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Shelter 1, 4"hx5"wx15"l, wool, cotton, wax, pigment, wet-felting, photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.




Artist: Carmella Karijo Rother of Chelsea, Quebec,

Interview 115: Carmella will be exhibiting in the 2014 World of Threads Festival exhibition The Red and the Black.

Interviews published and curated by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman

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Carmella Karijo Rother is an artist whose early interests led to a career in natural sciences and education, working at Ontario Parks and the Canadian Museum of Nature. She then began her journey in textile and fibre arts: fashioning natural wreaths, wall hangings in cotton fabrics, and Dupioni silk collages mounted on canvases. Carmella is presently engaged in the medium of felt, creating three-dimensional pieces that reflect a sophisticated simplicity.

Carmella has a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada and a Master in Environmental Studies from York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Her work is in the City of Ottawa's Fine Art Collection, and recent exhibitions include Wall Space Gallery in Ottawa and Harbinger Gallery in Waterloo, both in Ontario, Canada. She lives and works in a house nestled in the forests of Gatineau Park, Quebec, Canada. Carmella's Website.


Artist Carmella Karijo Rother, photo: Miv Fournier.


You work in felted sculpture, please tell us about it:

I make sculptures in felt that I describe as organic forms made with curved lines and in natural colours, rendered in a minimalist style. I build on the warm and tactile nature of felt to create pieces that leave an imaginative space to breathe, reflect and contemplate. A curator recently described my art as "beautifully quiet", which sums it up well.

The first steps in making felt involve manipulating wool fibres with soap and water. Thin layers of loose fibres are delicately laid out and gently worked in a rhythmic, repetitive motion much like a massage, building up to a vigorous workout that fully entwines the fibres. I enjoy the simplicity of this basic process at the heart of making felt, as well as engagement with complex techniques to form three-dimensional pieces.


Detail: Shelter 1, 4"hx5"wx15"l, wool, cotton, wax, pigment, wet-felting, photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.

Vessel 25, 7"hx11"wx10.5"d' wool, cotton, wax, pigment: wet-felting, photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.

Detail: Vessel 25, 7"hx11"wx10.5"d' wool, cotton, wax, pigment: wet-felting, photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.


From where do you get your inspiration?

It is difficult to trace the path inspiration takes, as influences often crossover and metamorphose. I spend time reflecting on things that have left a visual and emotional impression on me, and this leads to my studio work. Much of my inspiration comes from being a keen observer of places and people. I am drawn to strong lines, beautiful designs, arresting colouration, wherever they are to be found: in nature, architecture, and my daily life. As an example, during walks in the woods near my home I note bright red mushrooms, little beacons within the greens and browns on the ground beneath them. I will recall this later when using small amounts of red as a focal point in my sculptures.

I enjoy visiting art fairs, galleries and museums when I travel. Since I started to work sculpturally I have been admiring ceramics with fresh eyes, finding a design connection between them and my sculptural felt.


No.15, Number Series, 36hx48w inches, silk, thread, collage of silk pieces, machine stitched and mounted on painted canvas. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.

No.15, Number Series, 36hx48w inches, silk, thread, collage of silk pieces, machine stitched and mounted on painted canvas. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.


Was there any family influence or encouragement for you taking to fibre arts?

My mother grew up in Europe at a time when fine sewing and knitting skills were part of a young girl's education, and as a result she made beautiful, finely constructed clothing for me. I have fond memories of her patiently spending hours ironing sheets, linens and handkerchiefs. It was early experiences like these that shaped my deep-rooted connection with textiles.


No.14, Number Series, 30hx40w inches, silk, thread, collage of silk pieces, machine stitched and mounted on painted canvas. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.

No.13, Number Series, 30hx40w inches, silk, thread, collage of silk pieces, machine stitched and mounted on painted canvas. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.


Your formal education is in the field of science, how did you progress into the art field and into fibre art in particular?

In school and university I was interested in the sciences and later worked as a park interpreter, developed environmental programs, and designed and animated public programs at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. Becoming an artist happened when I wasn't looking, but the thread was always there, pulling me in.

