Cara Lynch’s Patterned Histories

December 12, 2014 by

20141201-Cara-663-7Mortar and pestle in hand, Workspace Resident Cara Lynch mixes an explosively bright pink pigment into quart-sized containers of paper pulp. Beside the pink are varying fluorescent shades of yellow and blue that she’ll layer in ornate patterns using hand cut stencils and pulp painting. Twisting and curving in elaborate compositions, these patterns are inspired by early American glass artifacts and colonial decorative stenciling.

“I became really interested in domestic craft objects, thinking about them and the forgotten history of the people [who owned them],” she says. “The objects still exist, but the history is a second-class or second-rate history.”

Cara’s work often borrows from traditions tied to the development of a middle class, like quilting, household glass, and stenciling. She pays tribute to the untold stories of those objects and the people they belonged to. Much of her practice is rooted in labor-intensive patternmaking, which carries over through her two-dimensional and public art installation work. Though her work doesn’t conform to the traditional printmaking materials, Cara is a printmaker at heart, using its lexicon of stenciling and reproduction throughout her practice.

Her site-specific public artworks bring elements of past and present together into quiet tension. Often large in scale, they present repetitive matrices of overlapping colors and patterns. A recent installation in Brooklyn, “Owls Head Quilt” (2014) appropriates decorative architectural designs found in the surrounding neighborhood to create a quilt-like composition of vibrant spray-painted blues, purples, and golds on a large brick wall. Cara breathes new life into these historic patterns through her work, partially in attempt to record their existence, partially to challenge the history that they might represent.

20141128-Cara-370-2In WSW’s paper studio, she spoons colored paper pulp onto the stencils, one impression at a time. Cara is working with over fifty hand-cut stencils of historic patterns from an American tradition of decorative stenciling and glass, much of which was produced in the industrial Northeast. “My mom always collected these glass objects, and her mom collected them, and now I collect them,” she says, having grown up in the suburbs of Long Island. “I also see my own history and memory in that past.”

Through thrifting and online research, she gathers objects, studies the development of specific designs, and appropriates their patterns. (“I often don’t know if they’re reproductions of cheap glass or authentic cheap glass,” she says with a laugh.) These patterns are then transformed and reinterpreted through hand-cut vellum stencils Cara has been patiently slicing in the studio.

For each 24 x 30” pulp painting, she begins by pulling a light-colored sheet to serve as the backdrop for many layers of colored fibers. Choosing a base pattern, she responds to her paper palette and rhythmic shapes in the moment. “Paper feels like you’re in more,” she says, enjoying the tactile labor the medium demands. “Really in it.”20141203-Cara-737-8


Her work memorializes and pays tribute to the stories which are embedded within the decorative objects, whose circulation and design speaks to class, wealth, and taste. Through fluorescent pop colors and glittering pigments, Cara also seeks to challenge traditional boundaries between high and low culture, and fine art and craft. She says, “I hope to question what we value or deem worthy of remembrance or historical relevance while exploring tensions between material and value.”

When lit from behind, the transparency of the paper fibers reveals the many layers that form each two dimensional composition. Cara’s repetitive covering of patterns mirrors the processes of memory and history. However, without this transparency, the layered depth is lost. Instead the works possess an almost garish density; Cara’s process produces a flattening of visual space, a flattening of history.

As a recent graduate still establishing her own practice, she doesn’t see these patterns disappearing anytime soon. “The patterns are always going to recur,” Cara says, excited for upcoming commissions in 2015. “It becomes part of [the work’s] vocabulary.”20141128-Cara-355-1


Cara Lynch received her BFA in Studio Art with a minor in Art History from Adelphi University. She’s produced public art installations throughout New York State, including Purchase, New Rochelle, and Brooklyn. Artists like Polly Apfelbaum and Nicola Lopez inspire Cara to keep pushing the boundaries of high/low culture and art through her work. View more of her colorful installations online at, and more pictures of her residency here.