Wonderful Weaving With Sky Carter

We had the pleasure of visiting the exuberant and friendly Sky Carter in her studio. Relatively new to Art Pharmacy, she produces textile artworks that are unique, sensual and almost impossible to resist touching! Sky practices freeform improvisational weaving inspired by the Japanese Saori weaving movement, creating wall hangings in joyful colour palettes that would brighten even the dullest of walls. Her creative corner is a wonderland hidden in the whitewashed labyrinth of May St studios, shared amongst 40 practicing artists of the inner-west region of metropolitan Sydney. She spoke with us candidly about her artistic practice and what she has in store for us at Art Pharmacy!

Your works are beautiful and very detailed, how long does it take you to create a wall hanging?
What feels like a long time! But weaving is quite meditative work, for example these gold and black materials were gifted to me and I had the large wall hanging completed in a month.

How do you normally work? Do you isolate yourself, or do you talk with people or listen to music?
I listen to music, because you want to be able to block out distractions. I sometimes listen to podcasts, but at the moment I'm into Hip Hop. I sit here listening to Kendrick Lamar while I weave!

I'm interested in this space, it is so large and caters for so many artists. How do you like working in such a collaborative environment? Do you find that you influence each others' works?
Yes it happens, even unintentionally. I share a studio with a painter by the name of Patti Skenridge who is part of a gallery collective in Blackheath. She isn't in very often but in a space like May St studios, the artists know to respect each others’ space and artistic expression. But sometimes it's nice to have immediate feedback from other artists! Working from home can be quite isolating. For me, colour is the main inspiration that I would draw from other people's work here. There is another textile artist who works downstairs. She uses a completely neutral colour base, most of her works are in shades of white. That is really useful for me, she encouraged me to pull back my very saturated colour palette and to use more natural tones.

You also use other materials in your works that aren’t textile, day-to-day items such as foil, rope, rubber? How do you find these items? Do you tend to pick up things that catch your eye and integrate them into your wall hangings?
Well, yes! The other day I went to Bunning’s Warehouse, I’m always careful to check out their section of ropes and twine. I found a bleached jute twine that had a really nice organic feel to it. I also have my set of regular haunts in Marrickville and online, of course. I’m always searching Ebay! I tend to avoid second-hand stores because I find it hard to find quality fabrics in those stores, especially ones still in good condition.

My husband and I love collecting things. We have real collector sensibility so we are always on the hunt. It is not unheard of for us drive way out of Sydney to check out stores off the beaten track! And that’s where I have found some really unusual fabrics, like latch-hook wool from the 1970s and trims from the 1960s. It’s just such a high!

Some of these strips of fabric actually come from my own clothes, ones that I was particularly attached to and couldn't bear to throw away. What we wear is so important and says so much about who we are.

I can see that energy and creativity in your studio, you obviously like to surround yourself with materials that inspire you. You work in this immersive environment and your wall hangings are also so detailed and inviting. To appreciate them becomes an immersive experience! People are drawn into them, wanting to touch them… Is this something that you set out to create?
I am a very tactile and sensual person, and my home reflects this as well, it is full of heavily patterned and textured fabrics, it is cluttered but curated. I guess this is something that comes through in my work as well. But I have to say, I was not prepared for how extreme people’s reactions are to my works, they can barely keep their hands off them!

Is this a worry for you in terms of the conservation of your works?
Yes, part of it is. But I have decided that there is no point being precious about my works. I actually find it very flattering to have someone so interested in your work that they would want to bury their face in it! It is different to a painting, and maybe if people touch the works so much then they won’t survive for a hundred years. But am I really producing that kind of work? No. It is for people to enjoy right now, if they want to take it home and lay with it in their bed, who am I to judge?

And the sensual nature of my materials is also something that I enjoy whilst I’m creating my wall hangings. I recently attended a basket-weaving course, just out of curiosity, and I couldn’t stand it! The materials were so rough and damaging to the fingers, there was nothing pleasurable about the process. It just wasn’t for me. Obviously, I really love the fact that my art enables me to touch these soft materials all day and make something visually beautiful out of them as well.

Concerning your artistic processes, do you have a set idea of what you are after when you start your work, or do you follow a more organic development going where the materials take you?
The answer to both of those questions is yes. At the very beginning of the process there is a material that inspires me. Initially, it's more about the material and the colour palette and only afterwards will I think about the composition. But that sometimes changes, for example the piece I was working yesterday was following a very rigid composition that I had set out in my head. And then, as I was driving to the studio this morning I revised that idea, tweaking the composition quite dramatically. I think the nature of the materials do dictate an artist’s work a great deal. They have a life of their own and this has to flow through the final composition. Once you scrunch up the materials, that is their form and that's just something you have to go by.

