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Repaired, corset, tulle, willow branches, wax, powder pigment, thread on canvas – 2012, 36" x 48". Photo: Christian Carlson


Heavy Hung, 2013, 36" x 18". Photo: Christian Carlson


Artist: Trina Perry Carlson of Seattle, Washington, USA

Interview 133: Trina exhibited in the 2014 World of Threads Festival exhibition Solo Shows & Installations in the Corridor Galleries at Queen Elizabeth Park Community & Cultural Centre in Oakville, Ontario

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Interviews published and curated by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.


Artist Trina Perry Carlson


Tell us about your work:

Women over the ages have clothed the body, weaving the cloth, cutting and sewing it into patterns that covered, protected and revealed. My work references this intimate connection, where an article of clothing holds the residue, smell, fragility—the memory of its life and purpose. With needle and thread, I stitch together disparate parts creating new patterns and imaged psychological states. The textiles I use are items that I have found close to home and in my travels – articles collected or abandoned and taken from lifetimes of washing, mending and wearing.

Each piece has a shared or imagined narrative that explores how we are bound by our own and our cultural histories and what can be learned by an examination of them. I am interested in archetypes that communicate beyond the individual and address the collective, bringing a consciousness to our stories and our psychology, and creating a more intentional and thoughtful life in the present.

In every case, the work of this series consists of fabric, pigment, wax and ephemera stitched onto the backside of stretched canvas, revealing what often is hidden from view. Denied on what would typically be the canvas front is the complex tangle of knots and thread that represent the hours invested in each piece. This dialogue over time is the quality that my work seeks to amplify into a meditation and a memory of the body.


Confirmation, vintage French gloves, linen, branches, wire, thread on canvas – 2012, 24" x 24". Photo: Christian Carlson (Proof which shows that something is true or correct, a rite or initiation, a laying on of hands. Gloves become hands, held up in recognition and restraint. What is true?)


From where do you get your inspiration?

I have always been drawn to textiles and especially clothing that seems to retain some story, a resonance that remains even when they have been discarded. I've also found myself attracted back into the craft and meditation of sewing. Sewing was something I learned from my mother, who had sewn much of her own clothes and won prizes for her creations. I struggled as a girl to have the skill and patience to enjoy the process and essentially abandoned it as I grew up. It has been a surprise to find myself brought back to this tradition of "women's work" as the means of my own expression.

The inspiration process begins with collecting the materials that I work with. I look for items that are evocative in themselves or have a colour or texture or fibre that I can imagine using in a piece. When I begin a canvas I usually start with one item and begin to compose with and around it, developing some sense of meaning or story that wants to be told. Once the idea of the piece becomes clear, I then search for the different elements that feel right in the composition. Only after I've laid out the piece, and understood it's layers, do I begin the process of sewing and how the line of the thread can continue and strengthen the narrative.


Heavy Hung, vintage carpenter's pouch, saw blade, tow strap, cotton, burlap, cheesecloth, branch, thread on canvas – 2013, 36" x 18". Photo: Christian Carlson. An exploration of the weight of masculinity. The surface appearance suggests the overtly masculine, the legacy of work, the burden of the testicular, the binding of gender roles in the world. But on closer inspection, the image begins to reveal gossamer aspects of softness and vulnerability.


Your work contains found objects. Do you go on special 'expeditions' or do you come by the objects in your day-to-day activities?

Moving from Seattle to Manhattan after I graduated from college took me from a relatively young city to one that had many more layers of history. I found myself wanting to connect some sense of that past and began frequenting flea markets and thrift stores and so the collecting began. I have continued since then to always be looking for things that are evocative to me. Many of the materials I work with I've found on my travels, my grandmother's attic or just along the way. But I am always looking for material and never know how all the pieces will come together


Relics, vintage doll dress, linen, shell, ivory willow branch, band aid, thread on canvas – 2013, 24" x 12". Photo: Christian Carlson. The remnants of childhood: precious objects whose meaning has been lost, wounds that are no longer remembered but whose scars remain. The beauty and loss of memory!


Through your art, are you attempting to evoke particular feelings in your audience?

I'm always working toward a personal dialogue with the textiles and objects, feeling the narratives that develop for me as I construct a piece. I can only hope that the work will evoke a meaningful response with another, knowing that we all bring our own histories and constructs to what we see and experience. My goal is to move beyond the individual elements to an assemblage that can speak to universals.


Trina with her work in the 2014 World of Threads Festival.

