We are very excited to have textile artist Caroline Kaufman as our fifth artist of Contemporary @ Heirloom. From painting to knitting to tufting, Caroline takes in the world around her and translates it into her own visual language. She lets color and texture speak to her and allows her subconscious to guide the works.
Scroll down to read the interview, learn about her process and enjoy photos of Caroline’s studio.
What first drew you to the world of textiles? What was the first medium you experimented with?
My background is in fashion design, so I first approached the world of textiles through that lens. I took my knowledge of pattern making garments and started experimenting with knitwear. I am primarily a self taught knitter. I think originally not “knowing all the rules” allowed me to really push the confines of the medium.
How did you go about learning how to tuft? What steps did you take to start working in this medium?
I kept having this recurring dream of “painting with yarn” long before I discovered tufting. I was in a place with my work where I was painting and knitting small works in the confines of my studio apartment. I kept thinking I want this work to be bigger, I want to find a way to marry my textile and painting practice. I kept envisioning my paintings as rugs. It was the type of feeling and inspiration that can only be described as magic. From the moment I discovered what a tufting gun was (I think I was in a youtube black hole) I hit the ground running. I started reaching out to anyone I could find on the internet who was working in the medium. I asked my friend with a wood shop to help me build a frame. There were funny things that happened like the frame ended up being too big to fit in an Uber XL, so I carried it 3 miles by myself through Brooklyn, back to my apartment.
Tell us about your process, start to finish how you make your pieces.
My process begins when I get inspired by a material or combination of colors. I love the color subtleties that exist within different types of fiber. Cotton, wool, and mohair all carry color so differently. I stretch a monk’s cloth backing on my 8 x 8 ft frame and then I just go. I don’t sketch out my textiles beforehand because I want to allow the work to tell me what it’s going to be as I make it.
Do you have a preconceived idea for your pieces or do you let materials guide you?
If I’m working on a commission, I have a vague idea of a design or concept I’m trying to express; however I usually make my best work when there is a lot of freedom and I allow the material to dictate the design. My approach to textiles looks a lot like a painter’s approach to an abstract painting: fling color on a canvas and let your subconscious build the piece.
Tell us about your paintings and if/how they translate into your tufted pieces?
I paint to warm up my art muscles. I can express a feeling really quickly in paint versus a tufted piece that might take me a few months to create. I like to paint every morning in my apartment before I go to my studio and/or every night after I get ready for bed. It’s meditation. I usually am listening to a podcast or audio book, and things come out of me that I had no idea I was going to paint. Sometimes, but not always, I get that feeling of “I would love to see this idea expressed in yarn”. That’s how the series ‘What You Think Vs. How You Feel’ was born. I connected to the soft shapes I was painting, and the concept started naturally flowing out of me when I was tufting. A lockdown later, and I had made a collection of 39 fiber pieces under that idea.
How do the different mediums you work in intersect and why is it important to you to switch around?
The different mediums feed different parts of my creative expression. I think of the painting practice and the textile practice as lovers, they need each other to develop. Plus, physically painting and tufting use different muscles. Sometimes my arms are tired from tufting and I want to work on something smaller.
How does memory and nostalgia influence your work?
Looking at people or situations through a tinted nostalgic lens comforts me and allows me to feel at peace with all the moments that make up a life, especially when the world and humanity feels so heavy. The other day I randomly remembered how my dad always used to keep candy in the glove compartment of his car and would let me dig in there and have a piece. It’s one moment in a string of random sweet memories that I find myself wanting to capture and keep alive through art.
Where/what/who do you look to for inspiration? Has this changed over time or stayed constant?
It’s kind of funny, I’m not inspired by much in the traditional sense of the word. Thinking of what inspires me actually feels like a lot of pressure. When I think of moments where I’m really inspired it’s usually from a passionate conversation or connection with someone, or from a folk song/piece of writing that captures something simple and universal in a poetic way. I also get inspired by books, museums, walking around New York City, and traveling, but I mean who doesn’t?
How do you think the work you are creating in quarantine will translate or transform your work afterwards?
No idea. I think we will have to wait and see.
Thanks for being part of our Heirloom community and tuning into our fifth edition of Contemporary @ Heirloom.
– Zach, Lynn & Sam
*Illustration and Photography by Lynn Hunter