We had the good fortune of connecting with Carmen Uriarte and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Carmen, can you tell us about a book that has had a meaningful impact on you?
The book, “The Substance of Style” by Virginia Postrel describes the changes in the standards of art and aesthetics. Moving from the classic argument of design vs color to modern clarity to a current trend toward redefining arts as those that value form, function and feelings. My practice evolved from formal and decorative to process oriented and collaborative, like my mural projects. When I learned to engrave calligraphy on glass for promotional live events, I found I really enjoyed the #customandpersonal aspect of working directly with a client. I liked helping them express their feelings in a line of text, like a meaningful tweet. Similar to the book I also feel that beauty is found in the everyday, not just in museums or from elusive artists. We can all be creative and there are many forms that beauty, art or style can take. Sometimes it’s the process that is beautiful. Sometimes the conversations are a creative art work in themselves. The collaboration and the experience are what make something that is art and that is beautiful. Non tangible but genuine and memorable. I engrave on mass produced and well designed objects but they are elevated through the personal text. They are imbued with meaning by the client. They have #styleandsubstance. They are the evidence of the thought and care and become priceless pieces. “The Substance of Style” sort of legitimized my desire to be free to be a rule breaker, a boundary crosser and free to express what I want, how I want. And I love that #idoitinpublic.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I make for a variety of reasons. Sometimes for me about me. Other times I lead others in their own expression. and sometimes I am guided completely by the guidelines of a bespoke project. Although I have really eclectic Art interests I would say my main Art practices are hand engraving and painting on glass. They can be custom painted commissions of city scapes on bar ware or calligraphy engraved on perfume bottles on site at live events. When Covid shut down the world last year I switched to making face masks out of need for my daughter who works in a hospital and later sold them to the public.
For me, part of the delight in being a creative is in problem solving and finding or developing the right technique or the best materials to make someone’s vision come to life. I love the research. Almost always, I look into the method and the materials right down to the hard science. I don’t trust any one source to know everything accurately. Often they guess or refer to their experience but are not best source of knowledge. I like to be that person. The go-to person that knows why materials or techniques work or don’t work for a project. Quality is critical.
When I started making face masks there was very little scientific evidence for what was being recommended for the best hand made face mask materials. And even the materials were a bit vague. We were all guessing. How many threads per inch is quilting cotton?. Can you use thread or fabric weight to estimate the quality? How many plys in the thread. Is silk better than cotton? Short or long fibers? Does the fabric have chemicals that you shouldn’t breath? If I paint it or use markers or glue will that be be toxic? Furnace or AC filters? Does the brand contain fiberglass? Which direction do you put a filter into your mask? You get the idea. It’s my OCD run amuck. I’m not sure most people, creative or not, ask these kinds of questions but I always do. I even emailed a group of scientists doing studies on the breathability and the filtering effectiveness of common materials and they shared their research with me. Nerd Art. That’s my thing. Style and Substance.
Challenges are just bends in the road like divorce, mental health, learning disabilities, unemployment and global pandemics. And they are just opportunities to explore a new creative direction that will help me get to the next stage in life.
Im delighted that my Art mentors and collaborators have acknowledged my contribution to their works. In 2011, Suzanne Lacy and Pilar Riaño were invited to revisit their 1999 project, The Skin of Memory, for MDE 11: Encuentro, a biennial at the Museo de Antioquia. I was commissioned to engrave maps and hand written letters that were included in the Museo de Antioquia located in Medellin, Colombia.
Kim Abeles included my name in the plaque that lists the team that participated in making herinstallation, “Time-Line Space”. I did photography, set design, acted in the video and helped with costumes. The installation is situated at the entrance of the Paul Schrade Library at the Robert F. Kennedy community school, 2010, which replaced the famous Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, California
Paul Botello lists me first (in big letters, lol) as an artist from my class that collectively painted the community mural on the campus of my undergraduate school, Pitzer College, Claremont, California.
I had a photograph published in a book by artist Dana Yahalomi founder of Public Movement, a performative research group that investigates and stages political actions in public spaces. I photo documented her performance of “Debriefing Sessions” at the Chateau Marmont, Hollywood, California and she selected one of my photos for the book “Solution 263: Double Agent”, published in 2015.
I’m very pleased with my unique “Fleur de Phoenix” signature painting style. That definitely sets me apart in the fragrance bottle painting world, small as it is. It started with lace as inspiration and took about 10 years to develop and I see it copied often. But my clients and collectors always know my work from imposters.
