Jodi Colella interview: Connection and identity
From early childhood, Jodi Colella was fascinated with knitting, embroidering, and fibers – particularly the relationships between different colors and textures. Couple that with being raised in a highly artistic environment, and Jodi began her path to becoming a mixed media sculptor and installation artist from an early age.
She now brings to life the essence of connection and identity through an assortment of materials, creating provocative tactile works that often include public participation.
Jodi Colella reveals how her recent travel to China has influenced her work. She also shares her path to truly discovering the arts and offers a wonderful peek at how she conceptualizes new projects.
A break from the usual
TextileArtist.org: What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
Jodi Colella: Working with textiles and art has always been in my life. My grandmother and her sister were painters, my mother and aunt were craftspeople, my father is a hobby carpenter. The best times in my house centered around making things. We spent summers at a family cottage where we would occupy our time with knitting, embroidering, crocheting, drawing, etc.
My friends and I all came from large families so supplies were scarce. In between swimming we would sit in a circle on the beach knitting with pencils as knitting needles and plastic bags from loaves of Wonder Bread as yarn totes.
I only remember finishing one item in my childhood, which was a turquoise garter stitch shoulder bag with orange fringe! But the love of the process and the feeling of connection has hugely influenced my approach ever since.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
My family unexpectedly moved to a different city when I was a junior in high school. I was an art major in my first school where my class consisted of 100 students. The new high school graduated 765. Lacking the organization and courage to pull together a portfolio I decided to major in my second love, biology.
After graduating college, I worked in research as a lab technician and enrolled in a part time certificate program for graphic design at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. From there pursued a successful design career for almost 20 years as a freelancer and as principal of my own firm.
In 2000, I decided to take a sabbatical to pursue my fine art interests and I’m still at it! At that time, I continued instruction in painting and printmaking until one day, to take a break from the usual, I started playing with some of my fiber to create my first 3D mixed media work. The success of Bittersweet encouraged me to continue with works like Undercurrent, One Day and Hive. These projects brought me full circle, pulling together my interests in science, design, tradition, community and process.
The outcome isn’t predictable
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I consider myself a mixed media sculptor and installation artist who works with a broad range of materials, innovation and social engagement to create provocative, tactile works that often include public participation. My works range from sculptural objects, to temporary action-based installations that share a common thread about connection and identity.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in.
The more I make art the more I realize how vital it is for me to work with my hands. I’m happiest when lost in a repetitive process of building something incrementally, whether it be embroidery stitches, punches with a felting needle, encaustic wax, or an assembly of found objects.
It’s more interesting when the outcome isn’t predictable, with situations that require routine assessments of what has been done in order to know what to do next. This dialogue reinforces the organic nature of my work as a collection of smaller actions from the bottom up instead of from the top down as with a preconceived plan.
Since returning from my residency, I’ve been maniacally engrossed in history books, online courses, and blogging on the subject of China. Strong impressions from a strange land are trickling down into my practice. Curious sculptures and applications are emerging from my ruminations about society versus. the individual. I’m looking forward to a few months from now when my new collection of work will begin to take shape.
This euphoria can occur in or out of the studio, either alone or when engaging with the public. An important feature of my new work is community engagement with temporary public art installations in museums, schools, businesses and other public spaces that invite people to think and play.
Intelligence develops organically
Do you use a sketchbook?
Instead of a sketchbook, I usually look to my journal entries, books and writing to help me focus on my intentions. When in the middle of a process, I also depend on my camera to “see” my sculptures as they are emerging. This helps me decide whether the form is working according to my instincts or not.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
I’ve just returned from six weeks in China where I attended a residency at Da Wang Culture Highland in Guangdong Province near Shenzhen. This experience opened me to seeing a very different view of the world and filled me with an enormous amount of inspiration and ideas about people. I am currently processing the experience on my blog and look forward to months, or years, to work out all that I want to explore.
In addition, I’m currently following the work of the painter Frances Bacon. His grotesque works captivate me in how they instantly provoke an instinctual response. They instigate reactions by appealing directly to the senses without letting the conveyance of the paint get in the way. In their abstraction, they are more real than the representative works of his colleagues at the time.
Also, I’m reading Steve Johnson’s book, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software.
He writes about how intelligence develops organically over time from the bottom up based on the accumulation of very singular behaviors. These ideas are of particular interest after spending time in China where I witnessed a very top down approach of control by their government and societal norms.
According to Johnson, this is not sustainable. But in contrast to this opinion, the Chinese seem to eventually arrive to an order of one dimension or another regardless of the chaos of their environment. These contradictions are typical of life in China and a very real human condition.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
One Day is a large crocheted, amoebic growth created from the plastic sleeves of delivered newspapers that were collected daily by myself, friends, colleagues, and total strangers who generously embraced me and my project over the course of 18 months. The sleeves were cut, stranded, handspun, and crocheted into a 43 x 48 x 12 inch organic sculpture.
This collaborative show of support was not expected at the outset and came as a very nice surprise and benefit. This inadvertent experience with One Day inspired me to include more public participation in future projects.
Greater than the sum of the parts
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
It has become more interactive, more conceptual, and more diverse materials and techniques.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Let the materials have a voice in the dialogue of creation but don’t let them do all the talking. Choose them wisely based on material character and their pertinence to your message. A successful result is one where the dialogue between you, your decisions and your materials results in a solution that is greater than the sum of the parts.
Can you recommend 3-4 books for textile artists?
- The Age of Homespun by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
- The Craftsman by Richard Sennett
- Stuff by Daniel Miller
- Textiles The Whole Story: Uses, Meaning, Significance by Beverly Gordon
What other resources do you use?
I follow as many art institutions on Facebook as possible and attend many local art events where I can meet and interact with fellow artists. I’m a member of the New England Sculptors Association, International Sculpture Center, and The Craft Council and follow their journals religiously. Social media is a guilty pleasure where I have access to an incessant flow of information and have links to multiple art blogs.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
My whole studio! A 600 square foot space loaded with everything I collect. It is packed with found objects, fiber, wax, paints, window screen, and, of course, artworks. Since I work with a broad range of materials and in large scales, it is the perfect place to process my work.
But if forced to choose one thing it would be my fiber. The colors and textures of my threads, yarns and fabrics are what I usually start with when conceptualizing new projects.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes?
Yes! Please check my blog for updates as I’m just home from China and planning for 2015.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I spend a couple of days each week working on proposals to open calls or prospective art organizations and oftentimes receive invitations to exhibit with groups or individuals.
For more information, please visit: www.jodicolella.com