January 3, 2014

Spotlight: Beth Hoeckel

Remnants carved out of the imagination with the
tension of the last minute before the storm.

When I first encountered Beth Hoeckel's collage art, the recurring theme that transfixed me was how it incorporated paradoxes. "Voyager" epitomized the naivete of youth overlaid with the vastness of space; "Horseback Rider" contrasted the proper with the sinister, and several of the pieces evoked the contrast of the natural and the superficial. Her art seemed to depict these polarities through remnants carved out of my own imagination and then reassembled in a way that rendered them both familiar and surreal.

I bought one of Beth Hoeckel's prints, "Distance," at a flea market and kept it at my desk at work. As I gazed at it, I realized the piece (and her work in general) was less a representation of a dichotomy and more of a representation of the falsity of the dichotomies we have created. Hoeckel's work embodies a dissolution of the borders between seemingly disparate themes; ephemeral and eternal, darkness and the lunar glow of the moon. The collages have the tension of the hypnagogic moments between asleep and awake, the last electric minute before the rain starts to fall; the grey area where the Venn Diagram's circles overlap.

In Asfixia, Chuck Pahalniuk said it's pathetic how we can't live with the things we can't understand; how we need everything labeled and explained and deconstructed. To me, Hoeckel's work embodies the acceptance of the liminality between wonder and chaos, and evokes the idea that the most resonant truths contain idiosyncrasy and opposition. Perhaps it is this quality that makes her work magnetic; she has been featured in a wide variety of outlets, including Rookie, Nordstrom, Pitchfork, Free People, Dazed Digital, and many more. I caught up with Beth to hear a little bit about creating art and the vision behind the world of her collages.

THE LE SIGH: Do you think your style has evolved over time? How do you think your art reflects your personality and where your head is at when you create it?

Beth Hoeckel: Yes, it's always changing and evolving. But the fundamental principles tend to remain the same. Over the years, I always notice recurring themes, though they may look and feel a bit dissimilar and employ various different techniques. And yes, I think it's the same as my personality; I will always be distinctly me regardless of what my hair color or clothes (or whatever) may be.

TLS: Who are your influences? Is there specific music you listen to when you're creating art, or books or movies that get your creativity flowing?

BH: As much as I'd love to blast all kinds of music, I almost always find it distracting. I guess I have a one-track mind. I do love to read and find classic literature to be really inspirational. Some of my favorite books are The Sheltering Sky, The End of the Affair, The Master and Margarita, Lady Chatterly's Lover, and also Just Kids by Patti Smith was very inspirational and I related to it a lot.

TLS: I saw on your bio that you've lived in Europe and in Chicago. I'm from Chicago! Did you enjoy your time there? Where else have you lived? How has your location impacted your work? Is there a place that you felt brought out the most creativity?

BH: I never actually lived in Europe, but I did travel all over and studied there briefly. Sorry if that was misleading. I love Chicago! I lived there for four years. I went to SAIC, which was a really good experience. After that, I moved to New York for two years. It was at a very weird time to be in New York because it was two months after 9/11. It was winter and things were pretty bleak. It was hard to find a job. I was twenty-two and broke, so it was a struggle--but at the same time too much fun. Anyway, I hardly had time or energy to get any artwork done. After two years, I moved to LA. To me, at the time, LA felt like a creative vacuum. I felt there was a contagious type of laziness that I haven't experienced on the East Coast. At the time, I found it difficult to put much legitimate effort into art. It took me four years to realize that it wasn't for me. So yes, I would say location very much impacts my work.

I moved to Baltimore in 2008 and ended up staying ever since. I really like living here. I have a full time career in art so that says something about the atmosphere, but also it might not have ever happened this way if it weren't for my experiences living elsewhere.

TLS: Your work has been featured in a wide variety of outlets. How is the process of creating art for a specific outlet different from creating work on your own?

BH: Sometimes it's really different because I have to use specific subject matter. Since I do mainly collages from found images, it can be hard to locate a particular thing. For example, I did something for a fashion look book and they wanted a type of plant I couldn't find. I searched for days and it still wasn't what they wanted. So that is different because in my own work I go with the flow and don't force anything.

TLS: How did you first get started as an artist? What was the greatest challenge you faced as a young artist, and what is the biggest challenge you are currently facing as an established artist?

BH: I got started as a kid, went to an art magnet school for high school, then got my BFA in college, so I can't really pin a specific starting point. The greatest challenge has always been money, unfortunately. How to get it, how to survive without it, how to make any worthwhile art while working a full time job you hate, etc. I spent most of my twenties broke. Now, my biggest challenges are probably time management and decision making.

TLS: Can you explain a little bit of the process behind your work? How do you go about making a collage--is it something you visualize first, or do you make it up as you go along and see how the piece turns out? Do you have a favorite piece?

BH: If I do visualize something first it usually never comes out the way I envisioned it, and that can be disappointing so I try not to do that. I just keep playing around with different things until something special falls into place. Sometimes it works out quickly but sometimes I hang onto certain scraps for years before I use them.

My favorites are usually the most simple ones, for example "Float"--all it is is a portion of a woman in a striped dress on a sea and cloud background, but it is mysterious and has feeling. I like the ones that have je ne sais quoi, work that happens serendipitously.

TLS: It seems like 2013 was a big year for you. Do you have any exciting upcoming plans or work for 2014?

BH: In January I'll be working with an author on a top secret multimedia project. In February, I'll be having a solo exhibition at the University of Tennessee. Beyond that, I'm not sure yet, but definitely check back for new work.

See more of Beth Hoeckel's work here.

Carolyn Lang, who likes to write and travel, and spends most of her spare time in Middle Eastern restaurants. She is the combined effort of everyone she's ever known. Carolyn keeps track of things that fascinate her here.