The most interesting award was the official recognition plaque I received from the State of California for the mural project I led with the young men from the Heman G Stark Youth Authority in Chino, California , student leaders from Pitzer College and the after school children’s program at the Salvation Army in Pomona, California.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
We’d start with the Flower Market on Wall St at the crack of dawn and breathe in the garden in the air. Get some nice orchids for our moms. Then Union Station for breakfast at Harvey’s at Union Station. We’d eat on the hoof and wander around the station to appreciate the Art Deco architecture and outdoor courtyards.
Next, a day of shopping downtown in the garment district till lunch where we’ll have grilled hot dogs from the sidewalk vendors.
Then, more shopping in the districts for Jewelry, crystals, beads and textiles.
Finally we’d wander over to the Artist district for dinner at Wurstküche. Maybe an exotic mango jalapeño sausage followed by Mexican Chocolate pie at the Pie Hole across the street.
Then home to drink margaritas and watch old movies.
Next day Huntington Library in San Marino will easily fill up the day. Gardens, gardens, gardens. Pinkie, Blue Boy, the Gutenberg Bible and all kinds of nerdy deliciousness. After the museum fatigue sets in we can take a lovely relaxing stroll in the Zen garden and take tea in the Japanese tea house. Then we’d jot over to the Hollywood bowl to listen to some great music and enjoy a picnic in our box.
When friends come to visit I like to take them to the Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights because its the largest on the continent and a unique and welcoming destination. A nice disco nap and wardrobe change for dinner at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse. If we can move after all the meat we’re off to The Mayan for Lucha Vavoom. A spectacular show of Mexican wrestling and burlesque which is not to be missed.
On the next day I’d arrange for a private canoe tour on the LA River. Cause people think we don’t have one. After lunch we’d wander around the bibliophiles heaven, The Last Book Store on Spring. Another afternoon disco nap to get ready for the evening. We could start with a leisurely smoke at a cigar bar with cocktails. Followed by dinner at Cliftons Republic which used to be Cliftons Cafeteria where my mother spend her childhood Saturdays after a double feature at the movies with her grandma. It is now newly renovated and a wonderful mix of fantastical and Art Deco decor. Then upstairs to the various bars and ballroom for some swing dancing into the night.
This time we’re off to the Museum of Jurassic Technology. A weird and wonderful eclectic place to pass the afternoon. Lunch at the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax. Then another disco nap because we’re off to the Edison for snacks and libations in this dreamy historic and wonderful venue where we will dance into the wee hours.
On the last day we rest. We’ll need it.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
When I was young we visited my grandma every weekend. She lived right off Vermont and worked in the garment district. She was an artist blessed with unlimited creative skills and It was she who first exposed me to the Arts. But it was all the creative things she did at home that fascinated me. I loved watching the process. Her work ran the range from bespoke evening gowns, oil painting and needle painting so fine the dry cleaners was worried about cleaning it for us. At the same time she also crocheted toilet roll covers, retiled the bathroom floor, made killer tamales at Christmas and all the plants loved her touch. Being by her side so much, I just thought thats how artists were. They did whatever they wanted and it would come out beautiful. And that always stuck with me. So, in my work I never really felt the need to focus on any particular media; I choose the media that I think will best express the final concept. As an adult student there were a few educators who were mentors and that were significant in their support and example.
Suzanne Lacy, an important performance artist here in LA, and founder of the Public Practice art program at Otis College of Art and Design, introduced me to non-traditional art practices She helped me see Art from the experiential perspective. She also took the time to sit in on my meetings with my learning disabilities coach to observe, learn and support my struggles, when I was loosing my mind writing my master’s thesis.
LA artist Kim Abeles installations absolutely reinforced my desire to work in many different media when I was her intern. Her work includes themes about the environment and civic engagement, are rich in multi-media, aesthetically exquisite and collaborative and engaging.
Paul Botello’s mural class at Pomona College in Claremont was deeply instructive in his method of engaging the community for thematic input in mural content. His was the model I used when I led two murals of my own in the following years.
My favorite calligraphy teacher DeAnn Singh who led me to the secrets of the compound curve.
Finally, my parents who supported my children and me after my divorce so that I could return and finish school. I could not have done it without them. Even my community college calculus teacher reminded me that going to school with three children is rough as a single parent and it was ok to take my time and keep my sanity. Having all this support I try to pass on encouragement and love to friends and strangers who want to restart their academic or creative lives. It’s never too late to evolve, rethink, break down and reinvent yourself.
Instagram: Phoenix Art and Shit
Facebook: Phoenix Raising Art
all photos :Carmen Uriarte the photo of me: Rob Hawkins