Natural Disaster & Human Intervention III (2015)
54 x 16 x 16 inches
Found log, found streel, hand knit copper wire
American artist Carolyn Halliday creates tactile three dimensional pieces. Often using reclaimed items, her colour palette both compliments and elevates the natural beauty of found objects. Although knitting often features in her work, she draws on a range of textile techniques which she sees as ‘the foundation for all culture.’
What is your background in textiles?
I like to say that I came to art through the “back door” of textiles. Raised as a traditional female expected to learn the domestic arts, I dabbled in many forms of needlework, with learning to knit when eight being the most lasting. When at age 17 I saw a man spinning yarn, I thought I was witnessing pure magic. I went on to learn to spin and weave through craft centered venues. Spinning and knitting were my passions so I merged them by making folksy animals and dolls out of my hand spun yarn. From this I taught myself how to do three dimensional knitting, inspired by Beverly Royce’s directions for a double knit pony. I took many classes at the Weaver’s Guild MN, Spilt Rock, and Textile Center, along with two important classes at the U of MN. Simultaneously I was discovering the contemporary artists who were using textile materials or traditions and began my own process of deciphering that divide between art and craft. I participated in the WARM Mentor program where I learned the Critical Response process which built on interest in critique, and in helping other artists experience and critique their work. These veins of exploration of art and textiles merged to a pathway of extending myself into the contemporary art world.
How do you describe your work?
I use the vocabulary of textiles to create three dimensional work using non traditional materials. Hand knit wire is a touchstone material and technique for me. I consciously link my material and/or technique choice to the rich history of textiles, which is the foundation for all culture.
How do you work?
I keep several journals, one in particular that is intended as the source for ideas, inspirations, and keeping records. I always have a little journal with me that I can take notes in. There’s something about the tactile quality of the physical journal that works better for me than the computer, even though I keep much info on the computer too.
I will have an basic idea and start playing around with the materials and build on the idea from there. I have to work intuitively. Designing/planning precise details at the beginning never works for me. I work from a general idea of the desired completed size, and move towards it. I knit samples of different wires or other materials that I may want to use. I like to lay out possible items and see how they may relate or work with a project.
I mull all this over on my daily walks. In the past couple of years I started maintaining an instagram account on which I post pictures during my daily walks, and the patterns, lines, snapshots of nature become part of my daily art practice. At times I then sketch the images as a journal onto themselves. I view them as a subliminal gathering of visual influences rather than a specific inspiration.
Where do you work?
My current home was purchased with the intent of using the master bedroom as my studio space, and that continues to be my preferred place to work. I love the flexibility of walking into the studio at any time day or night to ponder a piece. But my home isn’t big enough to handle larger projects so I also rent a shared studio space with another artist in an artist building/warehouse. The drawback for doing that (besides additional expense) is the complication of hauling materials between the two studios.
What is it about textiles that appeals to you?
The inherent sense of texture, the handcrafted nature, and the rich cultural traditions of textiles are deeply appealing to me. The dismissive concept of “women’s work” serves as a reason to emphasise and elevate the domesticity of textiles and knitting.
Why do you use knitting?
Knitting has become a meditative practice for me when I work on swatches of “mindless” knitting that can be used in works. And it is also a cognitive challenge. It was fun to me early on in my work to look at some object, and to think “how would one knit that shape or how would one capture that image in knitting.” For instance, when I first started working with wire, I patterned early vessels off of a Picasso vase I had seen in a museum, and another off of a very old greek mermaid pot.
Where do you find inspiration?
My primary inspiration comes from the scientifically rich language of my son and daughter in law who are both ecologists and evolutionary biologists. I hear poetry and metaphor as they talk about their research. Part of my practice is daily walks along a creek near my urban home where I observe natural phenomena and texture. I tend to what grabs my eye each day; I notice the rumblings in my head; and I mull over artistic stuck spots in a work as I walk. These experiences may fuel a new piece or resolve a piece in process.
I also love looking at, thinking about, and reading about art.
What is your career highlight to date?
I think my greatest honors have been to be a featured artist on the Minnesota based public tv program called Minnesota Originals and to be asked to help develop and chair the National Artists Advisory Council for Textile Center.
What advice can you give to aspiring textile artists?
Continue to have a love affair with the material and processes that drive and define textiles, but remember to keep abreast of how your work fits in the contemporary art world. Notice what it is that gets your attention in other people’s work, and in the world in general, and keep bringing that back to how that may relate to your own work
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
I will have 4 pieces of work at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota as part of a show called Dear Darwin. This show opens February 25, 2017, in the beautiful Frank Gehry designed museum on the campus of the U of MN, in conjunction with a show with drawings by the father of neuroscience, Santiago Ramon y Cajal. It closes on July 23rd 2017.