“I think art is a dialogue with other artists even if that artist doesn’t use the same medium as you do, there’s still a dialogue.” – Caitlin V. Fagley
Jeweler Caitlin V. Fagley of Aguja y Clavo Jewelry Designs talks about creativity in a way that opens you, the listener, to more questions and ideas of your own. Meet this fascinating young designer and see if you agree.
What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity is an extension of my identity. The work I create is directly related to who I am, what I’ve seen as a child, what my parents taught me, what my interests are. It’s also an extension of my personality. Identity and personality are closely related but the words used to describe each can be divided into nouns and adjectives. I identify myself as a traveler, a history lover, a woman, a jeweler, an avid reader, a researcher, an artisan, an artist, a wanderer, an only child, a thinker, a listener, an architect turned teacher turned construction worker turned jeweler. My personality is observant, adventurous, understanding, tolerant, patient, pensive, forgetful, mindful, enthusiastic, cheerful, careful, motivated.
Creativity also allows me to be a loving and caring person. I’m able to love and understand love because I have my creativity and because I get to do it every day. When I’m creating, what’s happening is that my mind is going on a billion things at once and I have all of these emotions and I have to learn to be compassionate towards myself because art isn’t just this moment where you’re creating and nothing is happening. It’s a time to be quiet and alone and settle the thoughts of that day. There’s chaos happening everywhere in the world and this insane overstimulation with technology that it feels like there are thousands of ways to be affected by them. I’ve learned to love every aspect of who I am and in turn, I’m able to love others because I taught myself how to love. So creativity is the constant, the independent variable, and all of these things feed into it and become the dependent variables of it.
Creativity is also a way of measuring personal time. Any creator or maker can look at their work and remember what was happening when they created it. It’s an activity that makes the days count, and it’s surprising how much you can produce in a rather short period of time. I love the idea that as human beings we all want to leave a trail of ourselves, or not be forgotten, and this is the best solution I’ve come up with, the giving in to my creativity. This is what I’ll leave behind and because I feel that responsibility, it forces me to create my best work every time I work. I feel like I always see little improvements with each new piece I make.
How did your art evolve and how have you evolved as a result? Did you have an art focus as a child?
Art started as a practice. I took a ton of classes throughout my childhood from ceramics, to cartooning, drawing, oil painting, photography, beading, Irish step dancing, flamenco, baile folklorico, quilting and sewing, playing the flute, the Puerto Rican guitar, marimbas, theatre and acting, chorus. I also had the opportunity to see all of the incredible masterpieces from Van Gogh to Bosch, Goya, Velázquez, Sorolla, Monet, Rodin, Dali, Picasso, including all of the great architecture and history of Western Europe. My parents love to travel so we’d go every summer and most winters as well to Europe, rent apartments, and explore everything we could.
When I moved to Spain for 3 years, that’s when my art went from being something I practiced and perfecting the craft of, to putting my own voice in it. I started with painting and watercolors and that’s when my art really aligned with my personality and identity. The art from that time period was very dramatic but it was because it felt like I hadn’t spoken a word all of my life and finally all this color and emotion burst out of me and some of my work still moves me and others I see as being an homage to a past feeling that I no longer connect with. When I moved back to New Mexico, it was yet another stage of artistic discovery. I was home but not the same person I was when I left so I went back to practicing and perfecting my craft. I recently went to Spain again for 3 months and returned and I’m in my ‘applying my voice to my art’ stage again. It goes back and forth, it’s a fascinating process.
How do you feel when you’re in your creative space and what does that feeling contribute to your end result?
I have two spaces that I consider my ‘creative space’ and that’s the physical studio space where I work and the other is my mind. My studio space is small but I wanted it to be small. When I was living in Spain, the first 2 apartments I had, were rather large for one person and it always felt so cold and damp. The last one I moved to, was very small and it was my favorite and it was always warm from my own body heat. I feel more intimate and at peace with myself when I’m in a smaller space and I need those feelings to always be there when I create. I want to be close and intimate with my work and since my space forces me to be that way, then I feel I get the results I want.
My head space is what goes with me wherever I go. If I’m away from my studio, you can bet all of your money that I’m thinking about creating. I carry a thin red notebook with me wherever I go. I only buy thin red notebooks, I’ve gone through five of them now that I’ve started jewelry. And my pens have to have a fine tip and my pencils have to be mechanical with the thinnest lead. It’s the only thing I’m particular about but it’s the only way I get the clearest conceptual drawings of my ideas. I draw my ideas anywhere, in the gym, in the car, waiting for doctor’s appointments, I’ll jot down something in the middle of a conversation with someone. I live for a new idea, they’re very special to me.
Do you see an impact of fellow artists on you and your work?
