Creative Spotlight : Caren Garfen

Caren Garfen is an artist who’s work we admire here at House of Coco. She took some time out of being creative to speak to us and here she tells us more about her inspirations, hopes for the future and plans for the brand…

When did you launch your career and what was the reason behind it?

I had been working as a miniaturist for fifteen years, hand stitching 1/12th scale, top-of-the-range dolls’ house samplers for adult collectors. I had an American agent who sold my pieces all over the USA, Japan and Europe, whilst I exhibited them in the UK. It was an exciting time as I was invited to both New York and Chicago for shows but I was ready for a change. I decided to go to university to study the applied arts, and specialised in textiles. In 2007 I completed my course, achieved a First Class (Hons) degree and was on my way to become an artist.  I am very interested in women’s issues, and carry out in-depth research to uncover facts relating to the domestic, work and body concerns. Wherever possible I add a touch of humour to serious subjects.

How many people are involved in your business and what are their roles?

It is only me, I work from home, having a studio/workspace there, but I also make use of my old university’s excellent print room where I carry out photographic silkscreen printing. When I was working there last year five students volunteered to help me whilst I created a demanding new artwork. This was to become a full size kitchen installation called ‘She Was Cooking Something Up’, to be exhibited at The Knitting & Stitching Shows at Alexandra Palace and Harrogate. In return I mentored them with their final year’s practical work, discussing their projects and ways of taking them forward. Three of the students saw the making process from the first prints through to the final build, and helped at the exhibition. This proved to be a great experience for all of us.

Image 4, 'House Work', 2012, Caren Garfen
If you could start over with your career, would you do anything differently?

I don’t think that I would change very much as I have always been very focused and self-motivated in everything I do, and have instinctively known in which direction I wanted to take my work.


What is the hardest challenge you have faced since you started your career?

The hardest challenge that I have faced was creating the aforementioned installation for the solo gallery space at The Knitting & Stitching Show last year. I had the ambitious concept of building a full-size kitchen and covering it with textiles. The artwork dealt with women and dieting and incorporated pieces that had been made over the last four years as well as new works to bring everything together. The time factor was a problem as I only had about eight months when I really needed two years! I had to fill a space 9m x 7m with my own work, whereas I was used to taking part in group shows.

Tell us one fact about you that people wouldn’t know?

I am a twin and I am married to a twin.

Image 3, Reel Lives (detail), Caren Garfen
Have you achieved anything that you did not expect to achieve?

Yes, it was always in my mind that I would like to create site-specific artworks, so I was delighted when, in 2013, I was selected to make a work, ‘Reel Lives’, for ‘Cloth & Memory 2’, an exhibition at Salts Mill in Saltaire, West Yorkshire. It took place in a disused part of the mill which was originally the spinning room in the mid-1800s. I researched the lives of the young girls who worked there, using the 1891 census as one of my sources. In 2014, I was invited to make an artwork, ‘There Are No Words’, for Newark Park, a National Trust Property near Stroud, Gloucestershire, and took great pleasure in delving into its history to find out more about one of the original owners. All of this experience was put to good use when I was contacted by Jane Austen House Museum in Hampshire towards the end of last year to be the visiting artist, guiding BA, MA and PhD students through the process of making for their own site-specific works.


2015 is here, where do you plan on taking your work?

Every time I make a new piece I challenge myself to move forward with my ideas and research. I do not like the work to remain static, so in 2015 I will continue in the same vein.  I have just completed a new piece totally hand stitched with human hair although I usually use silk threads.  I had to adapt to using this medium, and became aware of the different texture, weight and colour of individual strands. This biographical artwork, called ‘Anna’, is in the form of a dress, stitched with the text from a diary of a young girl who is suffering from anorexia nervosa. It was important to use real hair as part of the concept as sadly this young lady has lost all of her hair due to a lack of nutrients in her diet.

Other plans for the future include working collaboratively with other artists who use different media.  This will be a major challenge for me as it will mean I will not have full control of the creative process. I am just feeling my way into this by working with a group of artists on a project called ‘A Group Gathering: Daphne’s Glove’. We have all been sent a single glove to work on, and it will be interesting to see the results when the partner gloves are reunited in an exhibition setting.

Image 2, 'Anna' dress, (detail), Caren Garfen


To date, what have been your biggest highlights?

There have been many highlights since changing my career from craftsperson to artist. I have to say that being commissioned to make an artwork for the prestigious V&A museum’s exhibition ‘Quilts – 1700-2010’ was incredible, as was receiving an invitation to the Private View. Another highlight was having a piece of work, ‘House Work’, selected for The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition in 2012, where it was also chosen as ‘Work of the Week’. This in itself was a particularly special accolade for a textile-based artwork.

Where can people find out more?

website: www.carengarfen.com

e-mail: caren@carengarfen.com

Facebook: Caren Garfen – Artist

Twitter: @carengarfen

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