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'Great cities are born from people working together.’

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Feature by Mikaela Aitken

Filipino–born, American–raised, Australian–based artist Carla Uriarte’s creative journey is by way of four continents. From San Francisco to Madrid, Sydney to Berlin, then back to Sydney, Carla has sought creative inspiration across the globe. This worldly lens has emboldened her multidisciplinary art, inspired themes of belonging and instilled in Carla the value of community. 

Now with roots planted in Sydney, Carla, alongside her partner David Abram, has set to create a cultural hub in Taylor Square with friendly stop-in Cafe Freda's and artist-operated gallery Abstract Thoughts. From her studio above Cafe Freda's, we chat to Carla about a life lived across cultures, the value of building more creative and connected cities and how to spend a great day in Sydney. 


On travel shaping your creative perspective

I was born in the Philippines — my mom is Filipino and my dad is Spanish. We moved to San Francisco when I was two. Then a week after my 18th birthday I moved to Spain for five years. A lot of young people get forced into studying before they even know who they are, I was more interested in figuring that out rather than rushing into more years of school. At that point I didn’t even think about working in the arts, but I kept my practice up as a way of relaxing. 

I was working in a bar in Madrid when my mom moved to Australia. She said ‘Either you move here and study, or I’m going to buy a house’. I thought ‘OK OK, IT’S TIME’. I was accepted into Design Centre Enmore in Sydney and discovered graphic illustration and design. Some years after, I decided to move to Berlin to be an artist full time. In Berlin I was able to understand what it was to work for myself and explore what being a creative meant and the different pathways included in that. 

On lessons learnt in Berlin

Moving to Berlin to be an artist is like moving to LA to be an actor. It's pretty wild and it ate me up. I don't know if I was ready for it, but it was a cultural awakening and it taught me that the world is big. I was there for six months, then moved back to Sydney. That’s when things really started moving for me here and the world felt small and easy in a way that was nice and comforting. 

On understanding the value of community

When I moved back to Sydney, I had to rediscover myself, my community and what my journey was. I started working with Dave, who is my partner, on Freda’s which was a dance bar with a gallery underneath it. Being in that environment allowed me to build my own community in Sydney. The exploration of new connections is something that interests me. I’ve lived in so many places, so I’ve had to become comfortable with being vulnerable. Surrounding myself with people who inspire me has always given me fuel. 

From selling drawings of SpongeBob Square Pants on the back of the school bus in San Francisco, to working with Australian fashion label Romance Was Born (see second image) in Sydney, Carla Uriarte's creative journey is one that was decades in the making. Now living in North Bondi, Carla works between home and the artist studios attached to Abstract Thoughts gallery in Taylor Square. Images courtesy of Carla Uriarte.

On creating the community you wanted to see

I felt that Sydney needed more cultural hubs and places for people to meet. Dave and I would walk around Sydney looking for somewhere we could just sit down, have a wine, listen to good music and run into friends. Then when Freda’s first location closed, (David Abram's live music venue in Chippendale that shut down due to the pandemic), Dave and I thought about what to do next. We always wanted to do a little wine bar and eatery, we found a space and it all aligned with where we were at in our lives and what we wanted to see in our community. And so, our neighborhood eatery and bar Cafe Freda’s was created. It's a space where people feel comfortable and can be immersed in the creative vibe. We’ve also opened a gallery and some artist studios. These are all in the same building so it almost feels like a little cultural zone. I think it's important that rather than complaining about something, you take action. Here’s a problem, so what can we do as a community to fix it? That’s how all of the great cities in the world are born, from ideas and people working together. 

On what to expect from Cafe Freda's

We're going to start booking DJs on Fridays and Saturdays for a regular spot called Club Cafe, which is a bit more of a party from say 9.00 pm to midnight. People will eventually be able to dance again, which is nice. The food at Cafe Freda's is amazing, too. It's all locally sourced, seasonal, organic, and made by our great chef Xinyi Lim, who really shares our point of view around supporting the local community. Between the gallery, studio and the café, it's a creative ecosystem that really works.

'Moving to Berlin to be an artist is like moving to LA to be an actor. It's pretty wild and it ate me up. I don't know if I was ready for it, but it was a cultural awakening and it taught me that the world is big.'

On the ethos behind your gallery

Our gallery is called Abstract Thoughts Gallery. It’s a reflection of emerging artists, mainly local. We’re having our first group show in 2021, which I’m super excited about. We’ll also host events in the space in partnership with brands that share our ethos, as well as night markets, live music,  poetry readings, workshops and a gallery shop. The art world can feel stuffy. I want to help make it a little less serious and celebrate cool young artists alongside more seasoned talents. The seriousness is such a weird juxtaposition that has always confused me. I don’t find the route to become a big artist attractive. So I decided to create my own route, and do my own thing and hopefully help other people who share my beliefs. There are a lot of things that can be changed in the art world. So I’m going to take a stab at it and see how I can help my corner of the world.

Carla's solo work is inspired by themes of belonging, comfort and camaraderie. They are sweet, funny, and colorful streams of consciousness that cross from painting to writing to video. Images courtesy of Carla Uriarte.

