Artistic License: Serena Caulfield - The Gloss Magazine

Artistic License: Serena Caulfield

The work of Wexford-based artist Serena Caulfield combines colour saturation and a dreamlike quality as seen in her new exhibition “Dream Baby Dream” …

Serena Caulfield, ‘Dream Baby Dream’

How do you describe your work?

I find it difficult to pinpoint or categorise my work, or situate it within a particular “tradition”, as it can float between landscape, historical/classical painting and personal recollection/memory. I shift between the abstract and the figurative. I think that artworks can become both universal and personal with the introduction of allegory. My work contains each of those elements, but what’s most important to me is that when someone comes to look at my work that they feel something. The word “surreal” bugs me a little bit, but there’s definitely a dreamlike quality to my work.

I hope that my paintings can evoke something personal for the viewer, where the search for narrative can parallel the reality of memory, or lack thereof. I don’t like to tell the audience what my work is about, but rather allow space for it to be unpicked, and encourage independent thought, which I think is vital in the contemporary world, especially in its current state. 

Serena Caulfield, ‘There’s Another Sky’

How did you get into art; do you have any muses or mentors?

I’ve been painting and drawing since I was very young. Horses were a major part of my upbringing, and as a child I was often found in my pony’s stable, drawing him when I was avoiding doing the yard work! When I was 16 I had a bad riding accident, which ended my equestrian career, but painting and drawing kept me sane, until a serendipitous opportunity to go to Art School in Gorey, which opened just as I completed my Leaving Cert. The rest is history!

I was very fortunate to meet the artist Angus Fairhurst when I was in my second year. He and his girlfriend came to stay at my parents’ guesthouse and riding school to ride horses on the beach for a week, and he was so helpful and encouraged me to continue making art (I was almost ready to give up). He became my friend and unofficial mentor, and I guess I could say muse as well – I made an homage painting to him last year, which has just been acquired by the Arts Council for its collection.

Eamonn Maxwell has been a great mentor to me in recent years. As an independent curator, art advisor and generally brilliant guy who cares about artists, he’s become a close friend as well. His help, guidance and connections have helped me tremendously in my career. We have worked on a couple of projects together, and he will curate my next exhibition at Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, which opens mid-February.

If I were to have a “muse” perhaps it’s my two year old niece, Sorcha. She has reminded me how important it is to be playful and curious and courageous every day! Recently I watched her drawing in my studio, and I spontaneously went to a painting that I thought was almost “finished”, and in a very childlike fashion, I scribbled on it with no fear of destroying it. We all need more of that.

Serena Caulfield, ‘Wild Horses At Midnight Without A Moon’

What was your inspiration for your new exhibition “Dream Baby Dream”?

The exhibition title “Dream Baby Dream” comes from the song of the same title by American band Suicide. It was playing in the studio one day as I was working, and it just clicked with the work. The lyrics are subjective and open to interpretation, as my paintings are. At its core, the song conveys a sense of hope and perseverance. The repetitive lyrics “Dream, baby dream” encourage us to hold onto our dreams and aspirations, even in the face of adversity, which is an important message to us all.

Serena Caulfield, ‘The Light That Holds The Hot Sky Tame’ 

Your paintings seem to combine the real and the illusory and imaginary, as well as gorgeous colour …

Many of my paintings don’t quite make sense, initially, and are intentionally that way!

One of my earliest memories of experiencing art was when I was around two-years-old. I remember looking up at a painting that hung over our fireplace. It was an old artwork from my mother’s family collection, depicting animals and people in boats in a river scene. When I asked my mother about it years later, I realised that my recollection of the painting was completely wrong. I had thought it was huge because I couldn’t understand how they fit all the animals in it. However, it turned out to be a tiny painting. This false childhood memory has greatly influenced the work I create today.

I approach a painting usually by starting with a vibrant yellow ground. This particular shade of Old Holland sets the foundation for most of my paintings. The yellow presents a challenge to me as the painter, and carries a multitude of connotations. In nature, yellow often signifies danger or toxicity, yet it also represents the warmth and joy of sunshine. You’ll notice a lot of yellow in my works.

I limit my palette to about eight colours. I love colour and absorb it wherever I go – I like to travel a lot, and need some rules when it comes to making work so that I don’t go off on too many tangents!

Serena Caulfield, ‘The Faraway Nearby II’

Where and how do you work?

I live and work in the wilds of south Co Wexford, near Kilmore Quay, beside the sea. I am fortunate to have a studio in the house, which used to be a granny flat. Intertwining local mythologies, childhood photographs and memories, an historical family art collection, and my immediate surroundings, I take different approaches when tackling a painting. I never make sketches first – I tend to go straight in with the paint on the canvas, though my work is very much about mark-making and sometimes more akin to drawing in paint. Recently I’ve been making collages that I then use as the source image. I’ve been using this approach more frequently, as I don’t have to think so much about the composition and form while I’m actually doing the painting. This has allowed me to work more freely and let the physicality of the paint do its thing, so the bones of the composition are there from the initial marks and somehow then the practical ‘work’ is allowed to become more intuitive. Some of the work in this exhibition is made entirely intuitively with no plan or source image such as “Wild Horses at Midnight, without a Moon”, and “Hope in the Dark”.

Need to Know: Serena Caulfield’s exhibition “Dream Baby Dream” will be opened by singer and broadcaster May Kay at Solomon Fine Art on Thursday, January 11. The exhibition continues until Saturday, February 3;


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