In this week’s episode, LaChaun is speaking to Torrey Beckham. Torrey is a Texas-born Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist who weaves, uses plants, and many other creative mediums as outlets of expression. Torrey’s palette, texture choices, and subject matters all have their roots in Torrey’s personal experiences growing up Black. Torrey’s work aim's to create a space where Black and Queer folks encounter the work, seeing themselves in the lines, and feel "home" emanating from the textures. Comment below to keep the conversation going!
Pocoapoco (2018-2019) cotton, silk, wool, 24K gold, brass, natural fiber
African America (2019) cotton, natural fiber
Oaxaca (2019) cotton, brass, copper
We Create Our Heritage cotton, silk, mohair, copper, brass
First Lady Liberty (2020)
Weave Podcast Transcript Episode 128 w/ Torrey Beckham
Sarah Resnick: I’m Sarah Resnick.
LaChaun Moore: And I’m LaChaun Moore.
Sarah Resnick: And we are the hosts of the Weave Podcast, a project of the weaving yarn shop, GIST Yarn & Fiber.
LaChaun Moore: Hello. Hi, everyone. I hope all is well. In this week’s episode I’m speaking with Torrey Beckham. Torrey is a Brooklyn-based, Texas native, interdisciplinary artist who uses weaving, plants, and many other creative mediums as a means of creating space for Black and queer folk to see themselves reflected in the work emanating from the textures. Hello, Torrey. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you for joining us today.
Torrey Beckham: Hi. Thank you for having me.
LaChaun Moore: Can you start out by giving us a bit about your background, where you’re from, and how you began working with textiles and fibers?
Torrey Beckham: Yeah, so I am originally from Dallas, Texas. I moved to Houston to attend Texas Southern University in undergrad and I lived there for about nine years before moving to New York, and it was in Houston where I first started exploring and working with fiber art. Through learning how to knit from a dear friend of mine, I casually learned how to knit and made scarves and hats for all of my friends and family, and that was the beginning of my journey.
LaChaun Moore: You consider yourself a multidisciplinary artist and I’ve seen you have an array of different creative mediums, from graphic design, to your beautiful plant making and interiors, as well as your weaving. How would you describe your practice?
Torrey Beckham: I think that at the core of it, what I am doing is really finding ways to express a lot of the things that I think about and consider, and finding aesthetic ways to present those thoughts to people, be it through the sculptures that I create or through the plants, or whatever it is. I think that at the core of it, there is a bit of a desire for beauty and a desire for pleasure, and a desire for peace that I’m hoping to find, honestly, and to explore through my work.
LaChaun Moore: That’s really beautiful. And can you speak specifically about your weaving practice? Would you say that that is one of the mediums that’s helped you find that beauty and that peace?
Torrey Beckham: Yeah, so I… My weaving journey is interesting in that it has been completely self taught. I decided in 2017 that I would learn how to weave, and so I went and got one of those old paintings that they have on the clearance rack from say a Marshalls, or a Joanne Fabric, or something like that, and I stripped the canvas on it that was on there, and I placed some upholstery tacks on it to make the ends that I would use to loop, and I just sat in a room and taught myself how to weave on that loom. And a matter of fact, a lot of the first pieces I made were made on that loom. And occasionally I pull it out just to do personal practices. I find weaving to be a number of things. It is definitely a meditative practice for me, and it’s also a bit of a magical practice. I find a lot of times I am creating prayers in my weavings, or trying to hopefully in the process of making them, give them some sort of spirit that will help them to bring about whatever it is that I’m hoping to bring about in that moment.
LaChaun Moore: Would you say that majority of your weavings are using frame looms, or do you also use floor looms, as well?
Torrey Beckham: Well, I actually don’t use floor looms, so I use a rigid heddle loom, and I use… I have a very large Mirrix loom that I also use for my larger-scale pieces, and I also still use the smaller box frame. I’ve actually not used a floor loom as of yet. I find that I am more so attracted to the more intimate kind of approaches to weaving. Honestly, back strap weaving and things of that nature are really appealing to me and I like that approach of having it be very present and right in the form of you and right to the size of you, working out from yourself in that way.
