By Emily Linstrom
I discovered Hidden Velvet via Instagram last year, and was never so grateful for social media. Amidst all the ads, leaked data, celebrity gossip, stomach-churning news shares, and otherwise snake-eating-its-own- tail modes of discourse, those instances when you chance upon a truly unique and inspiring presence are as reassuring as they are rare. (The Belgium-based artist’s anonymity is an equal rarity in our image-obsessed culture.) I’m not an art critic, and describing Hidden Velvet’s work is, to partially lift from Steve Martin, like dancing about architecture. In moments of dreaming, have you ever been aware of some shadowy ‘other’ just along the periphery, watching you and lending a subtle but unearthly hand to the proceedings? That’s Hidden Velvet. She’s nowhere to be found in the flesh, but is everywhere in her imagery. I love that, and even envy it a little. If you could stand apart from your personal identity — the one you were born with as well as the one you’ve curated over the years — thus becoming only what you create, would you do it?
She’s nowhere to be found in the flesh, but is everywhere in her imagery.
Emily Linstrom: Where and how did you grow up, and in what way do you feel this influenced your future pursuits?
Hidden Velvet: I grew up in Belgium, and I have Italian and Polish roots. As a child, I was very fond of books, classical music and old movies. Reading really helped me to nourish my imagination, so I started to create stories of my own, doing little shows with my cousin for my grandmother. I loved to disguise myself (and still do), to be someone else, to escape reality. There is a quote from A Streetcar Named Desire where Blanche DuBois proclaims: “I don’t want realism, I want magic!” … I can totally relate to that.
EL: What sparked your passion for creating your collage art? What are your main tools and procedures — if you wish to disclose, of course?
HV: I have always loved art in general. I knew about the art of collage, but I really fell in love with this artistic form a few years ago. I experienced a very tough period following the illness of my boyfriend and had to find a way out of my depressive state. Art was the best therapy for me and it felt just right. There is a very strong connection I can hardly explain, that links me to my collages. I feel a kind of liberation when I create, a sense of well-being. This creative process became entirely a part of me, it feels like we are inseparable. From sunrise to sunset, I only think about it. The tools I use differ if my collage is handmade or digital. When I’m working on a handmade collage, I take out my boxes filled with cut-out images/snippets, and I spread everything on the floor. I am unable to work sitting at a desk. I like to work like that, surrounded by disorder and chaos. I need this creative mess around me to interact with it. For digital collages, I mainly use Photoshop. I do a lot of image research before starting my journey. I have my own little database that almost feels like wandering in a big old digital library of wonders. I’m inspired by books, movies, stories, myths, and legends. And I couldn’t imagine myself working without music.
EL: Who and what are your creative inspirations — photographers, writers,
filmmakers, music, periods in history, geographic locations etc.?
HV: Oh there are so many! I’ll name a few…Photographers: Claude Cahun, Philippe Halsman, Tim Walker, Le Turk, Kourtney Roy, Kirsty Mitchell, Marcin Nagraba, Marc Da Cunha Lopes, Joel S Birnie, Brittany Markert… Writers: Edgar Allan Poe, John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Erin Morgenstern, Stephen King, Kafka, William Burroughs, Charles Baudelaire, Emile Zola, Amélie Nothomb…Filmmakers: David Lynch, John Waters, Tim Burton, Jean Cocteau, Guillermo Del Toro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Meliès, Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, Emir Kusturica…Music: Movies soundtrack, Classical Music, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Billie Holiday, Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf, Maria Callas, Anna Von Hausswolff, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Neil Young, Cranes, The Black Heart Procession, Johnny Cash, Son House, Big Bill Broonzy…Period in History: The Victorian era Painters: Frida Kahlo, Dali, Leonora Carrington, Magritte, Max Ernst, Dora Maar (Paintings and photographs)…
EL: At the risk of sounding presumptuous, you seem to prefer a bit of
mystery surrounding you — not sharing your name or traceable personal evidence. Is this to protect your private life from all but your closest friends and relations, or do you feel that anonymity is essential and/or complimentary to the work you create?
HV: It’s funny, I get this question a lot. I chose to keep my private life out of social media not to be mysterious, but rather because I’m not comfortable with the idea of oversharing. For me, the most important thing is to share what I’m doing, not to talk about myself or display selfies of myself in every situation. I prefer to put my art forward, rather than my person.