The pieces I’m creating right now are entirely based on artwork from Antiquities although most of the artists from 2500 years ago rarely left any signatures. But in general I’d say all of my artwork is influenced by art from previous times. It’s impossible to come up with anything original at this point in time, art has existed for tens of thousands of years. It’s one of the things that distinguishes human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom (besides cooking and the awareness of our finality and so on). I think art is a dialogue with other artists even if that artist doesn’t use the same medium as you do, there’s still a dialogue. I think what’s amazing about art is that it can travel over time and space (especially now faster than ever) and it has this kind of timelessness that can bend and move from one moment and situation or era and into other parts of the world and transform into something different or unique.
I’d say the two people who have impacted my work the most are my parents. My mom is a quilter and my dad is an adobe builder. I named my company after tools that are essential to their crafts, a needle and a nail. (Aguja y Clavo is needle and nail in Spanish.) They don’t really consider themselves to be artists or artisans but everything they taught me and how they chose to run their lives and the way they focus on details applies directly to how I do my work. I execute my pieces with the same type of methods that they would in their areas of interests and it’s no wonder. I’ve worked with both of them closely throughout my life and even if we’re each talking about our own interests, somehow everything relates and we understand one another.
As an artist, are there doubts and struggles you face? Give me an example of courage in facing them.
I don’t really struggle with what I want to create. Even with my more ‘provocative’ pieces, I never question whether I should make something although I’m more likely to keep the message to myself and turn to observing how other people interact with my work.
I do recall one year I purchased this massive canvas, it was 12’ x 6’. I had drawn out an entire mural and it was a bit Frida Kahlo-esque. It was very symbolic, extremely personal, dealt with themes that had been in my life for a while (loneliness, homesickness, the usual early 20s feelings) and I had it hanging in my room for nearly 5 months. I worked on one corner and I just could not connect with the themes anymore. I was too happy, I was enjoying my life too much, and the themes were too dark for what I was feeling. I threw the entire canvas away, I didn’t want any of those vibes in my life anymore. I took my artistic side elsewhere and started experimenting with cooking. At the time, I lived on a street that had all of these mom-and-pop specialty food shops and I would chat with the owners. They would always convince me to try a new ingredient that had come into their shop and advise me on how to use it and I’d go home and spend my entire weekend cooking meals for myself. After work, I’d come home from teaching and just indulge in these delicious meals, read, and go to sleep.
How has your art changed your perception of the world and how the world sees you
I think because art has always existed in some form in my life, I don’t really know what the world is without it. It’s impossible for me to say that my perception has changed but I’d say that it has grown. I think the biggest change is that I’ve matured and that honestly feels like someone has removed my drunk goggles. I see things so clearly now and before everything seemed to mush together, as they would behind a pair of drunk goggles. I didn’t understand the importance of what I was seeing before and it wasn’t until I completely removed myself from all of the noise of colleagues, teachers, social media, society and all those people who tend to impose their views on you, that I began to actually see things through my own eyes and notice details that I hadn’t before.
I will say now that I’ve let some of the noise back in to my life, ie social media, I feel like the world views me and what I do very differently from before. I only focus on my art and my process on social media. I mention very little of my artistic message, I don’t include anything about my personal life, and when I see or talk to my friends, those images that I post are powerful enough to drive an entire conversation between us. My friends and family are seeing what I’m making and how I’m making it and they feel that much more connected to me. There’s always a level of excitement in their voice that I can sense when we talk, it’s an enthusiasm that wasn’t there before. I used to be the person that most people would come to have a laugh with, now I’m the person you come to talk about your dreams for the future. Especially the ones you thought you’d never say out loud, those are my favorite conversations.
What impact do you want to have with your art and on whom?
The answer to this question is a little more personal. I think the most important people for me are my grandparents. They’ve all since passed but I have enough memories and lots of precious items from them that I’ve inherited. One of the most precious was a large box of my grandparents’ courtship letters to one another from the late 1930s. My grandfather was a scholar, very well-traveled, and absolutely smitten with my grandmother. I often imagine the pieces that I’m making to be items that he’d bring back on his trips for her. Or I imagine him and I having a scholarly conversation on the Ancient Greek author Herodotus and how that’s affecting my work. I also imagine my other grandmother, who had the most colorful and exciting jewelry collection, try on all of my pieces and want them all. I can picture quite vividly my going to visit her and pulling out my newest pieces and her ooo-ing and ahh-ing over everything and putting them on all together. I don’t necessarily create for a public audience but I create for the memories I had with my grandparents, either in person or through the pieces of themselves that they’ve left behind. I also create as though I’m going to have those moments with my grandchildren, where I’ll be able to share with them what I’ve created. I’m curating conversations I’ll be having with my grandchildren so that when they mature and become adults, they’ll see the world through a perspective that I shared with them. Or maybe I’ll never get to have that conversation and they’ll have to come to their own conclusions the way I am now, by picking up the pieces of what my grandparents left behind.
I’m proud to introduce readers to another Albuquerque Jeweler, Caitlin V. Fagley. Caitlin is part of my ongoing series of artist interviews focused on creativity. Follow Aguja y Clavo Jewelry Designs on Facebook to learn more.