LaChaun Moore: We’ve actually… It’s so interesting that you mentioned Mirrix looms, because we’ve had them on the podcast before, and their looms are amazing. Torrey Beckham: They’re amazing. Yeah.
LaChaun Moore: I know it’s kind of a hard question, but would you say that you have a loom that you’re more drawn to?
Torrey Beckham: Wow.
LaChaun Moore: I know, that’s a hard question.
Torrey Beckham: Well, okay. So, I would have to say if we’re just talking about off of sheer aesthetics and beauty alone, I’m gonna say the Mirrix, because I can stare at it just like it’s a piece of art by itself, just sitting in a room. And especially like right now, I have it warped up with some very beautiful cotton and silk on it, and it just looks like a sculpture in the room in and of itself, so I would say probably that one if I’m being honest. But in terms of working, I think that my rigid heddle, even though I… It probably takes the longest for me to set up. Again, I think the size and the proportion of it just makes it feel like a lot more comfortable space to be in weaving.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. I get that. I get that. So, one of the pieces that I’m really interested in talking about, I believe you created it while you were at an art residency in I believe it was Mexico, and it’s the piece called, and I don’t want to pronounce it wrong, is it Pocoapoco? Torrey Beckham: Yeah, so it’s called Pocoapoco.
LaChaun Moore: Oh, okay. Got it.
Torrey Beckham: Yeah, and that piece was made, so I started it just before I attended the Pocoapoco residency, which is in Oaxaca, Mexico, and that was for me in December of 2018, so let’s see, I started this piece maybe two months before that. And I’ve very often said that it is a self portrait, and it definitely feels that way because I think in it, I tried to tell the story at least through color and texture of sort of my journey to really uncovering and discovering and recovering, honestly, some truths about who I am and where I actually find myself most comfortable in terms of expressing sexuality, and gender, and other things. And so, yeah, it is definitely a piece that I hold very near and dear to my heart, and I tried to tell the story through the color choices. The warp is very uniform and I think a bit rigid. The colors themselves represent different parts of my past in terms of things that for me represented masculinity or represented an attempt to further gain some sort of ownership of masculinity that I did not necessarily feel, and then there is sort of from the middle and from the heart area, popping up is these rainbow colors, these textures that were there all along, and that find themselves being expressed in small increments outside of that hard area, and then sort of spilling over as we move towards the lower parts of the piece. So, yeah, it’s sort of a retelling of my current journey, my current life, my current process through art, through color, and texture.
LaChaun Moore: It’s really beautiful, the way that you just described your inspiration I think translates really well in the pieces. I was also wondering if you can talk about the material content, so maybe like the fibers that you’ve used, and also the different elements. I believe there’s an aspect of wood in the piece as well as another natural material?
Torrey Beckham: Yeah. So, the warp of that piece is all cotton and woven and weft. There’s some cotton and some wool that I collected from different towns while we were traveling in Oaxaca, as well, and then there’s some silk and some… Let’s see. Silk that has been hand laminated with 24-karat gold that I ordered from a specialty shop in Japan, and the natural element that is hanging in the far, if you’re looking directly at the piece, in the far right corner is actually a Oaxaca pod, which is one of the trees and one of the pods that I just became so enamored with and fascinated by while in Oaxaca for the residency. And I just appreciated the natural element of it. I appreciated the shape of it. And I felt like in terms of a piece that was speaking very specifically about this attempt at pursuing and attaining manhood, it seemed appropriate to have that piece kind of just hanging there in the corner.
LaChaun Moore: It’s interesting to hear you kind of talk about the ways in which this piece acted as a catalyst for you to have a conversation or to start this relationship with this inner conversation with yourself about the intersections of your identity. In your work and in your own words, you use your practice as a means of creating a space for Black and queer people to encounter and to see themselves in the lines and to feel home emanating from the textures. Can you go a bit more in depth with that statement and what led you to create this space in your work?
