This Must Be The Place: Interview with Artist Carla Weeks
In anticipation of our upcoming workshop with this year’s DesignPhiladelphia Festival, we spent a casual Friday afternoon at the studio/residence of artist Carla Weeks in West Philadelphia. We were greeted by Carla and her (absolutely adorable) dog Aggie (named in honor of Agnes Martin) at her denture factory turned studio space where she has lived and worked since coming to Philadelphia 6 years ago.
For the uninitiated, Carla is an artist whose work explores color and form and is heavily influenced by landscapes and architecture. Her designs have appeared on canvas, textiles, and ceramics and she also works as an in-demand muralist for businesses and private residences. Ever the gracious host, we sipped Sanpellegrino Aranciata Rossas and caught up about travel, design, and the elusive nature of inspiration.
Name: Carla Weeks
Instagram Handle: @carlajweeks
Hometown: Guildford, England
Current City: Philadelphia
How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?
Abstracted paintings rooted in pattern and color that explore the experience of place.
Can you describe the path you took in becoming an artist?
A very indirect one! I studied art history and started out pursuing exhibition design. I then worked as a set designer for theatre, and later designed for retail display. Three years ago I made the jump from a full-time job with benefits, to full-time self-employment. I now balance my workload between my painting and collaborative design projects.
Were there any defining moments in your path that made you realize you wanted to pursue art?
As a designer, I was in the position of creating work for a specific aesthetic and solving design problems for others. While I enjoyed the work, I became increasingly aware that I wanted to develop my own visual language- something that I personally found impossible to amass the appropriate energy for in a demanding work environment.
Are there any artists or movements that are particularly inspiring to you?
Having studied Art History, I am constantly looking back to artists, architects, and movements as references in my work. I frequently look to the work of Agnes Martin for her spare and emotional pieces to remind me that much can be communicated in a few lines. I strongly connect with the textile work of Anni Albers, Gunta Stolzl and other women weavers of the Bauhaus school of the 1920s, and the significance of their work as a bridge between fine art and design. The postmodern forms of architects Venturi-Scott Brown and the graphic shapes of Louis Kahn are also big influences- I’m especially lucky to live so close to several of their buildings here in the Philadelphia area.
How important is travel in your life, and what do you look forward to most when exploring new places?
I think travel is one of the greatest educational experiences that you can give yourself. You don’t need to travel far or spend a great deal of money to experience something new and find yourself outside of your comfort zone. I think that being conscious of how you respond to a new environment is very revealing and worth taking note of- I try to do that in my paintings.
Can you describe any particularly memorable travel experiences?
This summer I went to visit family in England. I regrettably hadn’t been back for a few years, and while the place was so familiar and full of nostalgia for me, I picked up on elements of the experience that I hadn’t noticed before. I now have some ideas for new work that examine some of these familiar yet removed characteristics in painting form.
On the other hand, how important to you is your home?
As someone that loves to travel, home is extremely important. Right now I live in my workspace, so home is my studio- it’s all-immersive, but I embrace the overlap and try to use it to my advantage. The large windows and ample natural light hugely influence my mood and the amount of energy I bring to my work.
What kind of environment do you try to create in your own home?
Open, light-filled and adaptable. Over the last few years, I have tried to minimize my less functional items, and hold onto the tools and objects that I use most frequently.
We talked before about your travels to Japan. Can you describe your experience? Did you bring back any ideas or inspiration that you apply in your work/life?
I visited Japan before I had developed my current art practice. I was only there for 2 weeks but it was an immersive experience and sucked me in culturally. I’d never visited a place before where I connected so acutely to the design aesthetic, architecture, food, people and landscape. It’s a place I hope to revisit in a context that allows me to examine how I relate my current practice to that environment and aesthetic.
How do you typically start a piece?
It starts with lots of sketches in a small notebook, then I edit and condense down the ideas digitally in illustrator to better envision different iterations of shape and color. Once I am happy with my forms, I transfer line work onto canvas and start the more organic process of layering color in different levels of transparency with oils.
How do you stay productive? What is your working process like?
I constantly have to remind myself to take breaks and connect with people. Setting up meetings with friends, other artists and trying to stay engaged with what’s happening in Philly, energizes and inspires me to keep working. Since I have intentionally built travel and physical exploration of places into my process, I try to always have a trip on the horizon to trigger new ideas and break the bubble of what is safe and familiar.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as an artist?
Finding relevance and meaning in my work. While I enjoy my time alone in the studio painting, I sometimes struggle to link my work to what’s going on around me in a legitimate way. One way I try to solve this challenge is by finding small ways to engage and cross-pollinate with others; whether it be a workshop or collaborative projects with other artists.
From a business perspective, I’d also say finding the balance between work that pays and work that doesn’t compromise your ideas. It’s so easy to accept little or no money for good opportunities when you’re finding your feet and trying to get your work out there. When you’re self-employed, you are the only one truly looking out for your business and it’s important to constantly reassess what jobs are worth taking.
What is next for you?
I’m interested in finding new ways to engage with audiences in collaborative art-making methods while maintaining my personal painting practice. I want to continue to define each area of work while allowing them to feed into each other. I’m not exactly sure how that looks yet, but I’m excited to carve out my path with the support of friends and collaborators.
Thank you to Carla for letting us into her space. If you’re interested in learning more about Carla, please consider joining us for the block-printing workshop that she will lead at our concept store on October 13th from 2-5pm. At the time of writing we still have tickets available. Details can be found on our workshops page.