Liberating the art of embroidery from its narrow picturesque functions in the domestic craft sphere, Carmen Mardónez instead approaches its mediums and materials with the expressionist pictorial gusto of abstract painting and sculpture. Her work references the body’s challenges and freedoms in emotional, abstract freestyle and quasi-anatomical objects and compositions that both honor and transform the reclaimed fabrics of which they’re made — and the embedded histories and lived experiences of their one-time owners. In bright lines of thread’s pure colors, with a sculptural dimensionality and the gestural energy of painting, Mardónez elevates not only the medium of embroidery into the fine art discourse, but also the voices of its tradition’s mainly female practitioners, beginning with her own.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
CARMEN MARDÓNEZ: I don’t really know. I have always enjoyed creating with my hands, drawing, painting, and mostly scribbling when I’m trying to focus on something. What I know is when I decided to become an artist. I moved from Chile to Los Angeles in 2017. Back home I had a job coordinating student internships in local governments, where they were working on social programs, and I embroidered mostly as a hobby. But when I came to the US with my partner and a newborn I thought it was a good moment to try something different. I have never regretted that decision.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My work is an exploration of intimacy and gender expectations through the use of freestyle embroidery. I work on discarded materials, mostly domestic textiles, such as pillows and bed sheets. I use them as canvases as they are: plain or patterned, discolored, stained or teared, either good and bad quality. I do freestyle embroidery creating very thick layers of coverage, and sometimes I transform some of these embroideries in textile sculptures. I feel that working with these materials I can connect with the intimacy of the bedroom space, and with my freestyle embroidery I’m trying to go against what is traditionally expected from a well patterned and domestically useful hand embroidery.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
As an undergrad, I studied history. When I finished, I started working as a research assistant but I quickly realized that it wasn’t something I wanted to do for a long time. So after a few years, I returned to college, this time doing arts. I really enjoyed that time! I basically completed the first two years, which would be equivalent to an associate degree. At that time I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be an artist either, I guess partially because my catholic guilt prevented me from being ambitious and I felt that calling myself an artist was some sort of transgression, almost sinful. So I left without finishing, and went in different directions. Now I feel that it is too late for me to go to an MFA program, but I’d have loved doing something like that.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
We moved to Los Angeles because my partner is completing his PhD here. So it was an easy decision. Of course, we love the weather and being close to the ocean. But for now we don’t really have long term plans on where our next chapter will take us.
When was your first show?
In February 2019 I participated in a curated group exhibition in SoLA Contemporary Gallery, which is located in Slauson Avenue. At the end of the exhibition I was announced as a recipient of the award show for the following year, which was an absolute surprise for me, but it made me feel that maybe my work was able to speak to people. I really appreciate that first push I received from the curator Steve Wong and Peggy Sivert, the gallery director.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
A couple of weeks ago I made a wall installation at The Other Art Fair in Los Angeles. It was a huge embroidery illuminated with black lights that created a very special atmosphere, highlighting the fluorescent threads in my piece. You can find the register in my social media.
Currently, I am working on a residency — A Room of One’s Own — in Arts at Blue Roof, in South L.A. I am creating a mix of oversized hand embroidery and textile sculptures that I will be showing at the end of the residency. The exhibition is on view through the end of May, so go visit!
Website and social media handles, please!
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.