Torrey Beckham: Yeah, so quite honestly I feel like very often, a lot of the examples that I was seeing when I started exploring fiber art were examples of work that was produced in large by white women. Honestly, I feel as though white women also make up a large part of the drivers of aesthetic and the ways that we style and dress our plants, just because there’s so many influencers who are white women, that are leading kind of those conversations. And so, what ends up happening is I think that the colors, the texture choices then are being driven in one way or another by those people’s personal choices. And so, what I wanted to do was to… So, I’ll start with the plant work first. What I wanted to do was make sure that in the ways that I pictured my plants, took photos of them, that I styled them, that it read as though it was the home of a person of color, that it felt like it was the home of someone who had a rich heritage, you know what I mean? And so, for me it wasn’t going to be the white background with the terracotta pots and everything looking very beautifully in trend and all that. I needed it to feel like something that would feel more like home for me, and so that is a very intentional choice that I make each time that I photograph a plant or start talking about making some sort of media that is going to be shared in that realm. In terms of my sculpture work through fiber art, I think it’s the exact same thing. I am looking to recreate feelings and textures that remind me of Blackness, that remind me of the hair that I saw getting done in kitchens, in living rooms, in beauty shops and barber shops. That is the textures that I am looking to recreate oftentimes in my work. The colors that I am choosing are very often colors that are more saturated, that lend themselves, though my work is very much so art and is often on the wall, I’m thinking about it in terms of if these colors were to be presented against brown skins, what would that look like? I know it’s gonna be on a wall, but even still, if these colors represented against brown skins, what would that look like? And very often that is driving where I land even in my visual choices for wall art, or for sculpture, and in that I’m hoping to create pieces that emanate that sense of belonging, which is what I think I’m looking to say when I say home. That sense of belonging that this was made for your eye, for you to see yourself in, for you to be moved by. And anybody else that is moved by those things is… It is an added bonus for them, but I am creating these works because I want them, I know that these things are things that will resonate with those people, and so it is their gaze that I am first looking to catch.
LaChaun Moore: That’s really beautiful and it speaks volumes, because as soon as I saw your images of your space and your pieces, I think that they do read distinctively Black. Especially in the piece that we were previously talking about. To me, I was seeing a lot of cultural influences intertwined in the piece, like it almost was reminiscent of Kente cloth-
Torrey Beckham: Of course.
LaChaun Moore: … and the textures, and even you just explaining how the colors read against brown skin, I see all of that in your work, and I think it’s also just so important for us as fiber artists of color to not only create these spaces, but to also make sure that people understand that this is the work that we’re doing and this is the space that we’re creating, and I’m so grateful that I’ve come across your work and that you are creating this space with your work. You’ve kind of pointed to the current fiber and textile weaving community, and I’m wondering if you feel that there is a need for a larger conversation about the intersections of race and gender within the fiber and weaving community.
Torrey Beckham: Sure. I mean, I think in any space there is a need for that conversation, and certainly the fiber art community is no different. You know, I do think that whether intentional or not, there is a bit of gatekeeping that occurs in terms of who gets represented in the gallery spaces for fiber art, who gets called into actually share or to teach these classes, right? And I think a lot of that, sure, we can say that it is relationship, but it begins to look a bit like nepotism when the relationships are all looking like they are the same people. And so, yeah, so in fiber art, I think that there’s a need for that conversation. A, because there are Black people and people of other races and ethnicities that are creating fiber art and that have a heritage in fiber art that is lengthy and is worth more than just peeking your toe into to learn a skill or two so that you can go back and continue creating whatever it is you create, right? We can learn more about those things and then find people that are actually creating using those techniques, and then rather than trying to just add them into our own, we can share their voice, share their art as well, rather than just trying to make it be something that is consumptive. But I don’t think we get to have those conversations when everyone in the room looks the same. And moving just beyond race, you know, there is… I know that, or at least as I’ve come to understand, I understand that patriarchy is a large reason for what I’m about to say, but the representation that we’ve come to see of fiber artists as overwhelmingly woman, and I think that there needs to be a larger conversation and space made available for these resources to be shared with people who are not just white women, but are also Black women, and are also non-binary people that are also too spirited people, et cetera, et cetera, right? We have so many other groups that have a voice that can be very much so helpful to all of us as we’re trying to explore and learn what it means to exist and to coexist in a way that is helpful for everyone. And I think that that is a… Yeah, that’s definitely going to be needed in the fiber art community, as well.
