The 440 Gallery presents Recent Work. Mexico and New York by Victoria Behm Skeletons, Heart Attacks, and a Kitty — Oh, My!

Every successful artist hones a few survival skills in the course of their career and Victoria Behm has amassed quite a few. Her exhibit at the 440 Gallery in Brooklyn, opening April 12, is an eclectic display of Behm’s multiple artistic obsessions. There are several distinct bodies of work here, all highly developed aspects of her complex practice.

Victoria Behm, Red Diamond, 24×24 in, oil on canvas

Behm’s elegant grid paintings, in encaustic and oil on canvas, constitute one element of her work. Her mother was a master quilt maker and Behm says she “grew up among the geometry of cut fabrics and the history of patterns.” These abstract color blocks, distilled from traditional quilt designs, constitute a series of paintings popular with designers and architects. Related to these paintings are wood-cut prints she made on an old press at a Mayan paper cooperative in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, where there is a strong textile tradition dating back 400 years. Many of their woven and embroidered symbols and designs resemble American quilt patterns.

This work faces a wall of quirky pen and ink drawings covering a range of subjects, reflecting Behm’s broad life experiences and intimate daily encounters. Humorous, poignant and engaging, stylistically the drawings resemble the artist’s most recent commercial coup: a national Cole Haan ad campaign that has been popping up throughout New York City and online.

Giant skeleton figures, resembling Day of the Dead imagery, bridge the two diverse styles. Crafted from styrofoam plates and printed on yellowing 50-year old, hand-set newspapers from San Cristobal de las Casas, the figures possess the same graphic energy as the drawings. They hold in their hands mysterious panels, scribed with geometric patterns that could be folkloric textiles, the floor plans of Mesoamerican pyramids or Behm’s elegant quilt paintings.

But it is Behm’s notebooks that provide the seedbed where all these diverse expressions germinate. A consistent practice for decades, these notebooks are the artist’s visual diary of a life richly traveled. They chronicle with sensitivity, courage and humor, her battle with breast cancer and heart disease. With titles like Breast Cancer Notebook: My story in Paper and Glue; Bigger, Yet Weaker: A Picture Diary of My Failing Heart; and My Aunt Ester Lived in a Piano Crate, these artist’s books draw us into the world of a true survivor, one with grit and wit.

Victoria Behm received her BA from the University of Missouri-Columbia, focusing on Northern European textiles, and acquired a combined MA in journalism and design. She studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. Behm has spent the past seven summers in Mexico making art. Currently, Behm is a teaching artist at Studio in a School, and has taught workshops for artists and teachers at the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan and Brooklyn Museums. She teaches at the Brooklyn Friends Summer Arts Program, and runs parent/student workshops with the Brooklyn Friends Horizon Program. She is on the Artist Corps at the Park Avenue Armory, working with renowned featured artists and a team of teaching artists to develop workshops. She was a team leader in installing the Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Central Park. She has backwoods knowledge of squirrel taxidermy, and can skin and dress a deer.

Recent Work opens at the 440 Gallery, located at 440 Sixth Avenue in Brooklyn, on Thursday, April 12, and will run through Sunday, May 13, 2012. There will be a reception for the artist from 4:00-7:00 PM, Saturday, April 14. The 440 Gallery is in Park Slope, convenient to the F, M, and R subways. The gallery is open Thursday and Friday, 4:00 – 7:00 PM, Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM, or by appointment. Check the gallery’s website,, for more information.