A Conversation with Charlotte painter and glass artist Carmella Jarvi
Photos by LINDSAY WYNNE HESS
Carmella Jarvi is currently represented by . Her latest warm glass work, along with the abstract paintings of Liz Barber, will be the focus of Sozo’s Summer Soirée, which runs June 19 – July 11. All are welcome to attend the artists’ reception on June 19 from 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm, Hearst Tower Plaza, 214 North Tryon, Charlotte, 704-578-8457.
My friend Katie and I are on the third floor of the McColl Center for Art + Innovation during a recent event. She stops mid-sentence, transfixed by a piece of Carmella Jarvi’s glass art. Swirls of color – dark pink, burnt honey and charcoal – are set deep into the clear glass. Thin black lines run top to bottom on the surface, parallel at the ends, tangled in the middle.
Carmella is a McColl Center alumna and affiliate, having completed a residency there in the summer of 2010. She is on hand to tell us about the warm glass process (wherein glass is heated in a kiln), her transition from painting to glass work, and the intricacies of her layered designs. She is genuinely interested in Katie’s reaction to her work, and the two talk like old friends.
In the nine years since she left her full-time job as a high school art teacher, Carmella has taught herself, and now coaches others, about the world of arts funding, curating, community-building, and marketing. She calls herself an artist-entrepreneur, meaning that she cannot be one without the other. We talk about this when I interview her a few weeks later at her studio.
Her office is adjacent to her house. It’s air conditioned, organized, and filled with family antiques and framed pictures. Her favorites are photos of her with her grandmother, “Granny,” who helped raise Carmella and encouraged her in her art early on; and a small, framed watercolor of zoo animals. Painted for her grandmother when Carmella was eleven years old and taking art classes at Spirit Square, it reveals painting techniques unusual for someone so young (intentionally letting the paint pool). Her grandmother loved it and framed it in museum glass. Carmella’s grandmother passed away recently, and it’s clear that this loss will be with Carmella a long time.
“Life has taught me some difficult, but also very beautiful lessons,” she says. “I believe in everything that has brought me to this point.”
In addition to being a McColl affiliate, Carmella is a Vermont Studio Center alumna and three-time Regional Artist Project Grant recipient. In 2014, her work was featured on a billboard through the Adams Outdoor Advertising and Arts & Science Council ArtPop program. She and her husband, artist Chris Craft, also run Brushmark Studios, LLC, which focuses on commercial art applications. She has been represented by Hannah Blanton at Sozo Gallery since late 2014 and is happy to consider Sozo her gallery “home.”
When the DNC came to Charlotte for their 2012 Convention, Jarvi was able to leverage a curatorial grant to create The Gallery@Packard Place. There, she curated exhibits and organized events designed to bring the work of North Carolina art innovators to the national stage.
Of this inspiring time, she says: “I loved being around all the entrepreneurs, because they embrace risk. If they fail, they use that failure to their advantage. Fail. Innovate. Adjust. Failure gets you to the next thing. I’ve since applied that model to my art.”
We move out back to the large garage-turned-studio she shares with her husband, though each of them has very distinct work areas. The metal doors are open, a fan hums, but it’s close to ninety degrees inside. It feels right, and even a bit exhilarating, that a place where ideas and materials are constantly in motion – combining, coming apart, recombining – should be this hot.
Carmella grew up around water at her grandparent’s lake house, and her fascination with water has been the basis of her paintings and now her glass work. She’s drawn to all of its properties: the cool surfaces, the deep recesses, its mystery, clarity, how we move through it, and how it affects us.
A family trip to Mexico in 2011 allowed her to experience bodies of water that were so blue, she felt she could not do the colors justice with paint. So, like the subjects in many of her paintings, she decided to plunge into the unknown: the art of glass design. She researched the science and materials she would need and received a grant that allowed her to take extensive lessons with Rose Hawley at the art collective, . Rose taught her the craft, as well as how to embrace the “serendipity,” or unpredictability, of the glass-making process. Then she put her trust in God to take her the rest of the way.
Carmella has three kilns in her studio, the largest of which is lovingly called “Dreamkiln,” because it was purchased through a campaign, where she had to raise funds in the community. To create the effect of painting with glass, Carmella uses both factory glass (sheets or tiles of manufactured glass) and her other specially designed art glass to play colors off one another. Some colors are called “striker” colors, meaning that they have one color in the cold form, but take on new colors at various temperatures. She
keeps meticulous studio notes and glass color palettes so that she can learn from her successes and mistakes.
When the glass is heated in the kiln, the colors pool and seep, blend and stretch in dynamic ways. The piece cools in the kiln, then goes into a special bath to get the chalky kiln wash off. Carmella uses a tile cutter to cut the glass, brings in additional glass elements to further the composition, then fires it again. The whole process is repeated, a total of four or five times, with a combination of warm (in the kiln) and cold (by hand) techniques.
She says: “It’s this process of repeated firing and fusing colors, of knowing how colors will expand and move with heat, that gives me the layers and depth I’m looking for.”
Now that she is accomplishing many of her artistic goals within the medium, Carmella is ready for her next challenge: public art.
“I like people, and I like collaborative projects. A large scale public art project would be ideal, because the art work is enjoyed by an entire community.” Like the pockets of air that often rise to the surface of water or even warmed glass, we can be sure that if Carmella Jarvi can dream it, she will find a way to create it and share it with us.