Kara Patrowicz (neé Waxman) is a visual artist exploring the intersection of fibers, painting and drawing. She spent her formative years on Long Island and in Boston before moving to Maynard, MA with her husband, toddler son and newborn daughter. She has exhibited in Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Ireland, and also Switzerland through the Art in Embassies program. She lived and worked in Dublin, Ireland as a Fulbright Grant recipient in Painting, and is a 2021 Finalist in Crafts for the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowships Program. She has taught art courses at UMass Lowell and the Brookline Arts Center and worked as an Artist-in-Residence at Boston Children’s Hospital. Patrowicz earned her M.F.A. (2-D Media) from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), Post-Baccalaureate (Studio Art) from Brandeis University, and B.F.A. (Painting) from Boston University. Her original studies were in figurative oil painting and drawing, and during her time at MassArt she discovered the world of fibers. She began to incorporate embroidery, weaving and felting into her creative process, and her work continues to inhabit the rich realm of mixed-media and surface design.
"In my work, I seek to disrupt the flood of daily distractions with moments of silence and solace. I love the process of slow-looking and developing layered, nuanced surfaces as a form of active contemplation. The restorative, embodying aspects of blending tactile fiber materials are also central to my practice. Starting with felting, weaving or vintage fabrics as a canvas, I build imagery that remains two-dimensional but textured, with a painterly touch. At times I use antique materials, like kerchiefs from my grandmother, as an act of remembrance of the women who employed these textiles.
I strive to convey an authentic experience of beauty in daily life and evoke the tenderness and sacramental qualities of domestic and familial rituals. My artwork focuses on family scenes, room interiors and still life to create intimate views into one’s interior life. Inspirations include the Nabis group and Mary Cassatt, Kaylan Buteyn's "Artist/Mother" podcast and the growth of sustainable small batch wool. The writings of Jacques Maritain, Thomas Merton and Flannery O'Connor on Catholic faith and art have also shaped my approach to art-making.
Through subjects like weathered chairs or fleeting moments of parenthood, my work hints at the interplay of absence and presence, memory and experience in fundamental human relationships."
Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the arts.
Originally I’m from New York, born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island. As a teen I took art lessons at a vibrant local studio, and did an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visiting those galleries in off-hours sealed the deal for me. I pursued a B.F.A. in Painting at Boston University, then a Post-Baccalaureate in Studio Art at Brandeis and spent a wonderful year in Ireland on a Fulbright in Painting. While earning my M.F.A. in 2-D Media at MassArt, I delved into their incredible Fiber Arts Department. This led to my current practice, which is informed by my background in oil painting, but based almost entirely in fiber media. I now live in central Massachusetts while pursuing my artwork and raising two little ones (ages 3 and 9 months).
What kind of work are you currently making?
I’ve been doing a lot of work with felting. This is a technique of blending wool fibers with needle tools, or soap, hot water and friction, to create textiles, vessels and more. I use it in a very painterly way, and the speed and tactility feel amazing. Currently I’m working on needle-felted scenes of my children “parallel playing” on our living room floor. I’ve always been interested in seeking the sacred in the quotidian, monotonous aspects of daily life, and this has carried over into depicting the rituals and messes of parenting. I also have a few woven tapestries in progress. My weavings are much more methodical, slow and (sometimes) planned out ahead of time. These qualities make it easier to jump in and out of a piece while dealing with the constant interruptions of my sweet and highly energetic children.
What is a day like in the studio for you?
My art studio is two minutes away, and I get there a couple mornings a week while I have a babysitter. I start with a prayer meditation and breathing exercise to soothe my frenzied brain, and then usually do felting work. Felting can be very physical, especially when wet felting, which involves rolling and agitating the wool so fibers blend together. Seeing the textures, “marks” and colors that emerge from this process is very engrossing. I often have a few pieces of different sizes going at once, to help work out ideas. I also have a weaving loom at home, and a studio kit bag to do work on-the-go, in the car, etc. Weaving usually happens in short bursts before and after the kids wake up. Sometimes the stars align and both of my children are busy with activities on the kitchen floor, and I join them while weaving. It’s rare but magical.
What are you looking at right now and/or reading?
I’ve been going through a beautiful catalog, "Private Lives: Home and Family in the Art of the Nabis". I adore Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis. Lately I’m always excited to see what Barbara Campbell Thomas (@barbaracampbellthomas), Stefanie Zito (@_stefaniezito_studio) and Frances Lerner (@franceslernerart) are up to. Reading: Anni Albers’ "On Designing" and Marilyn Chase’s "Everything She Touched", a biography of Ruth Asawa. I’m especially intrigued that Ruth Asawa managed to raise a large family and have a successful art career. "My Spirit Rejoices", the journal of Élisabeth Leseur, for spiritual inspiration. And I recently finished "Vanishing Fleece" by Clara Parkes, to learn about wool as a material and industry, and how to support sustainable, small batch wool production.
Where can we find more of your work?
You can see more of my work on my website: www.karapatrowicz.com and on Instagram @kara.patrowicz. I have a piece in “A Long Line,” on view at Gallery 263 in Cambridge, MA, through Oct 8th. Curated by our own Erika Hess! My work will be included in "Issue 5: Mother and Child" of MILKED (@milkedmag), a magazine founded by Lee Nowell-Wilson (@leenowellwilson) that focuses on the maternal experience. I also have a unique commission in the works with the Hudson Valley Seed Company (@hudsonvalleyseedco). I can announce details in November— please follow me on Instagram to learn more!