LaChaun Moore:Absolutely. And this could be sort of a huge question, which if you don’t have an answer for, I completely understand, but this is something that I’m always thinking about, especially being that I have a podcast and creating community and having these conversations, do you have any ideas of ways that these conversations could happen and also be productive within a fiber-making space?
Torrey Beckham: Hm. I would say a start would maybe be making those resources available to those communities without all of the extra gatekeeping. And what I mean by that is if you have the resources to teach these people that make up these communities the basics of weaving, or the basics of dyeing, or the basics of macrame, right? We don’t have to put that behind the firewall of a residency application, behind the firewall of a, “Well, first sign up for this curriculum that costs $800 and then we’ll show you, we’ll teach you how to do these things that we learned from Indigenous people anyway.” And so, you know what I mean? I think that it starts with moving where the resources are and stopping the hoarding of the resources, because once you stop the hoarding of the resources, you’ll find that more of the people that you’re looking to have those conversations with will find their ways into the space. And then those conversations can happen without it being something where we’re asking someone to sit up on a platform and speak for a whole community just because we want to feel like we’ve done our part.
LaChaun Moore: Absolutely. And so, one of the things that is also jumping in the front of my mind with this conversation is community, and I’m curious of what your surrounding community’s like and how you’ve been able to connect with other fiber artists, if you have, in your immediate and or extended surroundings.
Torrey Beckham: Yeah, so my community, I am very thankful that I am surrounded by artists in my friendship circle and otherwise, artists of varying mediums. I don’t have in my immediate circle a lot of fiber artists, but most of the fiber artists I have connected with has been over the internet, and it has been honestly primarily through meeting people on Instagram and sending a message here and there, or like moving that to text message and/or phone conversation, et cetera. And I think that for me, it has been helpful that in my immediate circle, where there’s not necessarily a lot of fiber artists, because I am speaking with videographers, with editors, with fashion designers, et cetera, the exchange, the synergy that gets to happen in conversation as we’re discussing our different points of view and how we’re all approaching our work is very helpful in me diversifying my approach in thinking about my work. And the same thing with the artists that I am kind of in community with online. A lot of them are weavers, but we have very different approaches to our work, and I think that that also helps, because I’m learning a lot more about how floor weavers do their thing, and I’m learning a lot more about how Indigenous weavers who are using backstrap looms are doing their thing, and I think that all of that is just very helpful, and to see the language of weaving kind of expressed throughout the world is just something very beautiful and reminds me that there is a current at the core of us that flows through all of us.
LaChaun Moore: And another question that’s sort of related to community and just existing as a fiber artist is I know how difficult it is personally to sustain, whether it be financially, socially, or environmentally. Have you had any difficulty sustaining your fiber art interdisciplinary practice? And if so, what are some of the avenues that you’ve used to keep yourself moving and motivating?
Torrey Beckham: Absolutely. I am definitely in the group of people who felt and deeply felt the slowdown that occurred just on the other side of COVID quarantine, and as an artist who is creating work that is for many people a non-necessity, you know what I mean? That is something that was an is concerning. I’ve been having this internal conversation about what does pivoting look like in this time and I’ve tried to kind of diversify my approaches to sharing some of the knowledge and information that I have in ways that will hopefully help to lead to some monetization later on, but I’ve also just been, if I’m being honest, trying to figure out solutions to this without letting everything be driven by capitalism. Which is-
LaChaun Moore: The artist struggle.
