I feel like I am the luckiest gal in the world to have Carolina Jimenez by my side most days. She is the creative director of CZH and an incredible artist in her own right. I was really thrilled to sit down and talk with her about her new body of work which she calls "woven paintings." Her art is both ephemeral and grounded. She weaves rich palettes together to create breathtaking art that feels inherently Mexican. Her work urges you to stay a bit longer, to breathe a couple more breaths, to slow down and enjoy the smaller moments of life.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!
Listen to the interview here, or scroll down to read it in full!
Caroline Z Hurley: OK, so this is our first interview with someone who is in the CZH family. Carolina Jimenez, can you talk a little bit about your background, how you grew up and where your parents are from?
Carolina E Jimenez: OK, so. I grew up in San Diego, California, to two parents who are from Mexico, from Chiapas, which is the most southern state of Mexico. And growing up, we would try to go to Mexico maybe every other year and spend probably like two weeks in Chiapas and one week in Mexico City. That was always fun because my nuclear family was the only part of our family that lived in the United States, so there's always a sense of -- I always grew up wondering, what would it have been like if I grew up in Mexico? I always thought about that.
CZH: Did your parents meet in the US?
CEJ: No, they met in Mexico City. They were both finishing school -undergrad- then my dad, I think he got his master's also there at UNAM, and then they met because my dad was one of my mom's brother's friends and he would always be around. And then my dad was figuring out where he would do his PhD; he ended up doing that at the University of Utah. My parents were already married at that point and they both moved together.
CZH: Got it. And then your extended family that lives in Chiapas is there like a town that they're all in or is all spread over the state?
CEJ: Growing up, on my mom’s side they all basically lived in Tuxtla Gutierrez.
CZH: Is that the biggest town in Chiapas?
CEJ: Yeah, the biggest city.
CZH: And it's interesting because there's so much weaving that happens.
CEJ: Yes, Yes. There and like right outside of there. So it was always fun to visit and be able to see those handicrafts. And I always loved making all different kinds of crafts. So I always thought that was really exciting and like, you know, seeing all the different colors and textures was fun.
CZH: And then I guess this leads me to my next question, which is we'll get more into the details of your work and how you got there. But does Mexico play a big part in your life and your art now?
CEJ: Yeah, I think it does. I mean, I think weaving, because it has this history of handicraft associated with it, it always kind of feels rooted for me personally in a particular craft tradition. So even though I'm using a different loom than is used in the area--because I think they're usually using backstrap looms tied around the waist or two pedal rug looms--it still for me, feels like I'm tapping into that. I'm trying to learn what I can from that tradition, even though I'm separated from it, which is the part of the story or I guess the larger part of the story of how am I connected to this thing that is not really mine. It's finding this, like, strange in-between space. That's a new, a new mixture, I guess
CZH: new language and a version of something that has existed and is so rooted in, you know, history and crafts, like you say, and this isn't on my list of questions. I'm just curious, do you do you feel like the weaving done on the backstrap loom and the pedal loom, is that actually different than the loom that you're on? It's structurally different, but is it the way that the thread moves through the same?
CEJ: No, I mean it's all weaving so it's all alike but I think the process is just so different that it ends up that you just get different sorts of fabrics from them. I could probably sit there and do the pickup weaving that they do on the backstrap loom, but, It's almost like, why would I do that when it's a different loom.
CZH: A different story, a different language. It's so interesting to me. There's so many things you can do with yarn and with weaving and.
CEJ: Yeah. And then the two-pedal loom. You basically are doing plain weave. The most basic structure, which I really like and I use it in my pieces. But then I'm also using double weave and I have two back beams so I can have different fibers and different tensions on the loom. But yeah, it's definitely still, like you said, it's tapping into this language, making it my own and finding myself in that strange space that's really similar to how I find myself, identity wise.
CZH: That's so cool. Yeah, I can totally see that. It's like your own language between where your family is from and where you grew up and where you are now.
CEJ: Yeah. And wanting to know that legacy more, knowing that you'll never know, or I'll never know the same way my parents know it. And trying to make it my own for myself, even though it's been like this completely different context.