Trina with her work in the 2014 World of Threads Festival.


What led you to pursue a Fine Arts degree?

I've always been a creative and visually oriented person. I liked to draw, to paint and to make things and a degree in art seemed the most obvious choice to pursue. Not sure of how to make a career as an artist at that early point in my life, I shifted my focus from the fine arts to a more applied major in Interior Design. I worked as a Retail Designer in New York and continued in private practice after I moved back to the West Coast. Three kids and a lifetime later, I feel like I've finally realized my earliest sense of my work and myself.


Cradle to Grave, Great Grandmother's baby quilt, Grandmother's ironing board cover, vintage veil, horsehair fly whisk, metal box, broken glass, thread on canvas – 2013, 60" x 48". Photo: Christian Carlson. Hours and lifetimes are contained in the quilts, the ironing boards, the wedding veils that are our legacy and our shroud. The layering of these common relics of the mother compress time and memory, asking the question of what remains.


Tell us about your training, how it has influenced you and how you have applied what you have learnt.

My arts and design training exposed me to the rich history of art and architecture that we all draw from. It was a wonderful way to explore the classical disciplines of drawing and painting as well as other mediums and it was where I took my first fibre arts class. I think that the seed was planted at that point that textiles and fibre could be a viable medium to work with as an artist. My design training explored colour, fibre and composition and the power of our environments to evoke meaningful experience.


Repaired, corset, tulle, willow branches, wax, powder pigment, thread on canvas – 2012, 36" x 48". Photo: Christian Carlson. An exploration of the feminine and themes of damage and repair, limitations and strength: The vintage corset becomes the body, splayed, exposed and held to a standard by society. Threads suture but also constrain. Branches suggest boning and roots.


What specific historic artists have influenced your work?

Louise Bourgeois the renowned French-American artist and sculptor has been an icon for me of an artist unafraid to directly explore deeply personal and overtly feminine issues in her work. Childhood trauma, hidden emotion and memory all figure large in her work and are themes that I find myself gravitating to as well. I also feel an affinity for role that fabric and sewing played in Bourgeois' life and work. She grew up surrounded by the textiles of her parents' tapestry restoration workshop, and from the age of twelve helped the business by drawing in the sections of the missing parts that were to be repaired. Like me, she was a life-long hoarder of clothes and household textiles. Late in her life, Bourgeois began cutting up and re-stitching these, transforming her lived materials into art. Made from clothes and other domestic effects accrued over decades, Bourgeois' fabric drawings are abstract yet acutely personal works, retaining allusions to the materials' past incarnations. She claimed that through sewing she attempted to effect psychological repair: 'I always had the fear of being separated and abandoned. The sewing is my attempt to keep things together and make things whole'.

Eva Hesse, the German born American sculptor left a rich legacy in her use of every-day or "found" materials and the lyrical nature of the textiles she used. I am always challenged with her simplicity and minimalism and the way she plays with abstraction and materiality. I am inspired by her quote, "I think art is a total thing. A total person giving a contribution. It is an essence, a soul… In my inner soul art and life are inseparable"


Flight of Imagination, child's slip, vintage tobacco silk, cloth measuring tape, willow branches, thread on canvas – 2012, 24' x 36". Photo: Christian Carlson. "Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow." William Blake

Salt, vintage veil, pattern wax, acupuncture needles, nylon filament, salt, thread on canvas – 2012, 60" x 20". Photo: Christian Carlson. Salt, a preservative and purifier that prevents decay and corruption; eternal, enduring, never changing, and abiding forever. "Have salt among yourself and be peaceful with one another" Mark 9:50


What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work?  

The themes of memory and transience and the found materials used in the work of Christian Boltanski the French sculptor, painter and photographer have always resonated with me. His use and understanding of the reminiscent nature of clothing made a deep impression on me. He is described as working for decades on the connection between life and death - "the disappearance of the individual and the desperate human endeavours against forgetting and being forgotten."

I love this quote from Anselm Kiefer, the German sculptor and painter "I don't consider myself a Platonist but I think that the spirit is contained in the material and it is the artist's mission to extract it."

I am inspired by the scale and singularity of work of Kaarina Kaikkonen, a Finnish artist. She uses simple everyday objects such as second-hand clothing and women's shoes to create very large-scale installations that evoke associations of personal loss, collective memory and local history. When I first saw her work, I was reminded of how clothing stands in for and even can become the body and how powerful these connections can be portrayed.