On what you're currently working on

I've been working on this exhibition called Life for the longest time. I'm writing a tiny book with 13 chapters and each chapter has a different painting that's attached to it. One chapter is Chewing Slowly, so you have the painting and the words to go alongside it. I'll be showing the exhibition in our gallery in maybe six month's time? I used to be really into rushing, but seeing the world and the impact of COVID, has taught me the power of slowness. I now understand that taking my time is a beautiful thing that can be quite enjoyable. Deadlines are great, but realistic ones are even better. If you make your own timeline, give yourself some slack. When you give yourself the time, the product just gets better. It allows you to think about what you're doing, and be influenced by talking about your ideas. You can give your creativity the attention it deserves

On why you love Sydney

I really love the sea. I live in North Bondi right by the beach. I enjoy waking up to a swim. The nature culture of Sydney is so pleasurable. We’re surrounded by so much greenery and blue that it’s ingrained in everyone’s life. You can also drive anywhere and feel like you're on holiday — beaches, bush walks. The exploration feels endless. 

On where you go to think

There's a spot happens to be my favorite place in the whole world. It’s the sauna at Icebergs at Bondi beach. At the moment, only six people are allowed in, which is great. You sit in there and have a front row view of the ocean. Then you jump in the super cold pool and boom, consider yourself reborn.

On your go-to spot for a meal

Aside from our café (of course)  — there are a lot of new little places that have opened up, but a good old faithful is Fratelli Paradiso. I feel like a woman there: I’m 30, I’m living my life, and I’m having wine and some pasta; it’s a beautiful thing.

Cafe Freda's opened in early 2021 in Sydney's Taylor Square on Oxford Street. This neighborhood eatery and wine bar was created as a community gathering spot, a place for people to meet and be merry. Below: The bright team behind Cafe Freda's — David Abram, Chef Xinyi Lim and Carla. Images courtesy of Nikki To.

On resetting away from the city

I really like taking the train to the Blue Mountains. There's something about the train that's really relaxing. Because what I do is so public and I’m socializing most of the time, sitting on a train and being able to look out the window, draw or write gives me time to connect with myself. I love the trails through the mountains too, but sometimes I feel like the train ride is the whole shebang. In Katoomba there’s a really good Korean restaurant called Sanwiye and they have the best dumplings. There’s also a bakery called Hominy where I like to get a chocolate chip cookie — so simple but so good. I like feeling really normal.

'I really like taking the train to the Blue Mountains...I love the trails through the mountains too, but sometimes I feel like the train ride is the whole shebang.'

On showing a friend around Sydney for the day

There’s a café I go to all of the time called Lox Stox that has delicious chopped liver, we’d start there. Then we’d go for a swim up in North Bondi off the rocks. I never swim without my goggles, I’m a bit of a dork.  There are always fish, and today, I saw a big seal. However, I don’t recommend swimming when the water is crazy as I’ve been tossed around. It’s the big sea after all. Then we’d read our books by the water. 

Next I would ask my friend to jump on the 333 bus with me, taking it straight to Taylor Square in Surry Hills. We would sit in Cafe Freda’s with a glass of wine and the afternoon sun. We’d meet up with some friends and listen to whoever is DJing. For dinner we’d walk down to Alberto’s Lounge and have some pasta. It’s a really nice vibe and it doesn’t feel too stuffy — think sophisticated but also casual. Next we’d walk into the CBD (city centre) to feel the contrast with the city and the beach. We’d go to Kinokuniya, a large Japanese bookshop that’s an institution. It has a great selection of all types of books in every category and a whole stationery department — you never get bored there.  

Then we’d head for a drink at The Rocks at Maybe Sammy, which was ranked as the 11th best cocktail bar in the world in 2020, which is crazy especially since the world is so big.  All the staff there are very animated and it’s pretty funny in an ‘am I really here’ type of way. After having a large amount of mini cocktails we’d head home for a nice cup of tea.

Above: Carla's collaboration with Romance Was Born included hats, rugs, napkins, shirts, shorts, slides and embroidered denim. Below: when in need of a reset, Carla catches the train west to the rugged Blue Mountains and seeks out bush walks and locally made choc chip cookies. Top two images courtesy Kitty Callaghan, bottom images courtesy of Carla Uriarte.

On a window or an aisle seat

The real me would choose a window. But the me now, who’s always peeing, would probably have to choose the aisle. You don’t want to be the person who gets stuck in the window and is peeing every 10 minutes. So I’d have to take the aisle, which I don’t even want. I want the window. 

'Travel has helped me appreciate the importance of building a home for myself. I feel lucky to be here in Sydney, and to have experienced the world.'

On what a life lived across cultures has taught you

Travel has helped me appreciate the importance of building a home for myself. The movement was nice, but there came a time when I craved stability — the ability to set down roots and having my own community I could fall back on. It’s been almost four years since moving back to Sydney, and I’ve really focused on creating a home for myself. I feel lucky to be here and to have experienced the world. I can take everything I’ve learned and share it with the people around me who maybe didn’t get to travel or live in another place. It’s been nice to express and share it. 

On Sydney in one word


The air is clean, the birds are chirping.


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