CZH: it's really interesting. I mean, it makes total sense that this is a huge part of your work. You know, it's like. It's yeah, it feels like the way you open it, the way you ask. It's like I always wondered what my life would have been like in Mexico, and I feel like your artwork is sort of the realization of that, you know, and it's really cool. It's really beautiful. OK, so then let's go back a little bit and just talk a little bit about how you got from. I know you went to school for architecture at Syracuse and you transitioned to textiles at RISD and then you are here in New York having your own practice. Can you sort of like talk about your journey and how you got from all of those places?
CEJ: Yeah, so I'll even start earlier because when I was I think I decided to try to be an architect in eighth grade or maybe earlier maybe. I don't think I even knew architecture really was. But I thought - the thought process was: I like beautiful things, basically. I love looking through home interiors, magazines and I loved getting the IKEA catalog and I would just pick out things that I wanted even though I wasn't redoing any space. Oh yeah. And then I decided this is what I'm going to do. I was always really focused. So I researched in my sophomore year what the best architecture schools were. And then I kept that list on my computer. We went and we visited and then I applied to all those. And when I got in, I was deciding between Cal Poly and Syracuse and decided to go somewhere further away because I kind of wanted to end up in New York City. So was like, if I go to Syracuse, then I think it'll be easier for me to, like, move to New York.
CZH: Interesting, You were thinking that far ahead. *(breaks to check recording)*
CEJ: Okay, so then Syracuse, I did the five year program and learned a lot. The first year was super rough. The first two years were really rough, actually. The first time in my life where I just was not good at school and so I would call my mom and she'd be like, come home, come home. You can study math here (at the university where my dad teaches) and then you can figure it out later. Like math will always serve you. She didn't really want me to study architecture. She wanted me to study engineering. And architecture was my way of doing something artistic because
CZH: It was like a reputable job, but still had some creativity, I guess.
CEJ: Yeah. And I felt like my parents were at that point would not have been super excited about me trying to be an artist. They really wanted me to learn some hard skills. So I did the architecture thing, moved to New York and worked for two years at a small firm here that was really great. I learned a lot. But as I was learning, I realized, this is not something that I'm made to do. I know when I'm fully engaged in something because I care about the details of them, but I just didn't care what screw goes where; I was done researching construction materials. I just was not aligned towards what I'm supposed to be doing.
CZH: I mean, it's amazing that you know that about yourself and that you can tell that because I feel like a lot of people are just like, no, I'm supposed to do. I'm going to just power through this. But it's amazing you have that awareness that you're like, this is what I mean.
CEJ: I just I couldn't go on like it sounds dramatic to say it, but I was waking up, like, really sad every day and like, I was at
CZH: The same firm that Jeff (editor’s note: Jeff is Carolina’s husband) worked at?
CEJ: No, he was at a different one. Yeah. I was really small and it really was great. So I knew that it was not
CZH: Wasted Energy or wasted time.
CEJ: Yeah, yeah, I definitely was learning, and so thought, "I just need to give myself an outlet right now." So I bought a big loom and put it in our -I had two roommates at the time- we put it in our living room and I just started weaving because I had taken a weaving class at Syracuse my last semester, my second to last semester. And that was kind of it. OK, this is what I want to be doing. I bought it because I was trying to see a way out of architecture. And I just started weaving, and made a little portfolio of work. And that's what I used to get into schools. And that's how I ended up with textiles. And so I knew I wanted to do weaving as opposed to any other textile thing, we had knitting and screen printing and pattern design and stuff.
CZH: When you applied to schools, like you could apply for something as specific as knitting?
CEJ: Oh yeah, at RISD, you choose a track
CZH: Oh my gosh That's incredible. The masters program is even more specific!
CEJ: Yeah, because you don't have the time like the undergrads. They learn everything.
CZH: When I was there, the first year was everything, and then you had to choose by the second year what your major was. Is that still how it is?
CEJ: Yeah, they still do that. And then once you're in the department, the sophomore and junior they're learning everything. And then their senior year, they basically get to choose what they want to focus on for their senior thesis.
CZH: Yeah, that's how it was for me.
CEJ: And it's also interesting looking at the decision I made for schools. I chose RISD because it was really technical and not arts focused. I was thinking about SAIC and that's a really fine arts focused program. And I was like, nah, there's no way like that's not what I want to do.
