OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Cara Lynch

Inheritance: In Memory of American Glass, 2016, Ditmas Avenue stop, F subway line, Brooklyn

Inspired by craft objects and folk art, CARA LYNCH is staunchly opposed to aesthetic elitism. She embraces surface embellishment and pattern in sculpture, print and public works. She taps into the devotional power of heavily-encrusted talismans, while celebrating the visual pleasure of rhinestones, feathers, beads and glitter. In 2012, Cara earned her BFA in Studio Art with a Minor Art History at Adelphi University (Garden City, New York). Since then, she has studied Printmaking at Columbia University, Papermaking at the Women's Studio Workshop in Rosendale, New York and Advanced Sculpture at Hunter College. Cara recently closed her solo show Love Tokens and Talismans, supported by Queens Arts Council Grant, at Local Project (Long Island City, Queens). In spring 2016, she installed her first permanent, public work for the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority at Ditmas Avenue stop of F subway line in Brooklyn. Cara lives in New York, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your research into the “sailor’s valentines, mourning jewelry, memoryware, kitschy trinkets, and historical amulets or talismans” that informed your recent body of work called Love Tokens and Talismans.

Cara Lynch: I have an interest in those things that are not traditionally included in the fine art world: craft objects and processes and folk art. I am interested in why we make things and the purposes and power of these objects. I see the embrace of these traditional crafts as a political statement when included in a fine art context or conceptualized in this way.
While my research for this particular body of work initially began viewing images online, I also spent time at the New York Public Library looking through books of reliquaries and walking through the Met looking at various ceremonial and talismanic objects. I spent time at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, pouring over their incredible collection of books on mourning jewelry and love tokens. Many of the forms I created are directly influenced by these objects, but my main interest is in the traditions and functions of these objects: to memorialize experiences, express devotion or provide protection or good luck.

You're Tacky & I Hate You, 2016. Cast hydrocal, rhinestones, feathers, paint, wood, hardware. 12.5 x 15 x 3 inches

OPP: How do these influence manifest in your sculptures? What are you loving, mourning, remembering or warding off in this work?

CL: I grew up very Catholic, and I am very interested in how objects become symbolic or get their power. For Catholics, the Eucharist, rosaries and other sacred objects are given their power by the beliefs of the faithful. In some other religions, this is not the case; the power becomes inherent in the object itself. As artists, we are granted a certain power through our making of objects. In many ways, making becomes our faith.

The sculptures are very much about my own experience, mourning the passage of time and struggling with the reality that we can’t always attain our desires, whether for physical objects or for abstract experiences, like equality or affirmation or holding on to the present. The pieces combine casts replicating a number of objects I’ve saved from my childhood or collected from trim stores along my walk to work through the garment district in New York. I am memorializing my own experience through these pieces, as well as empowering the “non-elite” in some way.

There is tension expressed in these objects: between high and low, art and craft, class and taste, sentiment and spectacle. By embracing the decorative and the domestic—newer pieces sometimes include casts from copper cake pans—I hope to grant power to myself and to all women. By embracing “low,” craft materials, and elevating them in some way, I am making a political statement for the working class and challenging “high art” and academic aversions to the decorative. By creating beautiful objects, I make my fantasies attainable in some sense.

Fetter Better, 2016. Detail. Cast hydrocal, found ornament, chain, glitter, paint, iridescent pigment, wood, hardware. 10 x 20 x 5 inches

OPP: Your talismans are cast hydrocal, embellished with automotive paint, spray paint, glitter, faux pearls, rhinestones, chains, and tassels. It’s visually hard to separate the solid, cast object from it’s surface embellishment. Can you talk about these two distinct parts of the process: casting a solid substrate versus embellishing it?

CL: I am very interested in embellishment and the decorative. I think this stems from my interest in both thinking about desire and devotional objects. The solid cast objects are kind of funny, because they really are embellishments themselves, made more concrete and solid through a transformation of material. Embellishing the transformed embellishment seemed to be really aggressively decorative or feminine—a little like overkill and kind of funny to me.

Casts are also reminiscent of memories. They are a replication, an attempt to reproduce. The embellishment allows me to put this sentiment in tension with other interests. I am able to temper the feminine quality with a little bit of masculinity, for example, through the application of automotive paint.

Sex and the City, 2014. Archival handmade paper (pulp painting). 20 x 30 inches

OPP: Your pulp paintings appear to be speaking the same language as painting, drawing or print, but these designs are actually part of the substrate, not added to the substrate. Can you briefly explain the process for those not in the know about paper-making techniques?

CL: Paper-making is a really amazing process. Plant based fibers are beaten into a wet pulp, then suspended in water and caught on a screen to form a sheet. Pulp can also be pigmented and “painted” with. Essentially, you are creating an image with a very physical material itself in various colors, rather than with paint, ink or pencil. It has a temperament of its own.

