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Nancy Bechtol : Chaotic Zen

In Art, Feature, Interview on September 25, 2009 at 12:56 pm

grass_mod (crop)“Grass Mod” (detail)


Nancy Bechtol : Chaotic Zen
An Interview by Max Eternity


A recipient of the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship Award, Nancy Bechtol is an internationally exhibited, multi-media artist who creates stream-of-consciousness themed electronic paintings, video, installations and photography.  A self-avowed urbanite, Bechtol employs her art as a tool for transcending the discord of disillusionment often found in the metropolitan landscape; providing inspirational revelations through creative imagery–offering opportunities for evolutionary change.

sunflower_blue-1128229030“Sunflower Blue”


Hi Nancy, welcome to AD Mag!

It’s a pleasure to be in Cyberspace with you Max Eternity.  Btw, you have a great name. It makes me feel like changing my name to something more dynamic and artsy.

As it is said: Art is long…life is short.

So tell us a little about yourself.  Where’d you grow up?  Where are you from?

Chicago.  And yes, right in the city; in a neighborhood of Logan Square. I’m an urban gal, love the city and all the diversity of life.

And how long have you been an artist?

I would say, all my life.

Early recall is of always making something; imagining things that did not exist. Seeing animals and things in clouds, yes I have been good at that forever.

I appear to be wired that way. Well…never let reality stand in the way of imagination.

Guess you could say I got ‘more intense’ after getting my MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. That seems to be when the label ‘artist’ became firmly planted.

Mostly what I’ve seen of your work consists of photographs and figural digital paintings.  Do you work in any other medium(s)?

Yes, digital video as well.  I create art videos based on motion, and include original sound scores; also [making] creative documentaries.  I’m currently working on a video now; with a working title “One of the very Last Hippies – the Lee Groban Experience.”

Lee is an artist, poet and performance guy. He is in the Guinness book of Records for a Movie he starred in the mid 80s which is 85 hours long; based on a poem he wrote which is about 6,000 pages. He beat out Andy Warhol for the record.


So first, let’s talk about these crazy faces that you create.  You have a few posted to your website, but I especially like the person who’s got grass growing on their face and shoulders.  I don’t know why, but David Lynch just popped into my mind?

grass_mod-1031191706l“Grass Mod”


Your linking of my mindset with David Lynch is a keen observation–an honor.

I am a fan both of his movies and of his purpose in life.  I love the fact he has created the David Lynch Foundation for the consciousness-based Education and World Peace.  He aims to transform lives of at-risk youth through transcendental meditation.

I do breathing and walking meditation, but someday, hope to train in TM.

As for the art of it all, the crazy faces are from a deep reflective place. I envision these characters as unique beings that possess powers like super heroes, but with a psycho twist.  It come from an ongoing series (I’ve been making variations of these for a long time) -called “Freaks.”  The full name is “Freaks: viruses, Trojans and other variants.”

I am a lover of surrealism and heightened awareness that engage people.  Playing with the multiple meanings and visual dialogue gathered from the viewer is very cool.

The grass man is one with nature in many ways. What you say, who you are, what you do.  Here it is personified.

Freaks, is a term of endearment to me. There is no pretense there. It just is.

That’s a thought; interesting.  Too, you also talk of walking in relation to meditation.

I’m very much into walking.  I walk lots; many miles a day.  It’s exercise that’s free…no gym fees.  Also I find a nice long walk very relaxing.  But, you just said something about hoping “to train in TM.”

art_black_move-1243183427l“Art Black Move”


Yes, the act of walking is great.  And in a walking meditation one has the conscious awareness of your body; every step, how your feet contact and leave the ground…a beautiful thing.

As far as TM – Transcendental Meditation goes, I am a very much newbie at the understanding this discipline, but it seems to engage my interest.

TM is a disciplined course in meditation which became known to the [Western] world by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  It [became] most popular when The Beatles traveled to India, and were taught by him.  Their music that followed reflected that energy.

David Lynch calls it an “ocean of tranquility.“

I believe wise people learn from others who have found the way.  I appreciate those positive thoughts and believe it is good to learn from the universal power from all cultures and spiritual beliefs which aim for the higher good for all.

Yes, my sentiments exactly.

So, I was just looking at a piece on your site called “Train holiDaze.”  It’s a photo of some people standing on a train platform as the subway arrives.  Nothing unusual about that, and yet you’ve made an ordinary image rather surreal.  The most obvious thing is the sort of blurred lighting coming from the train, but there’s also the white-striped lights on the ceiling of the platform, which against the black ceiling, creates the illusion of there being a street hovering upside-down over the platform.

TRAIN_holiDAZE-1177463112l“TRAIN holiDAZE”


You have keyed in on one of my “themes” quite well; making the ordinary image into a surreal experience.

Thoughts translate to vision.  Some are quite trippy.

Whatever that ‘thing’ is, it seems to me that every person, place or thing emits vibrations, which tell inner stories.