CZH: You wanted to to really get down to the nitty gritty and like really learn and get technical and like, which now that I know you more, it totally makes sense. Like, you are very, you have a math mind behind you as well. So it makes sense. You would want to really know all of the details and all of the layers and not miss a step
CEJ: Yeah. So I think that was like the right decision. It set up a really good foundation. And then I think the other stuff for artwork's, it's just going to come from keeping at it, and knowing what you're interested in. So that's how I ended up with textiles.
CZH: Wow, and then at what point -- so you've been at CZH for two and a half years?
CEJ: Three? almost three, almost three in August
CZH: How long after RISD did you come work with me? Was that right after?
CEJ: Two months after
CZH: I really got you! Yeah, I really, I really just. Yeah, never going to let you go. That's so funny, I didn't realize how quickly it was after you graduated. I mean, I guess I knew that at one point, but it really was like right off the boat.
CEJ: Yeah, it was it!
CZH: OK, so let's get down to some of your current work, which you're working on, which is really stunning. I know you said like, well, you can you can just talk to me about anything that's inspiring. But what I really remember you saying, which was so interesting, is that Frankenthaler was a big inspiration to you and like how your current body is talking about weaving as painting. Can you talk a little bit about that?
CEJ: Yeah. So, I mean, I learned about Joan Mitchell in school. I had a friend who is a painter who introduced me to Mitchell's, and I was just blown away by the scale of those paintings. And then I got a Frankenthaler monograph. And it has been really interesting to be learning their stories; that has one of the things that's been really inspiring this year is just learning more about artists biographies and how they think and how they made their careers. But Frankenthaler --I was inspired by the fact that she was so young and unafraid. She submitted this seven foot painting to the Ninth Street art show and just went for it. That's something that I've been wanting to do and I have a piece that I'm working on right now and it's eight foot by eight foot and I'm interested in moving up in scale and creating a kind of painting, a piece that feels like a painting when you're standing in front of it. I love abstraction. I love what color can do. But I was just really blown away by the idea of that scale.
CZH: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And to see Frankenthaler and John Mitchell's work in person like it, it overtakes you like you have no other choice but to really, like, be there with it, which is really like I totally get that scale thing with work and how you know, and also just with Frankenthaler as a side note, like she was the only woman in like a crew of like dudes who were like these these like pretty macho dudes. Like in Provincetown I went to go see a solo show. Yeah. Did you see that one?
CEJ: No. I haven't seen it.
CZH: But, she was like in Provincetown in the summers and surrounded by all guys. Of all the painters at that artist's colony she was the only woman. It's so cool. She was like, no, I'm doing this.
CEJ: Yeah. I'm reading Ninth Street Women right now. So definitely that is inspiring, and the other part about Frankenthaler is that she was really creating her own vocabulary. She saw what Pollock was doing and that gave her an idea and she created this whole language that was a conversation between her and the material.
CZH: Yeah, no, I totally feel you on that. She took one thing and ran with it and made it her own.
CEJ: Yeah. And continued to think about what the material was doing and letting that lead her explorations which I feel like really works for me also.
CZH: Totally, Yeah, I feel like you and I both have a synergy in that way where our work is like even though it is technically sort of textile based or like fabric based, there is like a sense that it's actually not what I'm I'm not talking about like the craft of cutting and sewing and you're not like necessarily the craft of weaving. It's a different thing. And so in that way, I think it's like it's so funny that we're both like spending all this time together but and making work that is similar. Yeah, there's synergy there, you know, like there's something about it that it can't be a coincidence that like we are spending so much time together and like both of us are like kind of, you know, like coming to a same point about like this whole idea, you know, like, yeah, I love when that happens.
CEJ: Well, speaking of, I was working on these strange shaped things. I don't know how to describe them, the ones that are like on that wall. But seeing you work actually made me think about how I was working, or the way I was thinking about weaving as a method to make work because there's so much ease in being able to piece fabric together and then to create this new surface. And I was really frustrated with the fact that weaving just takes so long.
CZH: Yeah, one rectangle is like the amount of time it takes for me to make one large painting, you know.
CEJ: Yeah. So I was like this really sucks, especially if I'm thinking about wanting to go up in scale. I had to find a way to make it go a little bit faster. So that's why I started making these pieces that have some woven in areas, but are actually like
CZH: A lot of air.
