#3 ANNA BETBEZE
“I am interested in when something becomes so broken or torn that it becomes another thing,” Anna Betbeze explains. Lately, that has meant working with woolly flokati rugs from Greece that she cuts, dices and distresses until they look like the pelts of some hairy science-fiction monster, or a shag-pad carpet that’s absorbed years worth of red wine, martinis and other fluids.
For her solo debut in February, at Soho’s Kate Werble Gallery, Betbeze took this series to an epic scale in six new painted and perforated rugs, some nearly ten feet tall. The show pushed delightfully at the material’s limits. Parts of the shag had been shaved to give the monumental abstract paintings the sculpted quality of a bas-relief. The nearly all-black “Nightshade,” with stardust-like traces of white, purple and green, was full of holes that resembled ghostly smiley faces; the center of the red-brown-pink piece “Lacuna” had been cut out completely in a giant oval, suggesting a furry picture frame or wide-open doorway. The use of negative space in the series marked a major evolution in her work—in such pieces, her interest in destruction’s transformative potential evokes Valerie Hegarty‘s overgrown frames.
Before these distinctively dyed rugs, and just one year after earning her MFA in painting and printmaking from Yale, Betbeze showed her first piece in New York in a summer show at P.P.O.W. in Chelsea. Like a runner rug in its dimensions, the 21-foot shiny gold walkway on the gallery floor was dotted with large, Christmas ornament-like golden spheres in various sizes and, pooled atop two pieces of fur, hundreds of clear marbles. The fur textures have since overpowered that piece’s overwhelming shine, but the same visual richness and aesthetic density remains in her latest pieces. What material will she defile next? “I am continually doing research on how materials are destroyed.” she says. “Right now I have a huge box of discarded chandelier crystals, 50 snakeskin pelts, and a collection of natural sea sponges waiting in my studio.”
The L: How do you start a new piece/project?
Anna Betbeze: I do not start and stop projects, my life as an artist has been more fluid than that. there is alot of bleed between materials and works. I work on some works for years, others come much more quickly, it is hard to track the beginning or end of a project. I do not feel like I am ever satisfied, but I would say that I have an intuitive response to material and that drives to an end point.
Is there an artist/exhibition/artwork that's had an especially significant impact on your development either recently or at the beginning of your career?
Most recently, the Paul Thek exhibition at the Whitney had a great effect. I have thought about his work for a long time and the opportunity to see the work in person changed everything for me. Thek's empathic sensitivity to material, total disregard for taste, and ability to breathe life into objects, as well the potency of his subject matter is very compelling.
Is there another medium or style of work that you'd like to explore, or have started to experiment with?
I usually have many experiments going at one time. In my studio right now right now I have a vats of chemicals and dyes that I am using to treat velvet. I am continually doing research on how materials are destroyed, what it takes to break something, how many ways this is possible. I seek out the material's limitations in order to push past them. I am interested in when something becomes so broken or torn that becomes another thing, so saturated that it becomes unrecognizable in its origin.
I spend a great deal of time looking for new materials to experiment or play with- right now I have a huge box of discarded chandelier crystals, fifty snakeskin pelts, and a collection of natural sea sponges waiting in my studio.
How do you describe your work to your parents?
The same way I would to you. there is no parental version. I am lucky to have been able to talk about difficult and abstract things with my mother since I was young.
How did you arrive at your most recent works with Flokati rugs? What attracted you to this specific type of rug?
I first saw flokati rugs traveling in Greece when I was 19, now they are everywhere. I love that the flokati is a form that is both ancient and modern. These rugs have been made since the 3rd century. The density of the organic wool allows for a saturation of color, a sedimentary, layered residual mark, that can at once reference the mark of Impressionist painting and dyed punk hair. It is actually a very malleable material full of possibility. The soft white wool seemed prefect ground to spill, stain, and defile.
There's a great deal of tension in your work, it seems, between softness and sharpness, gentleness and violence, in the contrast between the soft shag of the rugs and the violent cuts and tears made into them; do you knowingly try to foster and sustain these opposing sensations?
Yes, I think about these paradoxes alot and sustain them—not for the sake of balance but for a more complex, slow relationship to the object. Objects, works of art, have the ability to change on you—to change form, to be at once playful and violent, to be at once beautiful and abject. These tensions create an active presence. Presence is the most important thing about the work, even if it is a presence of absence.