There is a lot of me in there, and although I do not share my private life, I give a lot of myself in everything I create.
EL: There is an otherworldly aspect to your collage art, an elegant almost-Paganism. As with so much of the art I love, your work reminds me of snapshots from past life dreams, surreal and yet somehow familiar on a cellular level. How much of this would you attribute to the natural aesthetic, and how much do you consciously contribute? For example, do you have an endgame in mind or a certain impression you wish to leave?
HV: I work on instinct, I can only create through my emotions. I rarely plan what I’m going to do in advance. Sometimes I have a precise idea and when that happens, I start to sketch it down before moving to the collage part. I generally choose the pictures I like for their aesthetics. The ones inspiring me at first sight and through which I will discover the story I will then develop. I do not think about the impression I would like to leave. I am new to the art world and I do not have that claim. It all comes from the guts. As I work with the heart, all that matters to me is knowing that through my collages, I managed to hopefully touch people. There is a lot of me in there, and although I do not share my private life, I give a lot of myself in everything I create. Nothing I do is premeditated or calculated. I do not have an endgame in mind, I create day by day.
[Witch] is related to personal development. It allows one to practice introspection, to manage anxieties, and get rid of negative waves. I believe in the benefits of plants, stones, the influence of the moon, the tarot, the waves of energy, respect of nature and animals.
EL: Sabat Magazine’s mission is to celebrate feminism by way of the Witch’s revival. This can mean many different things to many people, be it a chosen lifestyle put into practice or simply embracing a liberating alternative to society’s more constricting values. What does being a Witch mean to you?
HV: For me, it is related to personal development. It allows one to practice introspection, to manage anxieties, and get rid of negative waves. I believe in the benefits of plants, stones, the influence of the moon, the tarot, the waves of energy, respect of nature and animals. Women have been persecuted because of their knowledge, their ability to care, their desire for independence, and their differences. I have always fought injustice fiercely, and difference is a right I defend and claim. I’ve always felt different and suffered a lot because of it; Witchcraft has allowed me to find people with the same sensitivity and a lot of kindness. I do not feel judged. The revival of the Witch represents the independence of Woman and her fulfilment. That is a form of power to which I can only adhere.
I have always fought injustice fiercely, and difference is a right I defend and claim. I’ve always felt different and suffered a lot because of it; Witchcraft has allowed me to find people with the same sensitivity and a lot of kindness. I do not feel judged.
EL: All artists are essentially storytellers, regardless of their chosen medium. What stories would you like to tell?
HV: As my work is based on emotions, I never know what story I’m going to tell. There are some recurring themes I’m drawn to naturally — melancholy, poetry, metamorphosis, love (because I am an eternal romantic), good and evil. I like to tell surreal stories. I am a daydreamer immersing myself in these imaginary worlds. Some of my collages can be very dark, but I realise there is often a counterbalance to this darkness, a certain sweetness and hopefulness.
I have a dark side, like everybody, and it is quite liberating to be able to express it through my collages.
EL: What aspects of modern culture do you believe to be an asset to your work? For example, the instant and widespread accessibility of social media.
HV: The immediate accessibility of social media is a definite asset as it allows for direct contact with people who leave me their unfiltered impressions. These platforms help to establish a dialogue, an exchange, and that’s very exciting. I’ve built a lot of friendships around the globe, and this is a part of the technological evolution that is really welcoming. For example, Instagram has become indispensable for me as an artist. There is clearly a change in the way people connect with art. Before the internet and spread of social media, it was difficult to get yourself a place in the art community, let alone be spotted by galleries or magazines. I also deeply believe that it helps the general expansion of art by creating an honest and direct way of sharing, from the creator to the audience.
Emily Linstrom is an American writer, artist, and Pagan soul living in Italy. Her work has been featured in a number of publications including Carve Magazine, The Continental Review, The Wisdom Daily, and A Women’s Thing, and was the first prize recipient of Pulp Literature Press’s 2015 The Raven short story contest. Linstrom is a regular contributor for Quail Bell Magazine and The Outsider, and is a faculty member at The School of Witchery. You can view her work here and follow her adventures on Instagram.