[caps]V[/caps]elvet is the material of clingy leotards from the eighties. It is the fabric of cheetah print pillows from grimy Vegas suites. It is the stuff of color-by-number projects for five-year-olds. But, thanks to a big, bald progressive named Honey who paints raunchy dinosaurs, velvet might start to receive more kudos than cringes.
Miss Honey Vizer, named after her great grandmother, is a bona fide velvet painter. Though the thirty-eight-year-old Eugene, Oregon resident uses cheap small brushes, soupy day-glow acrylic paints, and slimy glitter accents as much any crafty toddler, she says she still strives to take her kitschy medium to a “perfect, perfect, perfect” level of perfection. She looks like a rockabilly version of Mimi from the Drew Carey Show (sometimes she even wears an outlandish giant blond wig), and she is also a reclusive reference librarian who spends most of her spare time painting her velvet art– a personally beloved craft not usually appreciated by fine art critics. Yet, critics may reconsider their take on velvet after seeing Vizer’s creations. The thought and dedication put into these works, often over about sixteen hours for one piece, may bring the long-deemed bastard child of art into legitimacy.
“I just enjoy looking at the day-glow on black velvet because it is so sumptuous to my eyes and my brain,” she says.
She entered the trashy velvet trade in June of 2009. Vizer, whose works appear in the Museum of Unfine Art and Record Store as well as the new downtown club and cafe Cowfish, is well on her way to revamping the velvet world. Though she often does portraiture, a common theme in velvet painting, she certainly does not copy images or photos (especially not of Elvis or packs of wild horses, which is unfortunately ubiquitous). Vizer’s neon, scaly creatures are born from her own mind and gained popularity without inspiration from famous or cuddly images. Stripper gecko pin-ups, Saber-tooth tiger sharks, naked gardening Vikings, and double-headed demon mermaids. Together, the works make a brilliant freak show.
Within just a few months of jumping into the spare-time hobby, Vizer sold several pieces from her first collection in an exhibit of her work at Eugene’s Museum of Unfine Art and Record Store– a two-room, cluttered art gallery and record store for CD and vinyl geeks. Among some of the most ugly and distasteful collages of oddly pleasing crap (doll heads and sharpie tattoos and magazine cut-outs), hung Vizer’s glow-in-the-dark, humanized and hyper-sexualized creatures. Though they hung in the midst of a myriad of equally bizarre canvases, Vizer’s bawdy characters somehow caught collectors’ eyes. Her black-light reception sold various pieces.
Today, her pieces continue to sell. But it is not financial success that validates her art as the finest of the unfine. In fact, the artist regrets that she must sell her pieces. “It always feels bad, like selling pages out of a diary. Or kittens,” she says. “This is why I have a non-art job—so I don’t have to whore my art.”
It is definitely not plump profit that makes this artisan superior to her fellow velveteers– it is her investment in her own art, physically and emotionally. The amount of time Vizer spends on each piece is startling, considering the high-contrast, cartoonish designs. Yet, Vizer crafts with diligent care. She uses skills learned from a two-page spread in a coffee table book purchased from Portland’s old Velveteria, a short-lived shrine of fuzzy cult collectibles that is now out of business.
Vizer follows an intricate process by first purchasing a canvas frame, a cloak of black velvet, and a handful of acrylic paints. In the initial steps, she brushes on a white acrylic outline, spending two and a half hours sharpening the faint outlines. After the first layer dries, she goes over the sketches twice, each time waiting for the individual coats to stiffen. She then fills in each figure three to four times with white acrylic in order to give opacity to the following three coats of neon day-glow paint. Many Type-A personalities have picked up Vizer’s craft, yet their results still end up on a dusty shelf at the Salvation Army. Are Vizer’s doomed to the same fate?
Possibly. No velvet art seems safe from po-dunk flea market stands, but Vizer’s may be safer than most. Because aside from the strict execution of Vizer’s craft, there is a level of off-kilter intellect and uninhibited storytelling poured into her work—an element rarely seen in the one-dimensional quasi-treasures spotted at Goodwill.
Unlike many other velveteers’ work—idolatrous velour testaments to Elvis, Jesus, Cher and Yoda–Vizer’s pieces tell stories about herself. Often they are through the eyes of her reptiles, half-breed reptilian humans. The reptile women are particularly intriguing with giant knockers and fuschia fingernails. She says that the characters are “kind of symbolic of being an alien,” and that, like her reptiles, “I wouldn’t say I particularly ‘fit in’ anywhere.”
This introverted quality drove Vizer to dedicate herself to art at a very young age. Just as she plunges into velvet today as an escape, she dove into sketching comics as a kid. Comics were a medium she read since she received pocket reprint collections of Wonderwoman and Spiderman at the age of five. Heavily influenced by these heroic features, she made her own thrilling material. In her comic strips, she drew stories of her refusing broccoli from her mom or taking revenge on her sister. But then one day she discovered how easily she could depict a lizard on paper, and she began to instead make up adventures for her creepy crawler characters. In quick time, the notorious reptoids became her imaginary reptile friends.
Vizer uses her reptile creations not only to escape reality, but also to enhance it. With reptiles she can erase the mundanity of humans, a species she rarely depicts in her work.
“There’s a lot of [humans] around. I’m kind of burned out on them,” she says.“I did a human naked lady once, and it was the most boring of the batch.”
Instead she does portrayals of her reptiles—each marked by a bizarre atomic aesthetic. But even her non-reptile subjects look like they’ve spent time in a radioactive circus. Blinding hues, hybrid creatures, and uncomfortable themes such as sexuality, violence and isolation constantly appear in her work. Her themes, having transformed the once innocent imaginary friends she played with as a kid, even frighten her. “I was trying to take vulnerability and make it something humorous, and kind of forbidding,” Vizer says.
She wonders if the smooth black velvet took hold of her and drove her to hypersexualize her figures, which, is not a rare claim for velvet artists to make. The original velvet master himself, Edgar Leeteg, the “American Gauguin,” was greatly driven by the same unsettling eroticism that inspires Vizer. Leeteg used bright tropical sets and classic pin-up poses to depict his velvet women, like Vizer. While the Tahitian maidens are much more realistic than the sci-fi beauties of Vizer, she certainly captures the same “grotesque tension,” as she calls it, in her works.
Vizer hopes to steer away from eroticism in the future, but she she will continue to push her art in new ways. “I think I will try a few depicting relatively symbolic bloody violence: one figure stabbing another figure through the heart with a sword, etcetera,” she says. “It also has been suggested to me that I make some in 3-D. That sounds pretty fucking wicked to me.” Whatever she does, there is no doubt that Vizer will go against the grain of the velvet world and help the forgotten art grow into its own.