I began my journey making dried flower wreaths. I went on collecting walks in nature and relished the details and designs that went into each piece. A neighbour introduced me to traditional quilting and this led to my creating art quilts hung on walls. Made with cottons in solid, saturated colours, cut into graphic shapes and outlined in various thicknesses of threads with machine stitching, they were instrumental in the development of my personal vocabulary.

The following years were dedicated to abstract collages made with Dupioni silk. They were more random and free flowing in appearance, although they still required a textile artist's obsession with cutting and placing each piece precisely. When that was complete I machine stitched over the surfaces and mounted the assemblages on painted artist canvases.

Following a period of two years during which I experimented with various textile/fibre mediums, I discovered felting serendipitously. I was interested in creating three-dimensional work and was intrigued by felting, although I had little experience with it. As a knitter since childhood, I was already drawn to wool. Warm and tactile, felt was a long-lost relative I had an immediate connection with. I saw the potential to create pieces that can be soft and pliable or strong and supportive, and the myriad possibilities with this medium became very attractive.


No.25, Number Series, 30hx40w inches, silk, thread, collage of silk pieces, machine stitched and mounted on painted canvas. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.


What specific historic artists have influenced your work?

Louise Bourgeois has been mentioned a number of times in these interviews, which speaks of her widespread influence. Her work is highly personal, much of it stemming from a childhood trauma that she explored repeatedly in different manifestations. There is an amazing power in Bourgeois' installation cells, which reflect scenes both painful and cathartic, and I admire the profound connection between her life and her art.

Georgia O'Keeffe was a painter in love with the landscape of the American Southwest. Some of her works portray places and things reduced to an economy which I find striking. In multiple paintings from different vantage points, the patio door of her home and studio repeatedly captured her imagination. She painted how it related to the wall it was set in, the sky, and the ground beneath it. O'Keeffe waited years to purchase the house that contained the door, so that she could paint that door, over and over, each time expressing something original and compelling.

Mark Rothko's colour field paintings have a depth in which anything can be seen and imagined. His large, powerful canvases were designed to envelope viewers, and I was struck by their force and beauty when I viewed them at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Rothko's pieces are thoroughly and thoughtfully constructed, the colours worked on layer upon layer; they remain for me examples of supreme elegance and intelligence.


Confetti 2, Confetti Series, 20hx28w inches, silk, thread, collage of silk pieces, machine stitched and mounted on painted canvas. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.


Carmella recommends the following books:

Andy Goldsworthy: Stone
Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

Louise Bourgeois by Robert Storr
Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

Louise Bourgeois edited by Frances Morris


No.28, Number Series, 24hx30w inches, silk, thread, collage of silk pieces, machine stitched and mounted on painted canvas. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother

No.27, Number Series, 24hx30w inches, silk, thread, collage of silk pieces, machine stitched and mounted on painted canvas. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.

No.33, Number Series, 30hx40w inches, silk, thread, collage of silk pieces, machine stitched and mounted on painted canvas. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.


Please explain how you developed your own style:

There are elements, as I describe in this interview, that essentially are extensions of "me", things that I note, that hold me, and that I try to emulate in my work. For example, one of the challenges in creating my silk pieces was in determining when the laying of overlapping pieces in a collage was complete, and it was time to move on to the stitching. If I placed too many layers the piece looked overdone, and if I was too spare with them, it was uninteresting. The machine stitching, although subtle, added a distinctive layer, and I had to project in my mind when the collage was at the right point to stop and go to the next step. This reductive approach guides me in the making of my felt sculptures, allowing the essence of each piece to be enough.


No.8, Number Series, 30hx36w inches, silk, thread, collage of silk pieces, machine stitched and mounted on painted canvas. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.

No.11, Number Series, 30hx40w inches, silk, thread, collage of silk pieces, machine stitched and mounted on painted canvas. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.


Can you talk a bit about the commercial viability of fibre art?

