In the studio with artist Beverly Silva
Slide 1: “She did not ask for more explanation” (2019) Deconstructed vintage book, library pocket, vintage music on painted canvas with found wood frame. / Slide 2: “Downtown” (2016) Acrylic and collage on canvas/ Slide 3: ”Cityscape VI” (2014) Mixed media on paper (including netting, film). Slide 4: “Above and Below” (2019) Deconstructed book and vintage papers.
Rhode Island remains a hotbed of artistic activity. It’s a rare event to find a collagist with a distinct eye and rarer still, to find one whose work speaks with lyrical mark-making, riveting geometries and staccato textures. There’s enormous appeal in seeing evidence of the hand at work, gritty surfaces and the steady progress of an artist who is veering towards a more minimalistic style.
With eager anticipation, this writer set out to meet the camera-shy artist, Beverly Silva, at her studio in Warwick, Rhode Island. She is enjoying a solo exhibit “Art From Books: A New Narrative” at the Greenville Public Library.
A mother of two, she was making art part-time until an end to her career as a paralegal, allowed her to pursue her art full time. Upon being informed that she was no longer needed by her former employer, Beverly recalled: “I remember being sad for one minute and after that, I was happy!” Not wasting any time, she turned her attention to more rewarding pursuits. We listen in on a recent conversation:
“I remember being sad for one minute and after that, I was happy!”
The artist in her studio in Warwick, Rhode Island, 2019 / “Looking Back” (2018) Mixed media collage on cradle board, using all vintage materials.
Q & A
Q: When did you start making art?
A: “When my children were grown. One was out of college and the other was nearly finished. I never remember having an art class, not even as a child. [And so] I never learned to draw or paint…I decided on a whim to take a watercolor workshop after attending an event that included a display of watercolors.”
Q: That’s very brave of you. And what was that like?
A: “When I got there, I bought all the supplies but…my teacher said to me: “I hope you don’t mind but you’re going to have to learn how to draw…so for the first six of the ten-week workshop, I had a pencil and eraser and that was it. There were three rooms complete with different still-life set-ups. I stayed with it for a little while…”
Q: So it was akin to ”Art 101” in a way?
A: “I learned a lot…particularly the general rules, value, the rule of thirds…but I discovered that I didn’t like watercolor.”
Q: [Laughs]. Oh, that’s hysterical! I don’t know if people know this but watercolor has got to be the most challenging of mediums – more difficult than oils. So much of it is layering.”
A: “Yes, It IS! The problem for me was that layering and layering only led to mud!
Q: Take me back to the “lightbulb” moment when you knew that your strength lay in collage?
A: “One night my teacher gave a brief introduction into collage. She showed us how to incorporate tissue paper into watercolor to make colors…[recede]; I played around with [collage] to use around my failed watercolors and discovered that [the effect] was better in that I was now able to elicit my darks…[and] cover my mistakes. While at a separate critique years later, another instructor inquired: “Why do you do T-H-A-T?” I was mortified.. She asked me if I liked what I was doing; I replied“NO”. It was the first time that I admitted the truth! She recommended that I stay with collage.. And it was then that I made the total switch.”
“The Times” (2019) Mixed media collage (with newsprint, corrugated cardboard) mounted on foam core on rusted metal
“Urban Artifact II” (2017) Mixed media collage on painted paper on foam core on rusted metal
Q: Your early work has an urban feel. Would you agree?
A: “I worked in Providence for so many years and I was aware of the decline in some areas of the city…and of the revitalization in others. They had refurbished the River Walk, and [there were] businesses… but on the flip side, there were people sleeping under the bridge panhandling. There was this clash of two different worlds. That’s where my cityscapes derive their dilapidated, abandoned look.. But I feel they also touch on culture.”
Q: What I liked most about your cityscapes was the intelligent use of corrugated cardboard, the series of mark-making and textures. They led the eye to read from left to right. The materials were quite variegated.
A: “I’d like to build up my work more – get sculptural and learn about assemblage. I’ve always liked the texture of good quality stock paper and the sepia tones found in vintage books.”
“When I started making art, I was never content with a vase of flowers.”
Q: I like visiting artist studios because it allows me to get into their “head space” so to speak. – Speaking of studios, your walls reveal a lot going on. You’ve got quite a collection of books. Walk me through it; how do you work?:
Q: Your current exhibit “Art From Books: A New Narrative“, is a series gleaned from children’s books. How did that come about? :
Q: A turning point for you was being mentored by artist Katherine Chang Liu during a residency in Gloucester. Was her feedback insightful?
A: “She taught me think about what I was doing. It sounds obvious but she had looked at my work and said “You like geometry”. I said “not really…”. But she retorted: “But you’re working with geometric shapes!” It is true that working with organic and curvilinear shapes is not my affinity.”
“The Flier’s World” (2018) Collage composed of book dust jackets mounted on board.
Q: What advice would you give to a novice or someone starting out?
A: “My best advice would be simply to do what you love, as far as medium, subject matter, style – and not paint just to please an audience or for commercial success. The important thing is to enjoy what you do so much that you “need” to do it everyday, even if you have to work full time at something else. Daily practice, however brief, keeps the ideas and discoveries coming, and hopefully will lead to eventual success on some level.”
Q: Well said!
All of Beverly’s works are for sale. She may be reached via instagram at Beverly.silva.94 or through email at email@example.com. She is active in the Rhode Island arts community and is an elected member of the Art League Rhode Island, the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative, the Attleboro Arts Museum, the Warwick Center for the Arts, and the Wickford Art Association.