more of Beth's awesome collages at her website here and buy limited edition prints of her work here.

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