To create the colors and patterns in this series, I pigmented the actual pulp in separate batches. The various hues of pulp were stenciled and layered onto wet sheets of freshly pulled paper, building up in some areas more than others. After working on a wet piece for some time, It would be pressed, combining layers of material into one flat sheet. In this way, the patterns are part of the actual paper, not applied to the surface.

Pennants for the Working Class, 2016. Screenprint on felt flags, brass grommets, craft materials. Variable, each measuring 10 x 16 inches

OPP: In Pennants for the Working Class (2016), you’ve transplanted the “patterns derived from American household glass objects, including depression glass, carnival glass, and early American pressed glass,” from utilitarian, three-dimensional objects onto the flat surface of the flag, which has a more symbolic function. Can you talk about the functions of pattern in general and how you use it in your work?

CL: Pattern can draw attention to an object, create a tensions between surface and object, or refer to something beyond itself. In my work, pattern often symbolizes something beyond my initial interest in surface and decoration. In many works, I am referring to histories behind the patterns. In this case specifically, I see the patterns from these glass objects as symbols of the American dream. These patterns were found on glass objects that were highly affordable, widely available and also really beautiful. This is in contrast to their predecessor, cut crystal, which was only available to the wealthy. For this piece in general, I was really thinking of the pennant flag as a symbol of prestige and pride, borrowed from the vernacular of yacht clubs and ivy-league universities.

Pretty Bomb, 2016. Lithograph. 22 x 15 inches

OPP: Earlier, you mentioned “academic aversions to the decorative.” Why do you think this aversion exists? Have you noticed a sea change in the last 5 years?

CL: I think this academic aversion to decoration and beauty is tied to a classist and sexist system. Higher education in the arts was sought partially to professionalize art making. The way artists did this was to become very "serious" about their work, substantiating it with theory and criticism. View points other than the dominant, historically-male—rooted in theory, science, knowledge—were left out of the picture. As Duchamp said, "artistic delectation is the danger to be avoided." This kind of thinking was perpetuated through the discourse, banishing beauty (and consequently, a slew of other things) from the presiding conversation. To some extent, beauty itself is a social construct, defined by social class, taste, gender, and a number of other factors. But this is all really interesting! I feel like we should be embracing it, instead of shutting it out. 

I have noticed a change in the last few years. The Pattern and Decoration Movement artists really began this years ago. I think a number of artists are really embracing and playing with decoration and beauty today. I immediately think of people like Polly Apfelbaum, Jim Hodges, Grayson Perry, and younger artists like Jen Stark and Evie Falci. The embrace of contemporary art by the mainstream I think, in part, has encouraged this. 

However, I think some very highbrow academic circles continue to resist decoration and beauty. This may be because they have the most invested in the dominant discourse. . . Beauty isn't serious enough for them.

To see more of Cara's work, please visit www.caralynchart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nikki Main


Influenced by the experience of managing a property in rural Australia, NIKKI MAIN uses the transparency, translucency and opacity of glass to depict the relationship between moving water and soil fertility. She graduated from Australia National University in 2008 with a first class honours from the ANU School of Art Glass Workshop. In 2010, she was awarded the South Australia Museum's Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize. Nikki is represented in the ACT by Beaver Galleries (Deakin) and in Melbourne by Kirra Galleries (Federation Square). In the fall of 2016, her work will be included in the Craft ACT Craft and Design Centre Accredited Professional Member Show and a currently untitled exhibition at Craft ACT Craft and Design Centre, supported by The Corning Museum of Glass and aligning with the annual Ausglass Conference. Nikki works out of the Canberra Glassworks and lives in the town of Thirroul in New South Wales, Australia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Translucency, transparency and opacity are natural properties of glass. What roles do they play in your work?

Nikki Main: I love the way glass draws the eye in a variety of ways. While an opaque object draws the eye to the surface, a translucent object draws it to the surface and beyond, and a transparent object draw it through the surface. Glass plays with light and can distort through magnification or shrinking with a lens-like shape.

In my cast work, I celebrate the meager puddle with translucent cast crystal that draws the eye from the polished surface into the center of the piece. In my early Flood Stones, I used thick clear glass over the top of colour powders to give the illusion of looking at stones underwater. I then moved into using opaque glass, coloured with glass powders, to give a textured almost ceramic effect, like rocks covered with lichen and moss or even to allude to reptiles that warm themselves on rocks. 

Twilight water

OPP: The surfaces of the River Rocks look like aerial photographs of rivers meandering through the landscape. What makes the meandering lines on the surface—and I assume, in the body of—your River Rocks?

