Featured Artist Interview – Charlotte Kruk

Artist Charlotte KrukCharlotte kruk
Photography by Daniel Garcia




Tell us about your artwork, medium, style, subject matter, etc.
I’m a maker of all things “object”; utilitarian, aesthetic and primarily sculpture related. The most recognizable of my artworks are “wearable sculpture” made predominantly through the transformation of post-consumer trash into sculptures that appear as garments.  Assumptions are frequently made about my work, incorrectly assigning me the title “fashion designer”; my intentions have never been such. I consider what I’m fabricating as sculpture, a form of anti-fashion social commentary, within which I slyly wink at our cultural castaways and repurpose detritus to create fresh narratives, often referencing history. (“Consumer couture; the politics of having”) For years I have worked predominantly with candy trash. Partly as a means of confessing my own sweet tooth sins, and partly to awaken the concept of the “goods” vs. the “package”. As a child I was taught to be sweet and in early college felt a kin to packaging myself literally into the recycled candy wrappers thereby encouraging others to recognize the “recycling, upcycling, repurposing”. Since 1994 I have indulged in a playful conversation with my garbage, carefully unwrapping, collecting and cleaning the waste from most everything I personally purchased, ate, and shared.  My interests in the way we “package” ourselves for visual consumption to create a sense of “belonging” pair with the relationship to the contents of our own personal character. Who in fact is “pretty on the inside” as opposed to purely polished or privileged externally. My issues with weight, sugary flirtations, conversations about brand association, caste system-money identity, packaging, consumption, repurposing are all funneled into this sculptural work. My ceramic work and jewelry work are equally visually sweet with undertones of conceptual commentary for those willing to endeavor beyond the surface value of the materials being explored.

Candy Wrappers
What are your biggest challenges in creating art?
Time for me is always an issue and becomes a challenge to accomplishing as much as I have on “to-do” lists. My artwork is intricate, rich in details, and generally labored over with embellishment. Often I stitch multiple times around the graphics within the packaging to create focal emphasis in the work. I balance teaching high school sculpture and moonlight/weekend/summer-vacation as a professional artist. The biggest hurdles I face in creating wearable sculpture are that I am not formally trained as a seamstress. I find that it likely takes me 5 times longer than it might had I a structured background in this media. I first invented my process by deconstructing garments to understand how they were built. Then began learning to read patterns with the support of my Mom and my Grandma in order to understand how more complicated garments are built. It is typically impossible to find a pattern for what I’m visioning…and I create chaos by trying to put sleeves from one pattern with the bodice of another and the collars from yet another.

Little Girl Candy Wrapper Dress

What is a day of working like in your studio/creative space? Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
Coffee is ritualistic in my world. I created a body of work around the concept of “Caffeine-Nation”. I wake at 5am with 2 cups of coffee and arrive at Lynbrook High School campus by 6:45. My students begin arriving shortly after 7 and class begins promptly at 7:30. If I don’t keep the lab open for students after school to continue their works in progress, I am immediately home in my own studio by 3:30 in the afternoon with yet a second dose of coffee. I’m fairly religious about going to bed before 10pm unless a deadline is imminent. Those precious afternoon hours from 3-ish-10-ish are focused on baby-steps of production towards end goals. I typically have a multitude of projects going simultaneously…this way, when I reach a sticking point, a tough decision, a crossroads that I’m reluctant about …I can avert disaster by giving the work some breathing room and push a different project a few steps further. In the summer months and weekend days when I’m afforded all studio, all day, I pretty much keep to that timeline routine schedule of waking and sleeping …and can be greedy with my time. Sometimes starving myself socially….my life as the resident sculptor at Lynbrook helps to provide social balance.

Charlotte in her studio
When you are in need of inspiration are there particular things you read, listen to, look at or do to help find that idea or fuel your work?
Traditionally I have more ideas than time so it’s rather a matter of discipline and continuing with one major work until it’s finished. Deadlines are helpful for this maintenance of focus. I begin to unravel if I don’t witness projects come to completion on a regular basis which is another reason I prefer to have multiple artworks and diverse media happening simultaneously. When I struggle to gain focus I walk the neighborhood for “change”; literally and figuratively. My sister and I are in a constant competition to find the most street coin or what I call “street charm”. I pick up every penny and beyond plus a lot of random shiny objects and candy wrapper trash. The hardwood floors in my house/ studio double as danceable surface and I take consistent breaks to allow my uncomfortable sewing machine posture to shake itself out and get my spine back into realignment. I seem to have acquired a taste for Pinterest….a fun diversion where I can dig through amazing imagery. This “craft porn” is oodles of liberation from the days of laboriously pouring through books at the library.

Candy Wrapper Baggage
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I have no formal training in sewing. The truth is I fell into sewing purely by accident. Rather a natural accident as I come from a long line of seamstresses or shall I say terrific home-makers. Until the age of 23 I had avoided sewing as it felt like “women’s work” and I was on a trajectory to avoid just that. My dad died in a hang-gliding accident when I was almost 4; my sister and I were raised single-handedly by my Mom. Thankfully she is a dedicated, motivated, determined woman who was/is a terrific role model. It was important for me to be a bit “tom-boy-ish” growing up. I distinctly remember pitching fits when my Grandma tried forcing me into a dress for school. I yearned to develop skills that my mom didn’t possess as a way to balance the lack of male influence in my life. I was grateful to have the dynamic mentorship of metalsmith Rand Schiltz in the jewelry lab at San Jose State University. He nurtured me as a kind of adopted “Daddy”….and didn’t mind that I called him that. He was extremely kind to me in a time where I needed it the most. Under his tutelage I was able to master torches and saws, eventually I came all the way around to developing my distinct style and turned his macho, yet elegant jewelry lab into a boudoir for my thesis show.

Tootsie Bracelet & Shoes

What advice would you give others just beginning their creative careers?
Create because you must. Create because you love the process and eventually the outcome. Invest in yourself, challenge yourself, and keep learning every day with a growth mindset that you will improve if you keep working at your craft. Strive to find the uniqueness in your ideating. I love the balance that my day job provides. I have the privilege of helping others find their value and the means to honor their distinctive path. Because of the steady income, I never feel compelled to make what the market dictates is popular creatively, instead I can honor what my inner voice insists, allowing the pureness of my voice to reign true. It is splendid when someone thinks your work is worth owning….but so much more precious if your soul is satisfied and the work is completed because you needed to see it and only in making the work is that possible.Candy Wrapper Fashion by Charlotte Kruk


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