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Art Beat: Art that resists

Hell's Bells (2017), a response to the MAGA movement.
Vicki VanAmeyden
Hell's Bells, by Vicki VanAmeyden. Materials: used tea bags, cord

Vicki VanAmeyden views her role as an artist as a responsibility to express her view of what is right and good in our world. Art is also, she says, a “sanity keeper” for her. Often incorporating text in her art, VanAmeyden uses non-traditional materials to make strong statements and shake the viewer to attention. With a master’s in fine arts from Western Michigan University, VanAmeyden, now retired, has taught art at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and Kellogg Community College.

“This is the second time I’ve felt compelled [in a way] that is maybe a little more political,” VanAmeyden says. “I did it after 9/11, too, created a body of work. Just around everything that was happening then. And then around 2015, I felt compelled to do it again with the rise of Trump … I felt like I had a platform and, for whatever reason, that I have a responsibility as an artist with that platform.”

A conversation with Vicki VanAmeyden

VanAmeyden often incorporates text along with nontraditional materials in her artwork to make her statement. One powerful work, called American Hero, makes a statement about the misuse of the Second Amendment by using nails, resting books, including the Bible and two volumes about the Second Amendment atop the nails, then topped with bullets from an assault weapon—as if a hero sandwich to illustrate the American diet.

American Hero
Vicki VanAmeyden
American Hero, by Vicki VanAmeyden. Materials: books, bullets, nails.

“That piece was kicking around in my head for quite a while,” VanAmeyden says. “The books connected for me with the American system and beliefs surrounding guns. It’s almost an inalienable right in this country to own a gun. I think it’s gotten out of balance. Those nails, they’re old nails, and they reminded me of coffin nails. The bullets on top are for an AR-15 … it was quite a process, learning about guns and bullets and knowing the AR-15 is the most popular gun in the United States, which I don’t think people use for hunting.”

VanAmeyden’s work often stops viewers in their tracks, forcing sometimes uncomfortable contemplation, provoking emotion and thought. She has been acknowledged with awards at both the regional and national levels and includes a Lila Acheson Wallace Award for Illustration. Additional grants and awards include the KCC Outstanding Adjunct Award for Excellence in Teaching; WMU Teaching Effectiveness Award; Teacher Ambassador Appointment to Takasaki, Japan; West Michigan Merit Scholarship; WMU Faculty Development Grant; and Creative Industries Development Grant. VanAmeyden’s work can currently be viewed at the Ninth Wave Studio in Kalamazoo.

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.