NM: The rocks are inspired by the large stones in the Murrumbidgee River. I used to walk down to the river regularly and draw the stones. One of my cast pieces Twilight River was made from a mold created from actual impression from some of the smaller stones.

In the early river rocks, I used “trails” of clear glass over the top of the glass powder layer of colour. These trails are worked into the layer of glass to “imprint” into the colour and leave a three dimensional trail before being covered with another layer of clear glass. In the later river rocks, I used a trail of white glass to represent the river on the surface of the piece. The white trail was inspired by an Australian painter, Fred Williams. I have been very influenced by his landscape paintings. He is a painter that moved away from the tradition of painting landscapes with a horizon and focused instead on the ground and soil in many of his works.

The white line in my work started with a piece called Waterfall: after Williams after Von Guerard and was inspired by a painting that I saw in a Fred William’s retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia titled Waterfall polyptich (1979). William’s painting of a white waterfall was actually inspired by a painting he saw by Von Guerard called Waterfall Strath Creek (1862).

Mudflat 2

OPP: A significant part of the experience of looking at these pieces online is how much I want to touch the surfaces. I can image holding the River Rocks in my hand like I would an actual river rock. Do you think of this work as sculptures only to be looked at or objects to be handled?


 I understand! I like to touch them, and a lot of people do. I don’t mind people touching them. I used to work at the National Gallery of Australia in their Learning and Access section of Education, on the Art and Alzheimer Program. This section of the Gallery ran tours for people who are blind and they would be taken around works that they could touch. I would be happy for my work to be included in this type of tour!

Blown Glass

OPP: When I think about water moving in the landscape, I think about the slow geologic process of erosion and its smoothing ability. But you talk about soil, not stone, in your statement. Why is glass your medium of choice to depict and explore the relationship between soil and water?

NM: My answer to the question of Why glass? really has to be because I am an artist who works in glass! Glass is great because of its multiple properties as a sculptural medium which refer to many natural phenomena. While I use the form of the stone, I use soil as an inspiration for the colour application in the glass. This interest in the soil stemmed from the experience of living on and managing a grazing property on the outskirts of Canberra, Australia for almost twenty years. A major concern for my partner and I was the welfare of the soil. We lived through drought and fire which has a huge impact on the fragile soils in this part of the world. Water has a direct impact on soil health, through providing nourishment for vegetation and through moving soil in rivers in the form of silt, shifting it to river flats where it nourishes and replenishes these areas. I like using glass to depict soil because it is a little unexpected, perhaps one would expect ceramics or ochre instead of glass!

River Flow Bare Bones

OPP: What is cold working and how do you use it in your practice?

NM: Glass is formed using heat, either using furnace glass in the hot shop to blow forms, or through kiln forming, as with fused or cast glass. Cold working is working on pieces once they have cooled from the kiln or hot shop annealer (a slow cooling process). I use several cold working methods and tools including a large or small lathe, an engraver or Suhner. In woodworking, an artist takes a tool to a piece of wood that spins on the lathe. Unlike woodworkers, glassworkers hold the piece of glass to a spinning wheel made of diamond or carborundum. In my puddle-like pieces—Fertile Ground: Fragile Ground and the Twilight series—I used a Suhner to polish the surfaces to mimic water sitting on the soil and ponds of water.

In my early fused work, I cold worked the surfaces with a stone wheel to create a matte, weathered surface and to carve the lines of the Tracks on My Face pieces. I was thinking of weathered, drought-stricken landscapes alongside the idea of weathered lined skin. The early river rocks were not cold worked on the surface, just on the base to allow them to sit in the way I wanted. The later pieces—Tidal Waters, Tidal Ponds and A World Within—are carved using a large wheel and then polished.

Those tracks on my face 2 and 3

OPP: Could you talk about Those tracks on my face and the relationship between the landscape and the body?

NM: The Tracks on My Face pieces are titled after Barbara Holborow’s 1997 biography of the same name. She was Sydney’s Children’s Court Magistrate for 12 years, and the title of the book came from the words of a four year old neglected child who came before her in the court. She had granted the child a wish, and the child had responded with the question “Where did you get those tracks on your face?” Holborow is a remarkable woman whose wisdom helped her deal with the most dramatic cases of child abuse and neglect. Her travel through life has left far reaching changes in the juvenile justice system.

In my work I juxtaposed skin wrinkles and parallel tracks to speak of journeys that we make in life, in an effort to consider the impact of our travels. These pieces followed on from the Fertile Ground pieces, they still took the ground/soil as their point of reference. Parallel lines signify human transportation, a way of traveling over the ground that has far greater impact on the earth than bare feet. I wondered, what footprint do we want to leave?

To see more of Nikki's work, please visit nikkimain.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art until March 2016.