Journal: Visit with Paola Rodriguez Arias: Gallery

Where are you from and where do you reside?

I am from Bogota, Colombia and have been based in Europe since 2001 - first in London and currently in Geneva.

What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?

I’m constantly drawn to landscapes and the natural world. I often walk around the city or in nature, taking photos of anything that catches my eye. I also like to explore symbols, rituals, memories and gestures. Recently, I’ve been drawn to capturing movement, such as drifting, floating and rising.

What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?

I love sketching as it allows me to visualize ideas very quickly. The difficult part is transforming these ideas into reality, especially since the yarn and embroidery pieces require a lot of time and patience to make. Choosing the colors is a process that I sometimes struggle with; it takes me a long time to decide before starting on the final piece, and even then I might still change my mind mid-way through.

You have a particularly unique process for creating your artwork. What led you to this process and how did you know it was the right one to pursue?

Thinking back, I cannot pinpoint an exact moment, it was such an organic process. After I stopped working in fashion I took some time to figure out what to do next. I knew that I wanted to return to a place where I reconnected with the joy of making and experimenting. I had all these sketches that I had made during the years that were unrelated to my design practice and had all these leftover textile materials from my previous collections.

In terms of what led me to this process, there were a few thingsone being the need to experiment without envisioning a final product, allowing myself to be curious and using traditional materials in a different way. The other was the lack of storage space for my leftover materials; I had to put them to some use, as I didn’t want to just give them away. It was a trial and error process, but I felt it was the right one to pursue once I felt I achieved a certain flow.

Journal: Paola Rodriguez Arias: Gallery
Photo by Aurélien Bergot
Journal: Paola Rodriguez Arias: Gallery
Photo by Aurélien Bergot

How did you choose to work with yarn?

I learned how to knit when I was younger so yarn has always been a material I’m familiar with. I love how pliable and soft it is and I’ve always associated it with both physical and emotional warmth.

On a practical level, after I decided to stop working in fashion I found that I had all these yarns left over from my previous collections and wanted to keep on working with them in a different way. I went back to some sketches I had done in the past and started asking myself questions, such as what happens if instead of using paint I use yarn? It was an organic process full of trial and error until I finally came up with something I was happy with.

Has your background in fashion and jewelry influenced your work/practice? Does one inform the other?

Yes they do, I find myself using most of the same color schemes in my artworks as I did in my fashion collections. I also learned to become very organized, especially as the pace of designing and producing can be quite hectic. I also learned to let go of the things you can’t control, like if a collection wasn’t well received or a manufacturer was late with our order. I find that this has helped me in my current practice, as I’m able to enjoy the process more without worrying so much about the final outcome, I can now see mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve my work instead of seeing them as setbacks.

How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

My work has undergone many changes, especially in the last few years. Until very recently I worked in fashion and accessory design, designing for my own brand since 2011, but a couple of years ago I realized it wasn’t a path I wanted to continue pursuing. I wanted to reconnect with something that I felt I had lost during that time, and came to the conclusion that being a designer and creating functional pieces just wasn’t for me. I had all these textile materials left over from my previous collections and a handful of sketches I did as a hobby and started to think of ways I could combine both in a single work. In the future I would like to continue experimenting and playing, always thinking of ways to use certain materials in a non traditional way.

How do the different elements of line, color, etc. come together in your works? How does your choice of material inform the final piece?

Through my work I want to create a conversation between color, shape, movement and texture. The objective is to create a tension, but also a certain balance so that one component doesn’t overpower the other. I find that by covering the surface with layers of yarn this creates a certain rhythmic movement and depth that I wouldn’t be able to achieve using any other material.

Where do you find your day-to-day inspiration? How has your upbringing influenced the direction of your artistic process?

I often walk both in the city and in nature and usually there is always something that catches my eye. Years ago I bought a vintage Japanese camera which I always try to carry around with me wherever I go and have a collection of images which I always go back to for inspiration.

My father is an architect and my mother had an interior design shop, so understanding the importance of color and design have always been part of my upbringing. I also grew up in a country where traditional crafts and folklore are such an essential part of our culture and identity.

Do you find that environment relates to your work?

Absolutely. I went on a trip to Mexico just before the lockdown began and when I got back I felt I had to work with these vibrant colors that I had seen during my trip. More recently, due to the pandemic and these uncertain times I’ve felt the need to use colors that are softer and more soothing.

What tangible objects or intangible moments are you most interested in representing through your works?

I’m mostly interested in representing certain events, feelings, memories and thoughts that I’ve collected throughout the years. There is also a sense of playfulness and lightness that I want to show through my work.

Journal: Paola Rodriguez Arias: Gallery
Photo by Aurélien Bergot
Journal: Paola Rodriguez Arias: Gallery
Photo by Aurélien Bergot
Journal: Paola Rodriguez Arias: Gallery
Photo by Aurélien Bergot

Do you remember the first work of art that captured your attention?

I remember being on holiday in Cartagena and seeing a tapestry by Olga de Amaral, a Colombian artist. I still remember the impact it had on me, I was amazed at how she was able to capture color and texture to make something so vibrant and full of life.

Is there any artwork on display in your home/studio? Whose is it?

Funnily enough I don’t have any artwork on display at home, and I think this is intentional. I find that after a day of working with color and composition coming home and seeing neutral white walls provides a soothing feeling. I do however have lots and lots of plants.

What’s one of your favorite objects you own? What’s the story?

When I was studying in Central St Martins we had a photography class as part of our curriculum and I’ve always loved film images ever since. Some of my favorite artists are photographers, Emmett Gowin, Florence Henri and Lartigue to name a few. A while back I was able to buy a vintage Japanese Contax film camera which has become my most prized possession and I try to take it everywhere I go.

Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?

I am ambidextrous, predominantly left handed but can perform various tasks with my right hand.

Are you influenced by any author or non-visual artist? Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?

Music has always been very important to me, when I hear a certain song it instantly evokes a particular memory. I listen to many different genres like jazz, classical and Latin music and have many favorite artists like Bach, Handel, Yo-Yo Ma, New Order, Mazzy Starr, Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Cassandra Wilson, Aaron Copland, Henning Schmiedt, Steve Reich to name a few.

If you could choose another occupation other than the one you’re currently pursuing which one would it be?

I love books, history, teaching and enjoy being around people so I would’ve liked being either a librarian, a historian, museum curator or a social worker.

What’s next for you?

I would like to finally come up with a routine that allows me to work on both my yarn and textile pieces. I find that now I’m giving more precedence to one project over the other, so ideally I would like to find a time frame where I can do both equally well. Hopefully I will also be able to take on commissions as I enjoy working and having exchanges with other people, I find it’s the best way to learn.