CEJ: That's air yeah, a lot of yarns intersecting, because that's a way that I don't have to sit there and weave those whole lengths. I can just skip 18 inches at a time.
CZH: and that's like the one behind you. So like the sections where it feels like thread is actually thread. Right.
CEJ: Yeah, yeah, I could poke through it.
CZH: I love that. There is like an angelic quality to your work. It feels like there's something otherworldly about it, you know, it feels like there's a halo. It feels very ephemeral, you know. Do you have any artist that you are inspired by? I know you said Joan Mitchell and Frankenthaler. Is there anyone else you wanted to call out?
CEJ: I mean, Sheila Hicks is great. Yeah. as a textile person, Sheila Hicks. Who I've been thinking about recently? Those are my favorites.
CZH: I like to go hard into one for a while and I forget about all the other artists.
CEJ: Yeah. Yeah. And then I love (Ellsworth) Kelly, you know, but that's really different. But I think just responding to just color and form.
CZH: That's great. Giant shapes. I feel like there's total synergy between that and your work for sure.
CEJ: I feel like I'm still just exploring. We didn't do a bunch of art history at RISD.
CZH: You should totally take an history class
CEJ: I should, I should
CZH: I want to take another one just for fun because it's so interesting.
CEJ: Yeah, that's next, I guess!
CZH: Or just read books, too. OK, now I think we kind of touched on this a little bit, but I was reading your artist's statement and you talk about your work as monuments and memories signifiers. Can you talk a little bit about that, the semiotics of that and how it works, how that is about your work?
CEJ: I always describe it as, one is outward facing, world-facing and one is personal. And the monuments part of it is about the scale, it's about how I want other people to feel. And its also about the ability for weaving to transcend that craft idea and really become something that's immersive and experiential. And then what they (the artworks) are a monument to, is -for me- always about these feelings or small moments in the day that just pass in an instant. But calling them monuments is a way of trying to hold onto them and bringing them into physical space, because I feel like our lives are just made up of those tiny, wonderful moments and you have to hold on to them and treasure them and celebrate them. So that's the memory aspect, too, where it's also a personal practice of trying to stay aware --throughout the day-- to what is worth holding onto.
CZH: Yeah, I love that. Yeah, I love the word monument. Thinking about “monument” when you think about just things that you don't want to miss, things that you want to hold onto. I love that. Usually monuments feel so masculine like towers for ... soldiers you know. [00:25:06][21.2]
CEJ: Yeah. But it should be like a monument to the hazy sky outside or a monument to just having two hands next to each other watching TV or
CZH: Or the ladybug that fell on your nose.
CEJ: Yeah exactly!
CZH: I love that; it's so sweet. OK, now my next thing is your work feels --we talked about this too. There's a feminine quality and like an ephemeral quality, but it also feels really grounded and solid, which totally speaks to what you just said. There's like that balance of like monuments and also these quiet moments. So you actually did answer that question. That's how you want people to see your work. You want both the groundedness and the ephemeral quality.
CEJ: Yeah. I want you to be able to stand there, and have it ground you. You're taking notice of it, it's almost a little meditation, I guess.
CZH: I mean, I love that and weaving is in itself a form of meditation because we kind of answer that one. So my next question is, what space would you like to see your work live in?
CEJ: Yeah, I was thinking about this when I saw your question. And you know how Rothko has the Rothko Chapel?
CZH: Yes, I kind of thought that when I wrote that.
CEJ: You're right on!
CZH: I mean, maybe that will lead into that. But you could've said, like the MoMA, you know, or you could have said like homes. But it does feel like that, it feels spiritual.
CEJ: I think part of why it would be that is because I want it to be a place where anyone can go, but there aren't many spaces suited to having something that feels...if you put the same painting in the subway, everyone's just going to walk by it. You're not in the mental space or physical space to be able to think about it. So, yeah, you called it.
CZH: I thought about it and I said I've bet she's gonna say it this way
CEJ: What about you? Now I want to know!
