Nancy Guppy Interviews Visual Artist Joey Veltkamp
Joey Veltkamp is known for making art that highlights the beauty of comfort—such as his drawings of striped blankets, paintings of bears with rainbows and his sweet ceramic ghosts. In his new show, This Is Not a Protest. It’s a Celebration!, he premieres a series of handmade quilts and flags (one, an homage to Pussy Riot; another, embroidered with Nirvana lyrics) at ArtsWest. 4/17–6/7. artswest.org
LOCATION: Cupcake Royale on Capitol Hill, a Monday morning in January
VELTKAMP’S DRINK: 12-ounce drip, black
NG: Give me the elevator pitch for your show of contemporary quilts and flags.
JV: It’s a protest. It’s a celebration. It’s got feminism. It’s got gender expectation. It’s gonna be a weird one.
NG: Did you have a blankie as a kid?
JV: The closest I had, and it probably influenced my quilting, was my Aunt Anna made me a Star Wars quilt. It’s the only thing I have from my childhood, so I always pull it out when I’m sick.
NG: Your work has a strong edge of nostalgia. Do you long for the past?
JV: Yeah. I was a kid in the 1970s, and we had Grizzly Adams and all these sun-filtered commercials, plus that Coca-Cola song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” Everything was good in the ’70s.
NG: Your work also has a soft sensibility. Are you in touch with your feminine side?
JV: Oh yeah! If there were a box that I could check that was 50 percent man and 50 percent woman, I would check it.
NG: What do you see when you look in the mirror?
JV: I see a lot of beard. A lot of fur.
NG: If you could be a superhero, what would your superpower be?
JV: I don’t have a lot of room for negative talk, so my superpower would be making people feel better. A real-life Care Bear.
NG: What would you want written on your gravestone?
JV: I wouldn’t want one. It sounds too permanent. Just throw my remains in the air, or turn them into diamonds and make all my friends wear them.
NG: You had a midlife crisis at 40—what was the result?
JV: The result was I was able to slow life down. I got involved with a program on mindfulness that encourages you to work on one thing at a time.
NG: Would you attribute [midlife crisis] more to your mother or your father?
JV: I would say my father. When I was 7, I fell off a horse and broke my arm, and the response was “Let’s go shoot guns, because that’ll make you feel better.” At 42, I’ve come to understand that he did the best he could.
NG: Did you use recycled fabric?
JV: I work with new and used. I’m pro-recycling, but some people are like, “I don’t want to sleep with clothes from someone I don’t know!” so I’ve learned to put more of the recycled stuff into the flags.
NG: If you could enforce one rule or one law, what would it be?
JV: Turn signals. Using turn signals. It drives me nuts.
NG: When do you know something someone else has made is good?
JV: The obvious way is when I see something and I want it. The other way is when I hate something, because there’s a good chance that in two years, it’ll be my favorite thing.
NG: Are you a leader or a follower?
JV: I’m adopted and have always felt like an alien, so I’ve had to carve out space for myself and my interests. I just wanna do my own thing.
NG: When do you know something you made is good?
JV: The joke answer is when it gets enough likes on Facebook. The real answer, and the best measure with the quilts, is “Is it weird enough?”
NG: Are you afraid of dying?
JV: There have been points in my life where I’ve been down enough to think, “What would it be like to be dead?” but then you have summer in Seattle and you think, “Oh my God, I’m not going anywhere!”
Nancy Guppy showcases Seattle artists on her show, Art Zone (seattlechannel.org/artzone).