In the Canadian context, more galleries are showing textile and fibre art than twenty years ago. I do not spend time thinking about the art/craft dichotomy. I have submitted to both art and craft galleries and I have been fortunate in that my work has been accepted into both. As textile/fibre artists continue to show original and technically excellent work in prominent venues, their presence in galleries of all kinds will continue to increase.


Exhibition Out Numbered at Wall Space Gallery, Ottawa, view 2. Photo: Miv Fournier

Exhibition Out Numbered at Wall Space Gallery, Ottawa, view 3. Photo: Miv Fournier


How did you initially start showing your work in galleries?

I gained experience and confidence by entering juried shows, and at one of these a volunteer at a city gallery suggested I make a submission to exhibit there. The first show is often the most difficult; afterwards, one builds on what has come before. Not all galleries appreciate textile/fibre work and I seek out those that already do, or that have a similar aesthetic in the art they exhibit.


Exhibition Out Numbered at Wall Space Gallery, Ottawa, view 1. Photo: Miv Fournier


What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work?

Ann Van Hoey is a Belgian ceramicist whose simple, unadorned clay pieces are made with geometric precision. They are elegant, warm and inviting, attributes that I much admire. Although my style is much less controlled and more serendipitous, her ability to marry these elements makes her work exceptional.

Dale Chihuly is an American artist who creates free-blown glass sculptures. His pieces are fantastical forms, blazing in colour and seemingly alive. I am drawn to work that contains movement and evokes an emotional response. I see this particularly in Chihuly's nesting pieces, which contain several shapes enfolded within each other. I admire the virtuosity in Chihuly's use of colour, in areas such as the lips of his vessels and the complimentary colours in his nesting pieces. Both glass and felt can be constructed to be translucent, which creates the opportunity for lighting to shine through, a feature which Chihuly uses in his installations and which I plan to incorporate in future work.

Whereas Van Hoey's ceramics project serenity and introversion, Chihuly's explode with colour and light. My affinity to Van Hoey's art stems from a similar, spare aesthetic. The attraction to Chihuly's work is in how he turns glass, a cold, hard, inflexible surface, into sculptures that are organic, warm and fluid—properties that come naturally to felt.

Andy Goldsworthy is a British artist making site-specific land art. Using the material at hand in a particular location, he creates pieces that are at times ethereal and temporal, and at others, destined to last. His sculptures made of snow, ice, twigs, stone, sand, flowers etc., are both part of nature, and yet distinctly human-made. In Goldsworthy's hands every line, crack and pile has relevance, and I share in that reverence for detail. Through his work we are reminded of the importance of structure, the beauty of nature and the transience of life.


Exhibition Out Numbered at Wall Space Gallery, Ottawa, view 4. Photo: Miv Fournier

Exhibition Out Numbered at Wall Space Gallery, Ottawa, view 5. Photo: Miv Fournier


How does your early work differ from what you're doing now?

When I look at my body of work over the years, there is a common thread of expression towards clarity and simplicity, a focus on strong lines and form, and an organic modality. What lead me to the medium of felt were two desires: to change the art I was making, and to work three-dimensionally. I feel a strong sense of intimacy when holding one of my sculptures, when I turn it and view it from different angles. Three-dimensional art requests a different engagement from the viewer than a two-dimensional piece hung on a wall. I am finding a physical and emotional immersion in my felt sculptures that I did not have with my previous work, and this is something I want to pursue.


Vessel grouping, wool, wet felting. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.


If you reflect on your career as a fibre artist, what achievement are you most proud of?

One significant moment happened after a few years of working at my art, when I was able to say: I am an artist, and to believe it. I can't describe what was the turning point; the word didn't seem to fit before, and then it did. I continue to feel very fortunate to be doing the work I do.


Vessel 85, wool, wet felting. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother


What other fibre artists are you interested in?

Elis Vermeulen is a Dutch artist who creates earthy felt pieces that reflect the organic nature of this material. From installations on beaches, forest floors, and in abandoned warehouses, to performance pieces using headpieces and body coverings, her work would seem restrained within the confines of a gallery. Vermeulen is in sync with the essence of felt, pairing the medium and the message seamlessly. She demonstrates how to stay true to felt's attributes and how to work with the nature of the material.

