Christina Roos is a Swedish ceramist, illustrator and assistant professor, with studios in Houston and on an island in Gothenburg’s archipelago. She gets inspiration from her everyday life. The tasks are many, and so are the challenges.
The electrical gate opens silently an early morning hour. The low building, covered with corrugated iron, sits lonely in the middle of the enclosure. Once it was blue, now it’s faded by the Texas sun’s relentless rays. The area is flooded with drugs, crime and stray dogs. Through the steel fences topped with barbed wire coils you can see the Houston downtown area. Just a stone’s throw away, the high raisers aim for the sky, with gleaming facades of glass and granite. The ultimate evidence of the oil industry’s golden era. This is where Christina’s studio is.
Christina Roos is flying high. The 1980s are fading. She has just completed Oslo National Academy of the Arts and is illustrating books for famous Norwegian authors. Christina is working around the clock – 7 days a week. She is honored as the illustrator of the year in Norway. It’s a spinoff. She loves her job, but has not realized the consequences of the life she lives. In the wake of her hard work follows fame and pictures in celebrity magazines, something that actually does not suit her. She doesn’t like to expose herself in public. Christina finally breaks up and moves back to Gothenburg in 1993, and starts working as an art teacher.
-I also worked as designer for Mique and Lagerhaus. In addition, I started the crafts store Silur together with my sister, artist Helena Roos, Christina explains.
Christina and her husband Bo eventually moves back to Norway and get their son Olle. In 1998 they move to Calgary, Canada, and stay there for three years. Christina studies photography and illustration, while she works with ceramics, which is the art closest to her heart. And in 2003 tiny Lina is arriving from China, a new and vibrant addition to the family.
After Olle was born, Christina got problems with her arms. They became numb. They hurt. Year by year she gradually lost the feeling in her hands. Christina has gotten carpal tunnel syndrome, where the nerves are pinched together at the wrists. At night she slept with rails fastened to her arms. She is alone at the island Öckerö, outside Gothenburg, most of the time, as her husband works in Oslo.
Christina could no longer cut a single slice of bread. To open a tap, she had to use a wrench. But after the family moved to Texas, the Houston Wrist & Hand Center became her salvation. The doctor there had never seen as damaged hands as hers. Her palms didn’t have muscles anymore. Flat and white, like sheets of paper. Already the following week she went into surgery. A second operation was followed by several months of training at Hermann Memorial Hospital.
When she recovers, Christina rents a studio in the abandoned steel factory Blumenthal Sheet Metal. About 200 artists are located in different buildings on the site called The Warehouse District in Houston. Old cranes with rusty chains are attached to the ceilings and old metal signs with orders to wear protective glasses are nailed up here and there. There is a lot of history inside these walls.
There are clay figurines everywhere in Christina’s studio. Grey figurines, colorful figurines, sitting on shelves and tables – cheering you up.
Christina picks up a light gray pack of china clay from a cardboard box. Whack! A 12 kilo’s hard brick hits the concrete floor. The clay gives in and becomes soft, feeling smooth between your fingers. She kneads it like donut dough to make the particles get into a spiral, and slams it hard against the table top.
She cuts off a piece and slaps it on the turntable. Gotta get it in the center. That’s important. If she makes a mistake now, it will show later during the burning phase, even if she fixes it, because China clay has memory. The clay remembers how it was originally! The turntable goes round and round, with the sound of a purring cat. Christina dips her hand into a blue plastic bucket. The sound reminds me of ripples around pier poles a quiet summer morning. She splashes the water on the clay while holding around the lump. Her hands glide up, then down. The turntable spins and spins. Mesmerizing. “The fan keeps spinning” Norah Jones sings, low and languishing from a CD player on the shelf.
Christina’s black t-shirt becomes gray-speckled. Clay and water runs in streams down her arms. The turntable spins around and around. She bends slightly to one side, then to the other. Constantly in motion; hands, arms, body, eyes and mouth. She tilts her head. There! Suddenly she removes her foot from the pedal, takes a steel string and cuts the cylinder loose, puts it on the table beside her, along with its brothers and sisters. They stand there gray and dull, some straight, some crooked. Thin and fragile, yet strong. Everyone has holes in the top, looking like wondering creatures with circular, open mouths, like they’re asking: – What will we be?
Last year, Christina worked with a major exhibition in Luleå, Sweden. She was busy and many figurines had to be made. The topic was Lost and Found and Christina asked people in Luleå to mail her their single socks. A few months later they could see their own socks woven in vines, surrounded by porcelain objects in bright yellow, orange and red colors.
The walls in her studio are covered with pictures of rabbits. They are drawn by her daughter Lina, who has a rabbit as her favorite stuffed animal. It has been lost and found countless times, and from this Christina got the idea for her art exhibition. She gets inspiration from her everyday life.
- The children are the best thing that ever happened to me. I am glad to be a mature woman and mom, while the kids keep me young at heart, Christina laughs.
To Christina it’s important that children feel Swedish after many years abroad. They have built a new house at Öckerö, and the Swedish archipelago will be their destination when the Houston stay is over. Most summer vacations have been spent here, among friends and family. – Roots become more and more important, the more you move, she explains. Christina’s hands are good and she is working with what’s closest to her heart; ceramics. Surgery and training have paid off and the only traces are two small scars on her wrists. She has great networks in both Norway and Sweden. There is much to do. Several exhibitions are lined up. These days she is trying out new processes. Christina believes it’s important to evolve constantly, both as an artist and as a person.
-I’m not afraid of the future, I am confident in myself and set my goals so high that I cannot ever reach them, Christina says, while laughing.
Her major goal is to have an exhibition in the United States before she moves back to Sweden, but Christina is not stressed. She’s just looking down at her hands – smiling.
By Heidi Nesttun-Sunde, October 2014