Meet Artwork Archive artist Beth Kamhi. Trained as a fashion designer—and after making a name for herself as an interior designer—she now crosses disciplines to create large scale, sweeping steel installations. Kamhi constructs site-specific sculptures from weaving together thousands of tiny steel beads, and her work has been installed in respected corporate spaces such as Bloomingdale’s and the Dana Hotel.
Kamhi tells us how she went above and beyond to break into the public art realm and shares with us what advice she has for artists looking to make connections with commercial clients.
Want to see more of Beth Kamhi’s work? Visit her Artwork Archive Public Page.
Now, we get the inside scoop on how Beth makes these tactile works of art.
1. COMING FROM A FASHION DESIGN BACKGROUND, HOW DID YOU MAKE THE TRANSITION INTO SCULPTURE AND HOW HAS YOUR TEXTILE EDUCATION INFORMED YOUR CURRENT DESIGN PRACTICE?
The transition from fashion to sculpture was a slow one. I was sidetracked by raising a family and carving out a niche as an interior designer. My aesthetic always had a strong focus on textiles, texture and balance, which is still the cornerstone of my work. You can see that textile influence in my current body of work, Textural Weavings.
Using steel beads as my primary material, the long threads flow, cascade, and intertwine—similar to vintage fiber art, drapery, and evening wear. My practice is constantly moving forward. I am always pushing and exploring new directions, applications, and construction methods. It is a continuum of finding new paths to follow.
2. YOU HAVE SAID THAT YOUR CREATION HAPPENS WHEN YOU PROBLEM SOLVE AND RELY ON YOUR INTUITION. CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS? DO YOU TYPICALLY START WITH THE CHALLENGES OF AN INTERIOR OR CONSTRAINTS OF MAKING A SPECIFIC OBJECT?
My creative process draws from all facets of my various careers. I reference fashion design, interior design, and art making for inspiration. I also approach each project with years of practical “hands on experience.” The challenges of each new project presents obstacles that seem to have various answers and solutions. Once the constraints are established my creative process begins.
3. MANY OF YOUR PIECES ARE HIGHLY DESIGNED FUNCTIONAL OBJECTS. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE FOR YOU WHEN YOU ARE CREATING A PURELY SCULPTURAL PIECE VS. SAY, A CHAIR?
The difference between creating a sculptural piece and, for example, the Bling Bling series is that my sculptural work is dedicated to my creative path and is purposely devoid of function. These functional pieces are constructed purely from a design point of view. I aim to bring a cool and vintage modern aesthetic to each one.
This design approach stems from years of working as an interior designer, creating custom furniture for high end interiors, commercial projects, offices, bars, and restaurants. I love to create and meld my sculpture and functionality for the fun of it!
Beth gives us some insight on how she landed her first commercial client.
4. YOU HAVE AN IMPRESSIVE AMOUNT OF CORPORATE AFFILIATIONS LIKE BLOOMINGDALE’S AND THE DANA HOTEL, HOW DID YOU FIRST START WORKING WITH THESE LARGE COMPANIES AND GETTING YOUR WORK INTO COMMERCIAL SPACES?
My first large public installation was at the Bloomingdale’s Flagship store on Michigan Ave. in Chicago. A friend of a friend heard about an opportunity for a few local artists. I followed up with the management and merchandising staff at Bloomingdale’s and followed their protocol for submission. I went above and beyond what was expected; creating maquettes and detailed proposals, and hosting a studio visit for the staff.
The custom ceiling framework in the department store created a polished and beautifully finished environment for the installation of my sculpture, Crazy Swirls.
A valuable lesson I learned is that professional photos are well worth the investment because you now have a high-end client to endorse you and the images to promote future projects. Perhaps even more importantly, you then also have a professional portfolio to send to art consultants and use in future exhibition proposals—which in turn leads to more projects and exhibitions.
5. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO IS LOOKING TO START MAKING CONNECTIONS WITH COMMERCIAL CLIENTS?
I would suggest being very professional and friendly when dealing with the client or management. Be patient. The people you will be directly working with always have someone else they have to answer to before there is a final green light. These projects take a lot of time, work, and negotiations. I feel my years of client interaction with interior design helps me with this.
I’ve also learned when to communicate with the client about issues and when to keep quiet. Site specific projects always have challenges. I feel it’s best not to share all the issues of a project with clients as they typically want a seamless project, completed on time, and on budget—without drama. Transparency is also important though, so if you aren’t comfortable collaborating or customizing your work forget commercial clients.
One route to getting a commercial client in your project portfolio is to apply for a Grant for Professional Development including funds to create new public artwork and a photography to document your Public Artwork.
ARTWORK ARCHIVE NOTE:
Here are a few resources to get started searching for grants.
6. YOUR PLATE SEEMS FULL WITH AN EXTENSIVE CV OF PUBLIC ART AND EXHIBITIONS, HOW DO YOU PRIORITIZE PROJECTS AND BALANCE YOUR WORKLOAD?
I am very task driven. The excitement of creating new work, the vision, and the challenge of a new project all generate momentum. Initially, there are problems that I have to solve: the weight, cost, correct materials, installation plans, dimensions, shadows, lighting, budget, transportation, and the personalities of the clients. At times those details seem to outweigh the creative energy.
However, once the minutiae are finalized the act of creation begins. My energy level skyrockets and I manage to make it all happen on time, on budget, and to my satisfaction as well as the clients’.
I typically spend 20% of my time sending out proposals for new exhibitions and to art consultants, designers, and such. Another 40% to 50% of my time is dedicated to creating work and the rest is split up between social media, keeping up with the art community, and spending time with my family and friends.