Torrey Beckham: The artist struggle. The artist struggle. And so, I don’t know that I have the answer to that. I mean, I’ve like tried making smaller pieces available to A, make art just available to people that don’t necessarily want, need, or desire, or have the means to be spending larger amounts of their income on art. I’ve also recently introduced making plant moss pole sculptures, which is kind of a blending of fiber art and my plant love for me, because I get to play around with creating a sculpture in a structure that is going to be able to live with the plant and also the way that I am mending them on the back or binding them on the back is using a lot of the techniques that I employ in my fiber art, as well. And so, they’re like little fiber sculptures that get to also live with the plants, and that’s kind of a beautiful thought for me. And so, it’s just really trying to find other ways to engage my art and engage with the community of people who enjoy it, so that hopefully everything can keep moving as smoothly as possible.
LaChaun Moore: And your moss pole sculptures are so cool. Can you just talk about how they work and what they do?
Torrey Beckham: Yeah, so the moss pole sculptures are essentially for plants that in nature would grow up a tree bark or grow possibly on rocks. And so, what they do is they create something for the plants to grow their roots into, and most of those plants that grow in that style, i.e. most hanging philodendrons or pothos or things of that nature. When they start to climb up those poles, that is when they reach their mature form, and so that’s when we get to see those really large, Jurassic-size leaves, and those large openings in the leaves which are called fenestrations. All of that happens on the other side of giving the plant time to mature and grow in the way that it would in nature, and so I thought that it would be a great idea to take that concept, but then also still be able to apply again all those things I talked about earlier in terms of color and texture also to the moss poles. And so, yeah, that is what inspired that, and that is how they work. I should also note I am also a huge fan of people just letting their moss poles stay watered as much as possible, because that is the way that the plants grow best. A little free tip from me. But yeah, as long as the moss pole is damp, the plant will grow roots into it, and it will grow to its large, mature form and be its most healthiest self.
LaChaun Moore: Perfect. Plant tips.
Torrey Beckham: Yeah. Plant tips and fiber art.
LaChaun Moore: Yes. I love it. My life. Torrey Beckham: Right?
LaChaun Moore: So, where can people go on social media and the internet to follow your work?
Torrey Beckham: Honestly, I think the best place right now is Instagram. My Instagram is Instagram.com/Nat, N-A-T, underscore Turnip, T-U-R-N-I-P (@Nat_Turnip). And I am at this time really exploring ways, new ways of sharing some of my fiber art and plant art in tandem there.
LaChaun Moore: Perfect. And also, I remember when I was looking through your Instagram, I saw that you started selling some t-shirts and graphic, I think phone cases?
Torrey Beckham: Yeah, so there’s also a piece that I created called Queerly Proud, which is a reimagining of the Pride flag as this unit that is being bound together by the Black and brown founders of Pride and the trans women that founded Pride, and so every… For the last couple of years, I have been making that image available via print through a Threadless page, and so I decided to just leave it up, because I was getting a lot more asks about when it would be back up, and so if people are interested in getting that print, or getting a print or something with that print on it, that is there and the link to that is on my Instagram page.
LaChaun Moore: Perfect. And thank you for sharing so much of your practice and also just giving us some wonderful things that I’m sure we’re all gonna walk away from this episode thinking about, but we do have one question that we ask everyone that joins the podcast, and that is do you have any advice or words of wisdom to share with weavers and textile enthusiasts? Torrey Beckham: Yes. My word of advice is to play with string as much as you can. And I don’t mean that just like in the way that you know to create with it, but literally just to sit and play with it and see what comes up. I think that in the same way that we doodle, and the same way that we kind of sing melodies to ourselves, we should give ourselves space to just sit with materials and see what else we can do with them, and that that is the start of innovation as a fiber artist, at least for me.
LaChaun Moore: Amazing. Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.
Torrey Beckham: Cheers. Thank you.
LaChaun Moore: That’s a wrap. If you’re interested in supporting Torrey’s work, you can find links in the show notes at www.gistyarn.com/Episode-128. Thank you for tuning into this week’s episode. I’m really excited to bring you next week’s special episode. Stay tuned. Until next time, happy weaving.
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