Fluid Paths, Souls, and Creative Blocks: The Art of Felicia van Bork

By Hannah Caddell

The first time I saw 2005 + 2011 Alumna Affiliate Artist Felicia van Bork’s piece My Next Body in the spring of 2011, I had only been working at McColl Center for a few months. I was turning on the lights on the second floor when the larger than life, multi-panel print reached out, touched my soul, and left an imprint.

My Next Body, monotype, 2011 (Courtesy the artist)

My Next Body elevates you, encouraging you to lift your head higher, spread your arms, and attempt to swim or perhaps even fly off with the ethereal white figure van Bork depicted. 

Is it an otter? A cosmic shooting star? Or, as I was struck with on that very first day, a soul? 

As to the content of the white figure in My Next Body, van Bork won’t tell, remaining as quietly encouraging about interpretations of her work as she is of supporting fellow artists. 

Her steady artistic practice – spanning decades and several countries – results in work created in multiple mediums that move viewers, inspire students, and draw fellow artists to her like moths to a softly flickering flame. 

Silence and Sound 

Needing quiet during the decision-making portion of her collage making process, van Bork transitions to podcasts or books on tape when she begins to glue down the materials of a collage. 

How to Listen, monotype collage, 2013 (Courtesy Jerald Melberg Gallery)

“For me, the listening part of my brain is the same part that makes the art decisions,” she reveals. 

Thinking as she spoke, van Bork further questioned, “I wonder if this is related to the way I listen to lectures and poetry readings? If I draw the speaker, I seem to listen better. Otherwise my mind wanders.” 

Multiple Works In Progress 

If faced with a lack of surety in how to proceed with one work, van Bork transitions to another. Having several collages in progress allows her to pivot focus. The day that we spoke, van Bork had shifted her center three times.  

“I also take breaks, and don't blame myself for taking them,” she stated with no qualms. “Just don't leave the studio.”

How to Roam, monotype collage, 2013 (Courtesy Jerald Melberg Gallery)

Collage as a medium also allows van Bork to try several compositions and then reassemble them as necessary, taking pictures as she goes. There’s freedom to experiment and try new things as part of this process. 

By having several pieces going at one time, artists allow themselves the freedom to continue working in a creative vein but not push work on a piece when they’re hitting a wall. 

Breaks allow the mind to make unconscious connections, also known as an incubation period, while busy thinking about or doing something else. (There is some merit to the “eureka in the shower” notion.)

Van Bork endorses the incubation period, and noted that she has indeed had breakthroughs in the shower. 

“Too bad there’s nothing sexy about it,” she admits.

The last thing that made you happy

Van Bork acknowledged that skipping a step in one’s own artistic development is frequently a source of creative blocks - you can’t fake your way through your journey. 

Artistic paths are fluid; they are going to change, there will be roadblocks, and you may not like where that path takes you, but it is there for a reason. 

Evolution's Secret 1, monotype, 2011 (Courtesy of the artist)

Van Bork has some advice for artists struggling with a creative block: “Go back to the last thing that made you happy.” 

Not only do van Bork’s works make me happy, they elevate me. When faced with van Bork’s creations I find poetry running through my mind. 

Years later, I have found that Rainer Maria Rilke’s words from Letters to a Young Poet rise to the surface while I contemplate My Next Body.

“Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.”