The work of Chiharu Shiota, a Japanese installation artist is so moving and potent to me in the way she explores the relationships between past and present, living and dying and memories of people implanted into objects. She works with things that have been used by people but have been put aside, from window frames to clothing to hospital beds. Believing that they are still imbued with the spirit of their former inhabitants, she collects them, arranges them and adds intricate web-like threads of black and red. Claiming, as I do, that she finds there is always something left of the person in their personal items, "The person is not here, but the existence is here. That is the main thing of my work"


Held-Bond, binding cloth, French infant shirt, infant socks, willow branches, wax, gauze, thread on canvas – 2013, 30" x 24". Photo: Christian Carlson. Relics of infancy, painstakingly woven together, become a meditation on the archetype of the child. Stitched, skeleton like branches becomes wings, divine but held to the canvas, the world. Layers of fabric and wax create a core that speaks of the emotional power of early experience and memory.


What role do you think fibre art plays in contemporary art and what do you see as the biggest challenge facing fibre artists?

It is exciting to see the development of fibre arts within the realm of contemporary arts and the way that a more traditional understanding of fibres and crafts are being explored and exploited to challenge and push the boundaries of expression. As the art world has become more inclusive, the range of work that is being explored is amazing.

The biggest challenge facing fibre artists is to not be limited by traditional definitions but instead focus on how powerful working conceptually in any medium can be.

Confirmation, vintage French gloves, linen, branches, wire, thread on canvas – 2012, 24" x 24". Photo: Christian Carlson. Proof which shows that something is true or correct, a rite or initiation, a laying on of hands. Gloves become hands, held up in recognition and restraint. What is true?


Is there something that usually leads you from one project to the next? Or do you find that most of your projects are new ideas?

I work in series and benefit from a pretty well thought through set of materials and methods. So mine is quite a seamless transition from project to project, the way well composed chapters make up a book.





Where do you consider yourself now in your art career?

I'm at a really exciting point in my career. I've taken the time needed to develop a fairly mature vocabulary that gives me a high degree of consistency and therefore recognizability. Now, as I venture into exhibition and representation, I look forward to the richness of sharing my work with a larger audience and expanding the dialogue.


Studio. Photo: Christian Carlson.


How do you see your art and art career developing?

My desire as an artist is to continue to push the work, go further, deeper, to be bolder in what I explore. Working with materials that could be seen as sentimental, I am always challenging myself to find the intersection between sentiment and the darker emotional material that we also contend with. I am also continuing to experiment with how to incorporate new mediums into the work and the opportunities that are created.


In Process 1. Photo: Christian Carlson.


Tell us about your studio and how you work:

I have always had my studio at home. My work flows so directly out of finding the beauty and meaning in what surrounds us, the stuff of life, that it has always felt proper to do the work in that same way, within the context of day-to-day life. My partner, a painter and writer, and I currently share our studio space. We determined that our living room, a 12-foot high space with large windows was better suited to our creative work than just relaxation so we have rearranged the rest of the house to accommodate and prioritize our work.

My only challenge is the space needed for large-scale layout and storage. I find that I need room and focus during the composition process when I comb through all the materials I've collected, often a fairly chaotic looking process. Once I've arrived at a direction, the construction of the piece alternates between a meditative practice and a more traditional concept of handwork done with and around daily life. At some point, I may favour a dedicated studio, but for now, I value the integration of life and work.


In Process 2. Photo: Christian Carlson.

In Process 3. Photo: Christian Carlson.


What interests you about the World of Threads Festival?

I am moved by the amazing creativity and conceptual clarity showcased in the World of Threads Festival. It is a forum of high caliber, challenging work. World of Threads is raising awareness of a powerful, yet sometimes overlooked medium.





You have been accepted into the World of Threads Festival 2014. What was your motivation for submitting your work for consideration?

I see a direct match between your mission and the work I do. There was no question.




Any comments you'd like to make?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate. I'm honoured and excited!

Last year I was in a group show in Denver sponsored by the Women's Art Coalition of Colorado, titled "Unleashed". While my pieces seemed to be more about binding than unleashing, I explored the ways that we must examine the places that are bound in order to become free.

I was also included in a group member show with CoCA (Center on Contemporary Art) titled, "Who Are You", in Seattle in September and a group show in Portland, Oregon with Verum Ultimum Gallery, titled "Inside Out".

I had two pieces chosen for the show "Un seul grain de riz" (A Single Grain of Rice) with Galerie Métanoïa in Paris, France in December.




Do you have any upcoming shows?



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