For many artists, the spark of creativity begins with a clean slate: a blank canvas, new brushes, a freshly opened can of paint. Karla Kantorovich, however, finds inspiration in the discarded and the decayed. “I’m very attracted to that moment of fragility when objects are approaching nothingness,” the Florida artist explains. Viewing these scraps as pieces in a collective puzzle, the Mexico City native combines items such as fabrics and pages torn from old books to create a new vision of wholeness. Her wall-sized pieces incorporate items as disparate as a frayed hammock, tree branches, textiles and yarn, while more intimate assemblages are composed of layered handmade paper, brittle leaves and fragments of canvas ripped from the artist’s own paintings.
Working out of a sun-drenched Aventura apartment-turned-studio, Kantorovich arranges and rearranges her found materials in a meditative ritual of reparation. To her, this practice underscores a broader perspective on human relationships and the cycle of life—and the attempts to restore both. “We are supposed to be connected,” the Miami artist muses. “It’s part of our nature to try to heal or complete that brokenness.”
Natural elements, particularly trees, are a dominating force in her work. Using repurposed shirts, Kantorovich distresses each item by applying pigments in an arboreal palette of ochre, birch and muted moss. “Everything comes back to the tree, to the bark,” she says. “I’m obsessed.” The artist’s most recent creations involve mixing scraps of recycled paper and water in a household blender to craft a renewed version of paper, which is texturized and treated until it resembles bark. It is then sewn together as a nod to regeneration: the cycle of existence and the inevitable return to the earth. “The thread is like the consciousness that connects us,” she reflects. “It’s a bond for life.”
The recipient of an Ellies award from Oolite Arts, Kantorovich is preparing an installation that will offer reflections on healing as individuals and as communities. Drawing upon the technique of Mexican amate, a type of bark paper, she is creating her own interpretation of handmade paper using recycled materials and will include a video and audio component for an immersive experience. “Each country has different techniques around paper,” the artist says, citing a desire to understand the artistry of Korean joomchi, a method that involves manipulating hanji paper so it becomes as durable as cloth. “A part of healing is connecting to wisdom. From our ancestors and other people, we are always learning.”