In an interview with both artist and curator, Clare Gemima explores the collaborative journey of Carla Perez and Nakai Falcón’s “Devourer of Sunsets,” Perez’s solo showcase which recently ran at Charmoli Ciarmoli in Midtown East in Manhattan. By employing an illuminating, multifaceted and physically demanding material sophistication, the artist uncovers themes of agency, memory, and the interplay between natural and artificial worlds through wax, glass, and other stubborn mediums.
It was impossible not to want to delve into Perez’s influences, but also her unyielding commitments to her craft, which so naturally locked into Falcón’s curatorial vision. In speaking to them both, they collectively offer an intimate view into their collaborative process, and, unsurprisingly, share a passion for the future of Perez’s striking work.
Clare Gemima: For “Devourer of Sunsets,” what other practitioners, writers, or scholars influenced your research?
Carla Perez: I am influenced and inspired by a range of artists and scholars. Creative minds, such as Louise Bourgeois, Francisco Goya, Marisol Escobar, Kiki Smith, and Ayón Belkis are some of many that have made unique contributions to the imagery, materiality and concept of my pieces. They have a knack for blending the surreal and the tangible, creating worlds where you can be completely enveloped by emotions and yet grounded by the clues of their life, and their stories—political or familial. Their artistic languages, often incorporating the human form, have always resonated with me deeply.
How the world affects the body is fascinating. In fact, I’ve always had an appetite for fiction and focus heavily on Latin American magical realism, as well as Russian sci-fi because of their ability to question what is real, or how something should feel. When working through curiosities and looking for answers I always find myself re-mystifying the narrative as a way to destabilize or reconfigure what I think others see, versus what we the viewer might see as well.
Clare Gemima: In what way do you draw inspiration from Gothic and folk art in your work?
Carla Perez: Both Gothic and folk art frequently use symbolism and allegory to convey deeper meanings. To me, they represent a way to layer the magical, spiritual and natural world over the human condition and create a collage of sorts. I find both to be rebellious and subversive narratives.
When I draw from Dominican Folk art, I do it to gain insight into the customs, stories, and beliefs of my loved ones and my heritage. There is a beautiful humility in the symbols that artists repeatedly represent in folk art, and I’ve always admired that. They are icons of the home and the self.
Similarly to folk art, Gothic art lends a peculiar view to icons, however, in a style that focuses on light, intricate ornamentation, and architecture to create a sense of divine presence and transcendence. It’s about bringing the sky and the divine closer to us and us closer to it. If I could draw anything from these two styles it would be their ability to make the world feel simultaneously defined and abstract.
Clare Gemima: Could you elaborate on any childhood memories that influenced your desire to work with botanical forms, especially since you do so through your use of so many different materials?
Carla Perez: As a kid, the women in my family had this deep admiration for carefully manicured gardens filled with exotic flowers. They tended to them with an almost supernatural dedication. It always struck me, especially when you compared it to the “wildness” of the forests and rivers where my cousins and I would roam from sunrise to sunset on my visits to the countryside in the Dominican Republic.
I relive the memory of viciously plucking weeds from a well-kept garden, and watching tiny flowers push their way through the most inhospitable grounds. It has always seemed to be a constant power struggle between people and nature, each attempting to rebel against the other.
A memory that has been resurfacing in my mind recently is that of flowers and weeds climbing up my great grandparents rocking chairs. The image of the chairs slowly being taken over by flowers keeps showing up in my artwork, and I think it’ll stay there for a good while. It’s my way of paying tribute to them and the plants that reclaimed their space. A battle surrendered.
Clare Gemima: Could you describe how your processes stay in a sense of flux, especially considering you work with materials like oils, wax, and glass? How does the dynamic of your mediums influence the motifs you chose to depict with them?
Carla Perez: My materials are ever-changing, and I’m always experimenting because it is engaging and fulfilling to see what each material brings aesthetically and symbolically to a piece. While it might seem like there are significant shifts between the mediums I use, the truth is that I’m consistently drawn to a few key elements: translucence, layers, fusion, and melting. Memories serve as my central inspiration. They intertwine, blend, and sometimes linger alongside our everyday experiences. Whether it’s the act of embedding images in hot wax, layering pigments with cold wax, or capturing and preserving moments in glass, I’m focused on conveying a sense of multiplicity and depth.
Clare Gemima: Can you talk through the process of hand blowing your glass vase with perky but also wilting orchids inside of it?