With some materials have you found that you are surprised by their form, is it easy to imagine what a material will look like once it is woven into a composition?
Yes, you always have an image in mind. That being said, I always try to manipulate the materials (scrunching and twisting) before I buy them, if it is possible in the store. But occasionally I will buy a material regardless of its form, just because it has a great colour and texture and I just know that it will work and look good.

Do you have a favourite material?
I'm just obsessed with pink and gold! Somebody gave me a Trisha Gould book in the late 1980s or early 1990s and she's an interior designer who has been around forever. I'll never forget, in this book there was a Louis style chair that was upholstered in pink and painted in gold, with gold lettering all over it. And I think that that image programmed my future tastes, I just fell in love with that combination from a very young age. I'm also very influenced by metallic trends in fashion and interior design.

Do you read design blogs and fashion magazines to get inspiration for your colour palettes?
Yes, but I wouldn't say that I'm very disciplined at following design and fashion blogs or magazines. I am just an image-gatherer. I take screenshots on my iPad of images that catch my eye when I'm flicking through these digital magazines or blogs. Social platforms like Pinterest aren't so appealing to me, as they take away the hunt! It is not so gratifying when it is just handed to you on a platter. And some of the blogs I find too wordy, the Design Files is the main one that I follow regularly.

You refer to some of your more recent works as part of a "body hair" phase, can you develop on this?
I am living smack-bang in the middle of the Inner-West, surrounded by hairy hipsters, and it is such a striking reaction against the previous body image movement which was very much about clean-shaven and well-kept metrosexuals. All of a sudden everybody has this hipster look, that I really like! And even though I really love working with bright and saturated colours, I enjoyed the depth and strength of the black wool that I integrated into my works. But it is also about the texture, but there is strength there too. I always go back to the colours though, I go through phases for example I'll go through a boho-chic phase and then I'll try to be serious, then I'll get over it and go back to something frivolous and child-like. That seems to be a common theme, this reversion to quite immature pieces. I haven't grown out of some things, I still enjoy the same things that I did as a child.

Back in the studio, are there particular works that you would like to talk about?
Well, this for example is my oldest piece. I hold on to a lot of stuff for reference purposes. You tend to move in a certain direction and you forget where you began, so it's good to have a point of comparison of your artistic evolution in front of you. My first works were made on makeshift looms fashioned out of cardboard boxes.

My weaving workshops are also a platform to exhibit what I do. For the students, it is more about creative expression and playing with the materials rather than creating something that is technically correct. People produce some really great artworks! Actually, I often get quite excited and want to hurry back to my studio to draw on this inspiration!

I understand that you use a range of looms, why is that so? What different effects can be created?
Using the rigid Heddel loom, you can get more uniformity in the weave. You can make functional items like scarves and baby blankets on a loom like this. I really like using the handmade looms, on cardboard or on a table, because it gives you a much more organic feel. The larger pieces are made on the table, which is more practical. But my preference is the cardboard; it is just so simple and effective. I have here a weaving frame that everybody in this new weaving revival tends to use. I actually don't find it a manageable tool. It's not heavy enough to ground the work whilst you are working on it. You need a bit of tension, but not too much otherwise your work will buckle.

I see that you have an easel and a palette up there in your shelves. Do you use other media? How did you come into the medium of weaving? Were you drawn in by this contemporary revival?
When I first got my studio, I started painting. I produced some pretty nice works and I got a few commissions. I enjoyed painting, but I was soon finished, getting what I needed to out of my system. When I left full-time work to become an artist, I assumed that I would be painting forever. It never occurred to me that I would gravitate towards another medium! I think I was watching television and saw this wall hanging. That triggered an epiphany, which is when I went into the kitchen, ripped up a cardboard box and made that first piece. It made sense. Weaving tapped into the fact that I like retro collectables and tactile things. It has brought all these elements of me together. In hindsight, it is not surprising that I have become this weaving woman!

Where are you going from here? Are there any new projects planned for the future?
When I get a larger space, I'd like to get a large upright loom. But I think that I'd have to get that custom-made. If I want to continue to do the really big wall hangings like Dressmaker Scraps and Hirsute Daddy, I'm going to need a bigger space to fit them in! But the bigger the better, I get fantasies about massive commissions.

I have been thinking of developing a series of cushions, as you can see in my studio. And I’d like to explore some other techniques, for example some latch-hook pieces. This one is a latch-hook weave and the result is heavily textured with a lot of relief, almost like coral, although originally I set out to create something more floral! It just screams out Great Barrier Reef conservation project but it's not really... my work really just fills this desperate need I have to create tactile things.

I refer to my work as decorative, and that is definitely its purpose. It's for enjoyment and I don't have any snobbery surrounding that. But then again, I didn't go to art school, I went to design school and design is very much about aesthetics while art school is about giving concept and meaning to your work. So my works are simply reflecting the school that I come from. Sometimes I can be conceptual, that's all part of creative expression, but it isn't central to my work.

You can see more of Sky's works here.

Words: Lucie Reeves Smith