Marjolein Dallinga is a Canadian artist originally from the Netherlands, with whom I took my first class in felting. Dallinga creates fantastical sculptural and wearable pieces, covered by protuberances of all kinds. Some of her pieces are fashioned into costumes for performers in Cirque du Soleil. She has what I call a Zen approach to felting; in winter, she dries felt over a wood-stove, and prefers handwork to employing a machine. Her technical skills are such that she sets the bar high for the rest of us.


Vessel 13, wool, wet felting. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother.


Is there someone who, or something that has made a difference to/impact on your work?

In the early stages of my career I was fortunate to connect with two local textile/fibre artists, Wendy Feldberg and Karen Goetzinger. Like-minded and mutually engaged, we came together for encouragement and support. Our cumulative courage and experience led us to exhibit together, and as our confidence and abilities grew we organized group exhibitions to showcase our personal expressions on a chosen theme. One such exhibition was Unclothing and Uncovering: Revealing Art in Textiles, which was featured at Carnegie Gallery in Dundas, Ontario, the Ontario Crafts Council Gallery in Toronto, and the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, in Almonte, all in Ontario, Canada.

At the beginning of my career I met Lorraine Roy, an established artist whose work I admired. From an exchange of art, a deep friendship has grown. Lorraine has lightened many challenges by being a sounding board, sharing her business acumen, and providing support in this work that, by its nature, is often done in solitude.


Cocoon 7, wool, porcupine quills, wet felting, hand dyeing, Shibori (tying). Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother

Cocoon 5, wool, wet felting, hand dyeing, Shibori (tying). Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother


Tell us about your studio and how you work.

My studio is in my home in Gatineau Park, a national park located near Ottawa, Canada. Large windows and skylights let in wonderful amounts of natural light, and when looking up from my felting table, where most of the action happens, I have a beautiful view of a path through the forest. Deer frequently pass by; a lone stag, a group of does, and females with spotted fawns, as well as the occasional black bear. Last year there was a gift, fifteen metres from the front door; a set of antlers in the snow.

I do not keep journals or sketch, but reflect on what I am going to do and leap into the work. This means that I do many pieces by trial and error, and this appears to be my preferred way of working: making my own discoveries. I am a morning person and often walk into my studio as early as six and put in several hours before lunch. Like everyone else, my life is filled with other things, and on busy days I manage to slip in for short periods and continue where I left off. Although I am greatly inspired by new places I visit on my holidays, this setting, right here, provides the beauty, tranquility and isolation I need to work.


Studio view: Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother

Carmella working, view 1. Photo: G. Rother

Carmella working, view 2. Photo: G. Rother

View from Carmella's studio. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother

Carmella's surroundings. Photo: Carmella Karijo Rother

What interests you about the World of Threads festival?

I visited the Festival for the first time in 2012, viewing many of the exhibitions, in several locations, over two days. It is a wonderful opportunity for local, national and international textile/fibre artists to showcase their art to the public. It is also an inspiration for those of us working in this medium, to feel part of a larger community.

Exhibition Exposed at Wall Space Gallery, Ottawa, view 1. Photo: Lawrence Cook


Is there something else you would like us to know about you or your work that we have not covered?

My years spent doing a Master in Environmental Studies, during the nascent years of the environmental movement, were pivotal ones. Nowadays, the word environmental is overused; however, at that time, the concept of relationships between various disciplines was avant-garde. In my faculty there were professors at the forefront of diverse fields and students with divergent interests, all contributing to wide-ranging discussions about the future. From this experience I developed a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of life and a greater appreciation for the intricate and delicate balances in all aspects of it.

In early 2014, a selection of my felt sculptures were featured in Twisted! at the Wall Space Gallery in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

I will be showing two pieces in the exhibition The Red and the Black in the 2014 World of Threads Festival at The Gallery at Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre, Oakville, Ontario.



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