Evolving Creativity: Carol Paik’s Artistic Journey

Lawyer. Writer. Visual Artist. Carol Paik has had a range of experiences throughout her history. She has been a stay-at-home mom, a playwright, and received an MFA in creative nonfiction. Now, she is focusing her time and energy on the visual arts, a medium of communication that she is exploring in new and inventive ways.

Her work is multifaceted, encompassing recycled materials, textiles, stitch-work and more. She aims to recycle items as much as possible. The motivation behind this, explains Paik, “is to try to at least slow its [the refuse] inevitable descent into the earth.” Not only that, but the actually recycling of material is an element of her process. She feels less restrained when reusing things that aren’t precious. Cheap, abundant materials lend themselves more freely to experimentation and, in some cases, mistakes. “It’s also an endlessly fascinating challenge for me to try to make something interesting and, yes, maybe even beautiful, out of overlooked trash,” she explains.

One way that Paik taps into her creativity is through 100-Day projects. The project guidelines are simple: pick a medium you want to work in, and make something new each day across 100 days. At the moment, Paik is on day 43 of her “100 Days of Plastic Bags” project. Throughout this experiment, Paik has woven plastic together, constructed coffee cups, lizards and mushrooms from bags, made a dress, and much, much more. “The point,” explains Paik, “is not necessarily to create a great piece of art every day, but rather to make something, anything, to get into that habit, to exercise that muscle, to generate ideas.” Even so, ideas do not always flow with ease. A slump is inevitable here or there, but Paik is always able to locate a new strain of creativity within herself.

This energy extends far beyond the 100-Day projects. Paik is also the creator of the “Resting Stitch Face,” a year-long project in which she created a ‘Stitch Face’ each week out of materials found in her home and then photographed them around New York City. Along the way, Paik wrote a blog post each week to give location details and insider insights into the shoots. The project had other positive outcomes beyond the series of photos. “We managed to include all five boroughs, so I visited a number of places I’d never been and probably would never have gone, met people I wouldn’t have ordinarily met, had conversations I wouldn’t have had,” says Paik. The response was overwhelming and incredibly enthusiastic, resulting in an exhibition at the St. Agnes Branch of the New York Public Library (the exhibition ultimately went virtual due to COVID-19).

Her current project is a bit of a divergence for Paik. Over the past summer, she began to create woven and braided rugs out of old clothing and fabric scraps. Paik is interested in art versus craft, whether those are truly separate disciplines, or connected. Some of her work, she believes, falls between the two classifications. Her rugs, for example, could be either. They’re also the first large-scale works she has made up to this point. “It doesn’t require a large canvas, a large backing, a large wall, or anything like that. You just start at the center and keep braiding and the rugs keep growing. It could, in theory, grow indefinitely,” says Paik.

Creativity is much the same. It cannot be used up, it is infinite, and Paik has an energy that is hard to ignore. I, for one, will be following her long after she finishes that 100th piece of plastic bag art.

Photos courtesy of the artist.