By Michael Solender
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”
When Sufi poet and mystic Rumi uttered those words in 13th-century Persia, he posited how an entire world of creative possibility could come from a singular space or solitary inspiration. His choice of water to illustrate this reflective parable is informative and one that most certainly resonates with Charlotte artist Carmella Jarvi.
“I’ve always been drawn to and inspired by water,” Jarvi said of the ubiquitous natural element covering two thirds of our planet. “It’s all around us and connects people independent of their background. I’m mesmerized by its calming, energizing and exhilarating properties and love to explore how glass, moving water and light interact to transform spaces.”
As a mixed media artist, Jarvi’s work has evolved from painting women in water to abstract explorations of water through kiln glass. It was a 2011 trip to Mexico’s Playa del Carmen that took her experimentation and study into new directions. Charmed by the surf, she began to craft pieces to draw people into aqua marine seas, explosions of azure light in crafted spheres, bowls and multicolored circular vessels.
“Glass shares similar properties with water in the ways it refracts and plays with light,” said Jarvi, “yet it’s not a liquid or a solid – this is why working with it is so engaging for me.”
Jarvi’s public art has been featured at installations throughout the Charlotte region, including her “Urban Eddy” at CLT Powerhouse Studio created through the South End Creative Lab Public Art project in 2018 and images of her glass work featured on ArtPop billboards in 2014 and 2018. She’s exhibited locally at Sozo Gallery, Ciel Gallery, UNC Charlotte’s Projective Eye Gallery and MoNa Gallery, at the GreenHill Center for NC Art in Greensboro and many others.
In 2019, Jarvi was the Atrium Health Artist-in-Residency at McColl Center for Art + Innovation. She worked with the healthcare provider and its Teen Health Connection around the theme of water, with her students’ watercolor and acrylic paintings displayed at Mercy Hospital. During her residency, Jarvi created “Quiet Water,” a glass, faux water installation displayed in the hospital’s Healing Garden.
Jarvi views public art as a vehicle to build bridges and connect people through urban placemaking.
“I was a public-school art teacher for 13 years and am a long-time community advocate for the arts,” Jarvi said. “I’m watching my city become more and more divided of late. If I can use my art to connect people, that’s what I want to do.”
Jarvi volunteers at Garinger High School and is working with students and neighbors on a City of Charlotte-funded public art placemaking project called “Circle Together” – street murals designed to use a visual circle motif to engage the neighborhood and add pops of color, transforming the space surrounding the high school.
“When people are invested in their space,” Jarvi said, “they display pride in it and look for ways to share that ownership with others.”
The pandemic interrupted Jarvi’s initial plans for her ASC Creative Renewal Fellowship to go outside of her current process and engage with Corning Museum of Glass in New York in a two-week workshop with master artisans. She remains hopeful to get to Corning when the class is rescheduled and travel becomes more accessible. She also intends to travel to Portland, Ore., for a Business of Glass class delivered by Bullseye Glass, an industry leader in architectural and art glass.
Jarvi purchased long-needed new equipment and tools thanks to fellowship funds.
A non-stop learner, Jarvi hasn’t let the past year’s global events shake her dreams of expanding her knowledge base and scaling her work for even greater impact.
“Receiving this fellowship provides a huge gift of experimentation, instruction and the luxury of research,” she said. “I can’t wait to use my learning to project into my own work. It is simply a game changer”