CZH: You know, it's similar. I thought about this one time when we were in the AD show, I think you were working at actually and I remember my paintings were hanging above our work and I was like, this is bullshit. Like, I don't want my paintings to be around these people. I want them to be at a chapel, where people are quiet. It really hurt me to see painting in a place that was just about shopping and about buying. I actually felt I didn't want to sell these at all. These are not for sale. So I feel the same, I want my work to be a place where people feel connected to something greater, like their higher self or their version of whatever it is that people do when you feel connected. That's what I want and I feel, similar to you, that those places tend to be mosques or churches or chapels or places where you go to connect to the higher power or connect to whatever it is that keeps you sane. So this this part I'm really curious about. So in your thesis, it's beautiful. And we should link images to this, but a lot of that work was about writing and do you carry that through with your current work or have you gotten to that point yet? Or does writing play a role in what you're doing now?
CEJ: Yeah, so I'm always, I have a running note in my phone where I'm jotting descriptors basically of little moments or if I'm thinking about an experience that just happened, try to put in some details there. So if I jot it down, it's because I think it is important. Like this big piece that I'm working on, it's called -in my head- it's already called like "Sweet Mango, Sour Mango" in Spanish, because it was really about this moment of feeling really seen. And while we were down in Sunset Park and there was this woman who just came up to me and spoke to me in Spanish, and it was like, oh, don't get those mangoes I get these ones are sweeter. And like, is that really that moment of being like, oh, I feel like I found a little piece of home. And so I try to write those down and make a note of them and I'll add in more information later. But it's not a daily practice that I'm doing, but it's more like when I have something that I want to keep.
CZH: I love that sweet mango, sour mango. It's so cute. I love that. I can't wait to see that one. It's going to be so fun. I guess the other question I have is-- I always get so worried, I had a studio when I first got to Brooklyn and I was making all this work and I was making it really big. And I remember like by the time I moved out, I didn't I wasn't I didn't have money to, like, store it anywhere. Yeah. So I, I ended up just like putting it on the stove and like that memory of like me. Now I would never do that because like, yeah, I'm like not 20 years old, but like I feel like I get so worried about, like making something that's so big. You know, like I was scared about it. Do you feel that?
CEJ: Yeah, I did. And Jeff was like, just do it. You want to do it. So you should just do it and we'll figure it out like. Yeah, I think there's also a lot of learning in the process of making something that size that you'll use for the next thing. It's the first one, so it's not I know it's not going to be exactly perfect. But I just want to see it so I know if that's the direction I want to go.
CZH: Yeah, awesome. Just a couple, more personal questions.. What do you do to feel most grounded?
CEJ: Like, every day?
CZH: It doesn't have to be something you do every day, what's a ritual that makes you feel grounded.
CEJ: I actually think it's weaving and working on my art. I feel the most grounded when I'm actually in the process of creating and your mind is just in that space and I'm thinking about colors, I'm thinking about materials and thinking about scale and thinking about what's working and what isn't working. And I love the process of mulling over and being almost in that flow state. I was talking to friends and I was like, I feel like that's what we're meant to do, to be in flow as often as possible, because it's the one moment where you stop worrying about what other people are thinking or even what you're thinking about yourself.
CZH: Exactly, totally.
CEJ: I am always wondering "why am I thinking that way, why am I thinking about this?" but when I'm working, I'm not thinking about or judging what's going on in my brain, I'm just focused on what's in front of me.
CZH: That's what Buddhism is or what Gandhi talks about, which is just being present. And there's no judgement, there's no what ifs. There's no,"I should be doing this." I think that is why Buddhism and meditation is so interesting because it seems like those people have found a sense of ease with just being in the present. And I think that maybe that is our artists' form of our devotion or our way of being religious, you know?
CEJ: and you're making something that comes from within yourself, but I think in a way, it's for others too. I don't want it to just be for me.
CZH: Totally. Yeah. Yeah. Creating in a vacuum just for you, there's no reason for that, and then this is just like a fun little question, but what do you like to do the moment you get home from a long day out?
CEJ: Take off my shoes, get comfy, comfy clothes and maybe, like, drink some water. Drink some cold water,
CZH: no wine, no drinks?
CEJ: You know, I don't really drink that much. Like, I don't like wine. I don't like beer. Yeah. If anything, I'm going to do a little cocktail, but I'm not going to do that myself. I made horchata the other day. So I had a fun cooling drink. Yeah, and then just kind of like lounge a little bit. Lounge, on the daybed. Yeah. *exhales* That's basically what I do. *exhales*
CZH: Yeah, you take a sigh, breath of air.
CEJ: Just enjoy being home.