Infinite awareness can exist in a few single brush strokes. That is the objective for artist Rikkianne Van Kirk, who uses simple monochromatic lines to create a myriad of storytelling in her drawings. Through the use of pen, ink and occasionally black paint, Van Kirk is a master of exhibiting the depths of human form, posture, and emotion in the most minimal way possible. Her work invites the viewer not only to relate, but also to endlessly explore.
WB: You’ve been making your artwork for a very long time. How did you find your style in the beginning of your career and what drove you to start making your work?
RVK: Actually I found my style after finding screen printing. I took a screen printing class in Tucson and while I was taking that class I also worked for a textile designer. She actually imported Indian fabrics from a small village in India where she had them take out all the color and make all the Indian designs, traditional designs, and asked them to do those on fabric in just one color on organic natural cotton. I remember just being in love with that and I was taking the screen printing course so I bought an entire screen printing set up. My whole garage was a carousel and exposure unit—I just loved it. But it was always very simple—one screen—and I didn’t really use any colors. It was just faster that way. And so I think that’s how my style developed. Because it was one color, super simple and I just loved it and never got away from it, ever. I love colorful art and I put a little color in my own work.
WB: Maybe one color?
RVK: Yeah but that’s it.
WB: Just monochromatic maybe with a splash of one color—like your butterfly pieces, which I love.
RVK: Yeah, and which I sold all of! Except, I found one and I am going to give it to you.
WB: Oh my gosh I won’t let you. I am buying it!
RVK: No we are doing this and I am giving it to you as a thank you. Because I didn’t even know I had it! You see all the stuff I have—I didn’t even know I had this one so I didn’t even sell it.
WB: Everything is in such little delicate artifacts and archival systems.
RVK: Its crazy though because its getting to be so much I am getting to the point where I need to organize and maybe buy a flat file [laughs]
WB: But I enjoy that its almost like going into an old library or a vintage shop. Its like an old archival shop of journals and…
RVK: Books and diaries!
“…when I was drawing on top of the writing and using the words as inspiration, I learned. I learned a little bit about history, social history from someone’s diary and its original history. No one is editing that.”
WB: You use a lot of found objects in your work, which is exactly what we’re talking about. How do these specific materials play a role in your work as an artist? And how do you think they translate to the viewer?
RVK: My first art show that I ever had. I’ve told you about that. It was for Paul Smith. He noticed a series that I was working on in an antique diary where I was illustrating the person’s words. I found the diary at an antique shop in Norfolk, Virginia and this diary was just a leather diary that had “Record” written on the top. I found it in the bottom of an old box, you know where you have to dig. And I opened it and I saw writing and I felt really sad that there was someone’s diary. And this was a lady’s diary from 1941. A lot of my diaries over the years that I’ve started collecting are on old paper—there’s something about 1941. People really wrote a lot that year.
WB: A lot was going on in the world!
RVK: Yea but she didn’t write after December and neither did another diary that I have—they stopped before December and I wish that they would have kept going, but they stopped after Pearl Harbor and everything. So I found the diary and started illustrating the original writer’s words very simply on top of the written pages. And that was the first real series that I did.
WB: That’s amazing.
RVK: Everything else was on found paper and stuff because I just liked the texture and colors and just finding it.
WB: You found this item and you were sad about finding it because it was lost, but now it lives on by you creating it into a piece of artwork that is forever going to be praised in a different way than someone’s diary would.
RVK: Yea, and there are things that I learned too. The one thing is that I feel a bit voyeuristic in a way because its someone’s diary—its not someone’s published story. But when I was drawing on top of the writing and using the words as inspiration, I learned. I learned a little bit about history, social history from someone’s diary and its original history. No one is editing that. And there’s language in there from 1941. I learned a whole word—“debutramps” [laughs]. She didn’t want to go to this dance because there were going to be “debutramps” there—a bunch of “debutramps” and I’ve never heard that word in my life and its slang—old slang! The way that they spoke was that they were talking to themselves really. No one thinks that your diary is going to end up in a box in an antique shop. Its just a really special to find it and keep it and not mention any names or anything like that but it’s nice to learn and relate to the person. I am relating to a woman in 1941. And I hope that people will be able to relate through my drawings. I was thinking about it today knowing that I was going to talk about art, which is hard, but I want people to be able to relate—to find something—whether it be a posture or just a second and just relate to it.
