MATRESCENCE Artist Feature Interviews // KARA PATROWICZ


Kara Patrowicz speaks with Matresence curator Catherine LeComte Lecce:


1.) Can you share your background and artistic journey with us, particularly regarding your evolution as a fiber artist? 


My work in fibers is strongly influenced by my background in painting, and my experience as a mother of two (soon to be three!) children, ages 2 and 4. My undergraduate studies were in figurative drawing and oil painting. Even then, I was very attracted to textiles and made many paintings of fabrics and chiffons, and created monotypes on silk. I continued to work primarily in painting and drawing during a post-bacc year and at the beginning of my M.F.A. (at MassArt). At that time, I was painting in a manner influenced by icon painting, layering many small strokes of paint, which felt analogous to embroidery and weaving. MassArt has an amazing fibers department, and as soon as I saw their weaving rooms, I knew I had to experiment with fiber processes and materials throughout my MFA. 


Next I dove into mixed-media, combining painting, needle felting and embroidery on vintage fabrics. Just before the pandemic, I learned how to wet felt from a mentor, and there was something particularly exciting and engrossing about this very physical, hands-on process that could speak so well to painting. There was a point where I began to “think in fiber”, rather than “think in paint’, and began to work primarily in wool felting, embroidery and weaving. I keep sketchbooks too – drawing feels so immediate and an easy, a quick way to work through compositions.


I now describe my process as “painting with fiber”. I’m interested in how painting and fiber media relate to each other, particularly in our present moment. Within the “canon of art history” (as I was taught), textiles and crafts are commonly associated with “women’s work” and domestic labor, while oil painting is typically tied to male artists and cults of personality. I think we are at a unique point in time where these mediums can intersect in new ways. And this coincides with a new movement of artist mothers, and fiber artists gaining traction in the contemporary art scene.



2.) Could you guide us through your artistic process for “Womb Portrait”, “Paulie”, “Rainbow Baby”, and “Mama’s Lap”, the pieces featured in Matresence? What inspired these works, and what message do you hope viewers take away from them? 


These four pieces were inspired by different stages of my motherhood journey. “Rainbow Baby” was one of my first pieces made almost entirely of wool. It combines needle felting and embroidery, to add delicate details to draw in the viewer. It’s based on an early ultrasound of my son Paulie (now almost 5), who was our “rainbow baby”: a child born after a miscarriage. While the subject matter is based on Paulie, I realized later this piece is also a dream-like vision of the little one we lost. In my experience, there is a lot of silence surrounding the traumas of miscarriage. For women who have similarly struggled, I hope this piece can provide some solace, and can help make space to acknowledge and grieve the experience of prenatal loss.  


“Paulie” is based on holding my young son in my lap, a protective arm wrapped around him. I was trying to capture this luminous and fleeting moment with watercolor, embroidery and needle felting. The composition is on vintage fabric from my late grandmother. I have a big stash of fabrics from her – she was an incredible seamstress – and I try to incorporate small pieces in my work to honor her. “Paulie” was a study to rework an older, larger piece, called “Work in Progress” that I had made before becoming a mother. I changed the composition to include him, and it was wonderful to see how it changed the piece and gave it new life.


“Mama’s Lap” combines needle felting with wool on velvet. It loosely depicts my view of my lap while pregnant and snuggling my son. I left the scene fairly abstract to focus on the sensation of softness and affection in this passing moment. My current studio practice is motivated by this desire to “capture” or “press pause” on my maternal experiences speeding by. Ironically, time can also pass excruciatingly slowly in the early stages of motherhood. I gravitate towards labor intensive techniques to express this compounding of time in small gestures and moments. 


“Womb Portrait” was created using a technique called wet felting. I layered wool, then saturated it with hot soapy water, and rubbed and rolled it until the fibers all blended together. It’s based on a 3-D ultrasound of my daughter, Tilly, in the third trimester. I am astonished by current ultrasound technology and the ability to “see” my children before their births. I made a wet felted portrait of her based on these images, and tried to capture the feeling of movement while watching her twist and turn in real time. 


MATRESCENCE Artist Feature Interviews // KARA PATROWICZ

Kara Patrowicz, Laundry Feltings: Vignettes, 2023, Wool felting on infant wash cloths, 8 x 8 inches each



3.) In what ways do you aim to challenge traditional notions of motherhood in your art, particularly in expanding the maternal lens beyond its curated forms found on social media? 


Like any parent today, I’ve felt the good and bad effects of “mommy influencer” culture on social media. And I’ve posted my fair share of happy family photos and lovely images of my home on platforms like Facebook. But in my artwork, I’m trying to strike a balance between sharing the beauty and joys of motherhood along with its inherent chaos. This is (in part) a response to trends in mommy-influencer culture that champion unhealthy, “flawless” depictions of motherhood that can be quite toxic. There are personas which feel designed to cultivate comparison games, insecurity or shame in other women who don’t “measure up” (and fuels spending money on various products, fashions, exercise regimes, etc.). I hope to combat this by using very tactile, natural materials and domestic detritus that give a whole range of textures, from wool to dryer lint to cut up old socks. And depicting scenes that show some of the mess and tumult of daily life, whether a pile of laundry and toys, or a view of a NICU bassinet.




4.) What advice would you give to other mother artists?


Find at least one mentor who is an artist mother (if you can!), who can help put things in perspective as you move through your work and career while caregiving for your children. Also, everyone has their own unique path to pursue these two roles of mother and artist in tandem. Some mothers need a separate studio, some work best in a space at home with their kids. Some women make a little work every day, others take breaks while raising young children that can last years. All of these approaches are equally valuable and valid. You will figure out what works best for you as a person, a mother and artist, a family. Also, build your artist network and community as much as you can BEFORE having kids, because it’s much harder to build when you are juggling kids schedules, sleep deprivation and more. This is something I wish I had developed earlier in my career. Better to have a network already that can grow!



5.) You mentioned sourcing wool from local sheep farms to support a sustainable fiber economy. How does this commitment to sustainability align with the themes of motherhood and caregiving in your work?

My desire to support local sheep farmers resonates with my desire to care for the environment, care for my children’s futures, and connect with nature in more tangible ways through my artwork. I’ve been learning about the Fibershed movement recently – begun in California and created to develop sustainable fiber economies throughout the world. It’s a really exciting development and one I hope that fiber artists will become involved with over time.



6.) At what point in your career did you become a mother, and how did that experience impact your practice? 


I was about 10 years out of grad school when I became a mother. After getting my MFA, I felt very burned out and withdrew from my art network in many ways. I also lost some momentum in my studio practice. But after becoming a mother, something kicked into high gear and I became the most motivated I have ever felt about my work. There are certainly limitations that motherhood has placed on my studio practice, but these “scarcities” in my time and energy have unexpectedly led to more focus and motivation in the studio. My creative practice now provides an essential outlet and escape during the pressure cooker of parenting.  



7.) Have you ever experienced guilt or conflicted feelings about pursuing your artistic career while being a mother, and if so, how have you managed those emotions? 


A new experience that I’m navigating is how others may judge my family size, now that I am pregnant with my third baby. It’s been interesting to see the range of reactions. Some people are very supportive, but others express shock and dismay (“was this planned?!” “you’ve already got your hands full” “how will you make art?”). At those times (and in my resulting insecurity), I remind myself that I am pursuing my desires for my life and family and career, not another person’s vision of how my life “should look” as an artist and mother. It also helps to turn to mentors, friends, and family who are supportive, and recall past figures like Ruth Asawa who navigated these waters of a larger family with perseverance and grace.