Kyle Van Heck is a Chicagoland collage artist who is currently featured in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL. Using oils, spray paint, old books, electrical wire, children’s toys, and old newspaper culled from EPL’s recycling bin, Van Heck creates stunning collages that shape “small pieces of pop culture” into unified works with something to say. Ten of his thought-provoking collages will be on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library through the end of January, and after that, you can see more of his work by visiting his website. We recently spoke with Mr. Van Heck via email about his artistic origins, “collage with a dark side,” public art, and Chicagoland’s DIY attitude.
Evanston Public Library: Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist? How did you get started in art? Was there something specific in your life that sparked a need to create? What drove you in the beginning? What drives you now?
Kyle Van Heck: I got interested in art after watching my grandfather draw pictures of World War II-era tanks and airplanes. From there I started drawing my own vehicles, and later on – when I was a little bit older – comic book characters. My drive when I was younger was to try and keep up with my best friend’s drawing skills which were way ahead of my own. I used to spend days filling up journals and sketch books. When I was in college I started experimenting with collage work, just as something to do in my spare time. The first time some of my friends saw one of my American flag pieces one of them asked me to make one for his apartment. There are now four in the series.
EPL: How do you describe your art? Do you see yourself as fitting in with any particular artistic movements or styles? Do you work in any other mediums?
KVH: I work mostly in newspaper collage but occasionally use other elements such as spray paint and oil paint. I tend to describe my work as “collage with a darker side” since simply saying “collage” sounds like you’re making a high school book report. As for artistic movements, I tend to not classify my own work. If someone wants to label it and call it by a certain name, that is their own interpretation.
EPL: Can you give us a window into your creative process? Where do the ideas for your collages originate? What are the biggest challenges involved with your work?
KVH: Ideas for my work are based upon events that take place in society: the stock market crash and the recession, war, the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup win, anything that large numbers of people can connect to. Many times pieces will play off several themes such as war and technology, society and social media, or beauty and destruction – my recent favorite topic. In most cases I set out to make a piece on a current issue that I have in mind, however, on occasion, the piece seems to build itself. Often, seeing one image in the newspaper will cause me to remember another piece I had already saved and put the two together to start planning a new work.
The biggest challenges tend to come from the request for commissioned pieces in which the client has a very specific topic in mind. Often these pieces are started, and then changes are made to the original idea to make things more specific. This in turn causes the need to search for more images and gather more newspapers which, while working on a deadline, can be tough. As a reference, in a given month, I will sort through a stack of newspapers ten feet tall, and end up with less than 2 inches of useable materials. This means that about 1% of all the material I go through ends up being used.
EPL: What are your future goals and plans as an artist?
KVH: My plans are to find new and unique ways of exposing my art to the world. Just recently, I made a deal with the Ogden Sports Bar in Chicago to display a Chicago Blackhawks-themed piece. The bar has never hosted an art show in the past, but my piece will be there for the rest of the Hawk’s season. On top of this, I try to use a combination of showings in stores, bars, cafes, and coffee shops to get people interested in what I do. I believe that art should be everywhere. Galleries are nice, but they serve a very limited audience. Art, including my own, is for everyone to view and to enjoy or not. The point is to get people thinking. For the time being, I plan to simply get my art in front of as many people as possible.
EPL: How do you find Evanston and the Chicagoland area as a place to work and exhibit as an artist? What inspires you as an artist about the community where you live?
KVH: Evanston and the Chicagoland area is a great place to be an artist. The surrounding community is very DIY and because of that attitude there are tons of small, independent cafes, bookstores, restaurants, bars and other places that may serve as exhibition spaces. In the past three years I have shown work at over 30 different venues, and I have seen no signs of trouble in finding new locations to exhibit. People here are also very helpful in pointing out new locations and even places to acquire supplies for little to no cost, such as the North Park Village Community Recycling Center where I can get newspapers on short notice. Wilmette and Evanston Public Libraries have also been a huge help in setting up monthly pickups of papers. Some of the pieces in this exhibit were created entirely with papers from the Evanston Public Library.
Interview by Russell J.