WB: Yeah, and I think that’s one of the duties of an artist is to record history in a visual way so that artworks become artifacts within themselves for people of the future to understand what was going on. So now you’re building on top of the subsequent layer by making something of present time. Maybe somebody will find it and add something to it later.
RVK: Yeah! And it is all human. We’re all human. That’s what I’ve learned most is relating to a 1941 woman who got 39 cents for her paycheck. Right? [laughs]
“I’ve never gotten tired of playing with postures and line. And erasing—seeing how far I can go before I just lose that posture or that emotion. That’s what keeps me going.”
WB: Another question I have for you is why do you choose to depict the human form in the simple and often monochromatic abstract lines instead of hyper realistically? What is the meaning of creating the form in this way for you?
RVK: People relate to postures. I am so in love with postures just expressing emotion and weight and line. It’s fascinating. I’ve never gotten tired of playing with postures and line. And erasing—seeing how far I can go before I just lose that posture or that emotion. That’s what keeps me going. I just never get tired of that—playing with a line and seeing how much one little line can do—because it’s insane you know? It is a lot of fun to find that point. I have an idea of what I want to draw—there’s one piece that I want to draw—the weight of a woman. The weight of a woman, or a mother.
WB: I almost feel like the grandmother drawing is really close to that in the sense where you can see this figure, and she’s obviously lived her whole life but there’s something sort of uplifting about it too. Like she carries her weight but she’s also needing the help at the end of her life to move around.
RVK: Yeah! And I really like that. I kind of gravitate towards that. Mia (my daughter) has started to do that with her art. There’s an older man that works in a cabinet shop across the street. Her window looks out to it and she just loves to look at that old man. He is so bent over from hard cabinet wood working and I think they just let him fiddle around. He might be somebody’s dad [laughs]. But Mia she notices the beauty in him sitting kind of hunched over but he has his cigarette or whatever relaxing. She noticed him and she drew him and is going to paint him.
WB: I know Mia is probably inspired by your work and its almost like with your work you are trying to find the most minimalistic way to express the most amount of emotion.
RVK: Yes!! Send me that line. That hits it right on the spot.
WB: There is so much about form and line that can tell the story of a lifetime. And I think that’s what hits the nail on the head for your work.
“I like giving up control to the human hand, accepting the imperfections, accepting that you might not do what you intended to do.”
WB: How does intention play a role in your work?
RVK: I think the main thing for me is erasing and what you said about capturing the most amount of emotion in the most minimal way—that is really my intention. I am intending to master simplicity.
WB: Do you think everything you do has intent behind it or do you surprise yourself sometimes?
RVK: Yes I do surprise myself too for sure.
WB: So its like a balance of intention going in and surprise.
RVK: Yea because I intend to do one thing and that surprise sometimes isn’t even a surprise. Right now I am working on Pharm Table so I am kind of leaning toward earthy things—you know gardening and all of that. I intend to do one thing like stay on that course and then something else happens. The masked gardener—I wasn’t even going to include that for this project but it was so cool that the client said “oh put some more masks in there.” Whenever I let myself go for it or allow things to happen that I didn’t intend—that makes me happy. To give up control. The delight is playing with it, intending to do something, and then going a completely different way and feeling like oh cool I’ll just stay there, this works.
I think allowing my hand to kind of mess up, but its not, and letting it be. The intention is there but something else happened. I like giving up control to the human hand, accepting the imperfections, accepting that you might not do what you intended to do. Maybe that is what the drawings become. Maybe people can relate more to that because it is not perfect.
WB: This maybe goes with my last question too, but I like to ask every artist that I talk to this question because I am constantly contemplating it with my own work: How do you balance concept and process in your work? Does one play a bigger role for you than the other?
RVK: At this point my process is the same. It’s pretty simple. I sit at that bar in my kitchen and I start to draw. As far as my process of finding inspiration, I know where to find it… usually. Now, who the hell knows I can’t go anywhere [referring to the quarantine]. But my process is finding inspiration, finding materials and then sitting down and making a virtual vision board. Its funny I use old stuff and then technology. Basically my work is Sharpi bought at Walgreens on paper that is hard to find. So the process for me I don’t want to say comes easily but…
WB: You’ve kind of mastered your process.