Energy sends signals. And, yes, we are all made of stardust…

I observe and the vision flows.

Your thinking, your art, and even your speech pattern…it again, all reminds me of David Lynch.  Yet, sticking with the theme of urban life and the streets, as it were, I came across another piece of yours called “Streetwired Get Down” that appears to be a part of a running series falling under the “Streetwired” name.  Could you talk about Streetwired?

streetwired_get_down-1128223618l“Streedwired: Get down”

I am glad you asked about this one, I consider the 2 versions of “Streetwired” to be personally very significant works.  It involved my conceptualization and collaboration with the vendors in performance–installation art–art photos–video, and a live Streetwire Vendor participating in the art with conversation, or their own art.  StreetWise is an Organization with a mission to “empower men and women who are homeless or at risk.  As they work towards gainful employment, they sell the paper the organization makes; as a job.

The 2 socio-political installation events aimed at joining of art and social issues, aiming to direct the viewer—to think about things and people we discard/disregard in society and our daily lives. It brought art patrons in touch with a homeless person in a gallery setting to engage in a more one to one human interaction; in a relaxed setting rather the normal engagement on the street where they sold the paper for a living . The first one was in 1998 called “Streetwise/Streetwire.”  The live element of the actual person selling the Streetwise newspaper surprised many—as you may imagine–such a mix of reaction from engaging in unlikely conversations, to ignoring the installation or walking across the room to avoid it. I hired the vendors for their performance in the art, and they also “sold-out” their paper!

Success all around!

There was a collection of old wires I found on the streets that had text connected like: “once useful, no longer needed.”  Then,  In 2005, Roark E. Moody, a poet who is still a vendor, and now living in temporary housing, was my collaborator. I found him by chance.

His poems were placed on large printouts in the installation, along with my video conversation telling a bit about his life and art. It was a very emotionally satisfying work, and Roark was actively engaged with the art visitors; in conversation about his poems.

I am still moved by this collaborative installation and many good things happened because of it.  I have kept a connection with Roark. I visit him at his vendor location which is [in] downtown Chicago.

An amazing thing happened, which was profoundly moving.  Roark’s son found my web posting of the show and videos of his dad.  They reconnected after a very long time; now seeing each other often. This is the healing power of art.

Both of these installations were shown at the ARC Gallery in Chicago.

streetwired_compose-1128223880l“Streetwired: Compose”

Very fascinating…with a wonderful human element.

It’s apparent that you love the city.  But obviously you don’t just take pictures of cold brick and glass facades.  You seek the humanity, bringing a certain cognition to light.  I think this often gets missed when someone is tries to capture the “ordinary” experiences in life.  Ordinary doesn’t have to mean dull, you work really proves that.

For instance, there’s a couple of pictures that have to be mentioned; the ones in the snow.  There’s the aptly titled “Snow Barn” and then there’s the picture of the two little dogs frolicking in the snow, called “Chloe Chases Dylan.”  I like both those pieces.  And by the way, have you ever seen the work of David Winston?  I ask because the trees in “Snow Barn” remind me so much of all the beautiful trees that he’s known for capturing on film.

Chloe_Chase_Dylan-1230238315l“Chole chases Dylan”


As you ask about these snow images, I become very aware of the strange range of my visions. This allows me some reflection, which is good.  Thanks for that Max.

I often work in “series”, so I stay true to the intentions of the images. But there is that ‘perfect moment’ which just shouts out.

The joy and serenity in these images appeared most suddenly to me.

Leaving the City, and driving up to Michigan to visit my husband, David’s family, the barn appeared like none I had ever seen before—like the first real barn I had ever seen. Again, in the moment of a first heavy snow, our dog Chloe, was visited by the young pup next door, Dylan (named after Bob) came by –I ran in and grabbed the camera to capture the joy and energy.

Life engages.

I am always open to learning, and seeing new things!

Thanks for sending me on a web search. Winston’s work is beautiful and inspiring.

Snow_Barn-1228705358l“Snow barn”

We have to close now, but I must say, of all that I’ve seen on your site, there’s a photograph of (from what I can tell) some blurry lights.  It’s called “On the  horizon is more”.  It’s very simple, but it really speaks to something profound….I’m not sure what?

As you see the profound in the simple, you see very, very well.

This series comes from the “Light Ride Series” started in 2007 and continuing [on].  The technique is a simple one; long exposures with car motion and ‘light drawing’ with the camera.

At first I was very ‘literal’ to get the technique to my liking.  As I progressed, I was intuitively moving and changing settings; flowing with the colors, lights, motion, trance- like.

I have made about 200 so far.

There is always-more on the horizon.

Nancy, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.

Max, thanks so very much for allowing me to reflect upon my art and share my inner thoughts with others. Your insightful vision is a gift and much appreciated.

Be well.

on_the_horizon_is_more-1232852136l“On the horizon is more”


Visit Bechtol’s website here, and view more art in the artist galleries here.  As well, be sure to check out the full archive of AD Mag artist’s interviews here.

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