Carla Perez: I’m totally fascinated by the whole art of glass blowing and lamp working; it’s almost like poetry in action. Glass has this unique quality where its strength and fragility depend entirely on the environment it’s in. It’s super responsive to heat and tension, and it’s almost like it’s at the mercy of its surroundings, either playing nice or shattering in front of your eyes. Working with glass to create these orchids is like trying to capture memories and push a material that’s pretty much designed to break or melt away into these delicate botanical shapes at different life stages. It’s like freezing a moment in time, but in a way that’s irreversible.
Clare Gemima: What is your trial and error ratio for your glass work, and have you got enough left-overs to make a basket or bouquet of flowers yet?
Carla Perez: I would say of every three pieces one comes out alive. Glass is a fickle material and something as insignificant as a cold breeze in the room can send a petal or stem into temperature shock, causing the piece to fracture. Despite the unfavorable success rate, a year of making glass orchids has left me with more flowers and petals than I can count. I’m actively looking for a way to fuse them together or present them apart.
As for the bouquet, there is always enough for a bouquet!
Clare Gemima: How do you respond to the contrast between the natural world and the artificial sphere we inhabit, and how does this tension play out in your glass works specifically?
Carla Perez: The artificial world we live in is both liberating and suffocating. There is a feeling of being disconnected and overwhelmed by a world filled with constant information and thoughtlessness.
In many ways I see glass as a companion in this chaos. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Beach glass, for example, is formed by intense natural forces, like lightning strikes. Each time it transforms, it’s marked by violence, heat, and change. Despite this, it remembers its original form, like it has a stubborn memory. It’s a bit like life itself–persistent and elusive. Glass resembles life in its mix of permanence and fragility.
Even when we try to control things, life has its own plans, just like glass retains its essence no matter how much we shape it. There is a tension it holds within itself that I want to continue to understand and think through.
Clare Gemima: Can you share insights into the collaborative process between you and Carla, and how you curatorially ensured her envisioned and constructed environment within “Devourer of Sunsets” was effectively communicated?
Nakai Falcón: I produced the proposal for the show with Charmoli Ciarmoli based on my understanding of Carla’s work after having spoken to her in the past, and from information I could find tied to her practice online. Looking back on her BFA thesis exhibition at Parsons School of Design, and listening to stories she’d shared from childhood highlighted a questioning of societal conventions within a Dominican context—a continuous throughline in her work—as well as her unwavering appetite for creative growth.
Expectations from our loved ones are something shared commonly between people from every walk of life, but Carla’s historic thirst for tenacious curiosity proved to be a vital component of her work that I was particularly compelled by. Conversations that pondered dualities in identity, memory, and otherness, and the artist’s blooming affinity for nature were the most rewarding aspects for me to engage in while collaborating with Carla.
Regardless of the amount of work she produced, Carla was in no rush to show it. Her work would be authentically tied to an active dedication to the expansion of her perspective, which she has explored in this show, through ideas surrounding ‘self,’ and its relationship to the outside world. By the time I shared the text for “Devourer of Sunsets” with Carla, she appreciated the exhibition lens that framed all of my ideas. Many had been running through her head that were yet to come together as a presentation cohesive enough to effectively convey her multifaceted talent.
Clare Gemima: Throughout and since “Devourer of Sunsets,” what direction do you see Carla going with her construction and conceptual underpinning, and how do you expect your approach to curating her work in the future will differ from now?
Nakai Falcón: A great question. Having been familiar with Carla’s work since 2019, I’ve gathered that the influence of nature in her practice (whether it be comforts/discomforts associated with place, identity, memories, or unrestricted freedom tied to her own self introspection) will always find a way to permeate visually in some form. However, she is an artist whose craft is wildly exploratory.
Even with this most recent show, I think the interweaving of unorthodox materials from Carla’s cold wax paintings to her glass blown sculptural works from the most recent residency with Urban Glass, already hints towards new things we should keep an eye out for in her journey of materiality. Incorporating a blend of old and new with respect to her Dominican heritage, she is not afraid to exist in between these states. The beautiful challenge I see here is keeping pace with her multifaceted practice that is constantly being tempered through lived experience and an insatiable desire to learn.
I think it may pose a different challenge for those who often like to categorize artists, but the brilliance of Carla’s work is the consistency of what her work conveys in its themes, and how it manages to do so in a vast array of mediums. As a curator that looks to grapple with the “in-betweeness” of creative cultures, I look forward to the direction in which her work will go in.
“Devourer of Sunsets” at Charmoli Ciarmoli ran from August 11–September 24, 2023.