A United States flag, stitched onto blue fabric, is folded on itself and spewing streams of subtle orange strips of fabric, as on fire, but nowhere near engulfed.

Love Letter to Joey Veltkamp

Joey Veltkamp, SELF-PORTRAIT AS AMERICA, 2020. Fabric and thread. 62 × 46 inches.

When I first look at Joey Veltkamp’s work, it’s clear to me that his textiles are a vehicle for dissent. The quilts—or “soft paintings,” as he prefers to call them—are functional works of art. Continuing the generations-old tradition of grassroots rebellion, their main purpose is not to protect but to protest.

What first drew me to Veltkamp’s work was his perspective as a queer artist. His pieces serve as defiant statements: Gay Horse (Hey!) (2018) offers a queer vision of The West; Self-Portrait As America, 2020 (2020), which depicts a burning United States flag, is a visually jarring critique of misguided patriotism. By definition, to queer something is to disrupt or even spoil it, to shatter preconceived notions and force a new mindset to the forefront. Veltkamp’s most recent show, Lumberton, Wash. at Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, accomplished that and then some. 

Veltkamp deftly criticizes the vanity that dominates nationalist self-perception. His soft paintings expertly expose and examine the ugly underbelly of our increasingly divided United States. 

The delightful paradox inherent in Veltkamp’s textiles—namely, his use of a traditional form to voice often unsavory and unpatriotic opinions—is perhaps what I love most about his work. In such serious times, there’s something almost gleeful about his form of resistance. I, for one, welcome the levity.