“…finding the most minimal way to create a piece. That’s powerful to me. The power to stop.”
WB: When do you feel the happiest and most powerful?
RVK: I feel the happiest when those two [points to her husband and daughter through the window] are laughing. Dave and Mia—look at her [laughs]. The most powerful… its funny—I don’t think it has to do with my artwork, it has to do with erasing so much and being like, oh there it is. That’s my favorite part. I love that so much. Just finding the most minimal way to create a piece. That’s powerful to me. The power to stop. It took a long time. Dave helped me too. He also helped me because he won’t let me throw any of my mess ups away. Years ago he caught me tossing stuff and told me “don’t ever do that, you can come back to it!” And I was like “yeeea I’ll take your word for it” so I just started keeping stuff. It has helped. There have been a few pieces that I’ve seen and thought ok that’s all right.
WB: That’s always such a cool thing to go back through old sketchbooks. I don’t sketch enough but finding those from when I was really young surprises me again.
WB: Surprised again by your own history and your own artifacts.
RVK: Yes! Its important.
WB: What has been the most challenging part of your career as an artist?
RVK: Being a true freakin artist. Acting like one. Taking command of my eye and my know how and being persistent and giving parameters. Not taking everything on myself because I want to be nice. It’s hard for me to demand value. It drives me crazy. I respect you as an artist. I respect everyone downstairs as artists [referring to artists working at Mercury Project]. You guys are worth so much and I need to practice what I feel toward artists that I enjoy and turn it toward myself. I’m so bad at communicating my pricing. But then when I think about collectors that have paid this much I don’t want to disappoint or disrespect them. I want to be a badass. I want to go into a situation and be like “OK. This is what I do. This is what you need to do.” Not bossy but…
WB: Demanding respect and its something that’s hard to do for female artists especially.
RVK: Yea and it’s not even a respect, it’s like I take on too much and I am realizing it. That screws me up in the end. I end up not being able to dedicate 100% because I’m too worried about this little thing that’s not getting done you know?
RVK: And I don’t like that and I never liked that. I really noticed it during this time where we are all self absorbed and under pressure but I should really be more business like and professional.
WB: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
RVK: My advice is to USE THE INTERNET. My first art show that I ever did in my life was for an international designer in the UK. I mean I didn’t even go to that art show!
WB: How did they find you?
RVK: On Twitter! And actually it was on Twitter from a really cool blog from back in the day. So use the internet. Use it!! Artists are so hesitant. Maybe they’re turning around now because we’ve had to be put on the internet. I’ve seen some galleries start to do galleries online and things like that, but use it!! Why not? Focus on getting out there and use the internet to do that. I send prints to people all across the world.
To make the internet successful though you really have to put the time into it and I don’t do that as much as I should but I personally love art blogs or art websites and I participate and comment and am active in that world so that helps me. That’s my advice—don’t just rely on the local art scene. Get out there and support your local artists of course and work together but use the internet too. Some people don’t! You really can’t lose.
WB: Thank you so much Rikki!
RVK: Thank you! I am going to get your piece for you.
WB: You’re too nice! I am going to treasure this in my home.
Photography and Interview by Wendy Bowman.
Connect with Rikkianne Van Kirk on Instagram @rikkiannevk and see more of her work on rikkiannevankirk.com
About Wendy Bowman:
Wendy Bowman (b. 1987) is an American artist who lives and works in San Antonio, Texas as a photographer, videographer, and painter. Bowman began the In The Studio project after a long time of documenting artist Sarah Morris while working in her New York City studio for nearly a decade as a painter and production photographer on her film shoots. She was searching for a way to combine that experience with her formal degree in English / writing. “My goal for In The Studio is to share the stories of artists of all types—emerging, established, local, international and give them a platform to have real discussions from the point of view of being an artist myself. I want to capture the experience of actually being an artist—of finding your process, struggling, succeeding, struggling again, all the while trying to block out the noise and remain true to oneself and the work.” -Wendy Bowman