Victoria Haven's knife draws a singular 'Wonderland'
by Regina Hackett
(from Seattle P-I Oct 1, 2004)
In the end, art is a lot like elementary mathematics. Some artists add, and others subtract.
Haven is currently Seattle's It Girl. She recently won the 2004 Betty Bowen Award ($11,000) and was the visual artist tapped for one of five of The Stranger's "Genius Awards," meaning she gets a cake, $5,000 and a lavish party in her honor.
She's also exhibiting beyond the region, in New York and London, and doing well in both places.
In the 1990s, none of these successes could have been predicted. Back then, she ran a small gallery in Pioneer Square's Shoe Building, made metal jewelry and painted modest, boxy landscapes of a thoroughly traditional, heavily worked variety.
Her work was nice but nothing special. There are thousands of artists across the country painting similar scenes and painting them as well.
In 1997, she chucked it all and went to London to get a master of fine arts degree from Goldsmiths College, a hotbed of conceptually based work.
When she returned to Seattle in 1999, she was a different artist. What she left out became as important as what she put in. Because Seattle is full of new collectors and curators, they had no past Haven with which to reckon. I took a couple of years to adjust. I couldn't see the relationship between the previous and present.
It finally dawned on me: There isn't one. She pulled herself up by her own hair, turned herself inside out and became new to herself. She went to London for the same reason early 20th-century American painters went to Paris, to saturate themselves in contemporary aesthetics and reemerge with something singularly their own.
Not that her work is entirely original. Nothing is. Haven moved to London to discover her relationship with the legacy of Southern Californian "Light and Space" artists, such as Robert Irwin and James Turrell. Why didn't she go to California for that? Partly because she didn't have that goal when she set off, and partly because "Light and Space" art is historical and as such, is as likely to be found in London collections as Californian ones.
In Seattle, she has continued to draw with a knife.
"Halo" is a stream of translucent Mylar oblongs, pinned a small distance from the wall. Not only do these simple shapes cast elaborate shadows, they have a vector of motion that carries them along in a stream, as if some force is blowing them sideways. To underscore the shadows, she occasionally paints a blue curve on the wall, a colored shadow of a clear form.
Each oblong is perfect. Like soap bubbles, they're perfect, and then they're gone.
"Wonderland" is a massive mountain range that pops out from the wall, carved of fake wood-grain shelf paper. The cheap artifice of fake wood grain fuses with the stellar quality of the scalpel relief drawing, the believability of the mass. Fake marries a real deal, and the punch drunk DNA of the merger gives us an idea of the land mutating as we hold it in our heavy, tender paws.
Some drawings are framed. In these too she favors images of mountains and their reflection. In the weave of their structure, they look a little like computer projections, but they are handmade, in ink on paper. Every interlacing line or spiraling tunnel masses itself into personal form. You can almost hear the click as you look at dot-connected lines, and the spare precision of their placement begins to dawn on you.