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Serena Stevens: A Sense of Urgency!


  1. Can you tell us about yourself?

I grew up in an old, small, river town in the Southeast corner of Iowa. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Western Illinois University, where I studied under a few artists that are now like family to me. I started my Master’s degree at the Laguna College of Art and Design, in Laguna Beach, California, but ultimately decided to leave that program to pursue other opportunities. From there, I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for three years, and have now been in Rhode Island for one year.

I enjoy seeing new places, being by water and spending time with my partner, Tim, and our three fur-babies: two cats, Oliver and Patrick, and one corgi, Twix.


2. What is painting for you? What materials do you use to produce your paintings?

Painting, for me, is more than the paint and the resulting image. It is color, light, edges, the pace of mark-making, space, depth, tone, mood… there are so many things to balance.

I use oil paint, and on rare occasions, I use acrylic or water-based media for certain looks or processes. I also use a few different mediums, usually a mixture of Galkyd, Gamsol, and linseed. I assemble stretcher bars, stretch raw canvas and prime the surfaces myself. I end up negating the texture of the fabric by applying so many layers of gesso, but prefer the spring of the stretched canvas (versus a panel) and enjoy creating something almost entirely from scratch.
I have acquired a lot of paint and other materials at discount prices via an outlet store near where I am from. Having a lot to work with is really important to me. It is liberating in an experimental and playful way for everything to be less precious, at least at its start. I often joke that I may not have expensive clothes or fancy makeup, but I do have good paint. It is true—I have priorities.


3. Tell us a little about your daily routine. What does your day look like?

I admit, I am not much of a morning person, but if I have computer-based work to do, I would rather just get it out of the way early. Then I let myself dive into the fun stuff. On days that I focus on collaging, I may work through a stack of ideas that are roughly at the same point of development, so that I am just cutting, gluing or cropping a lot of collages at once. Likewise, if I paint, I will probably touch base with three to five paintings, adding layers or making changes, blocking things in to the young ones, or blocking things out of old ones that need bigger changes. If something needs slow, patient paint handling, I like to counter it with messy, loose brushwork. Variety is good, but it cannot always happen in the same painting in the same day.

On a good day, I will work right up until I “should” go to sleep, sometimes as late as three or four in the morning, but usually closer to midnight. I watch very little TV, and when I do, I am probably still working on something. For example, the 4,000+ mouths in my lip collage were sourced in front of a TV. Most of the time, I am listening to all kinds of music.


4. How long does it take for you to develop one idea/concept?

As I mentioned above, I always have several paintings and collages developing at the same time, at various rates; if you were to count every collage, some of which end up informing paintings, I would even say 50+. So I might “finish” twenty collages in one day and three paintings in one week, but they might have all been on my mind or worktable for a several months. The longest paintings with numerous and bold changes have taken a couple of years. On average, I would say it takes a few months from start to finish for most paintings.


5. What inspires you to paint?

For any artist, I think it is important to have a sense of urgency to be in the studio, even if it is an eagerness to get to the end result. Fortunately, I have had a lot of motivation and inspiration lately, but that is not always the case. I stick to a strict schedule and keep busy, even on the days it seems harder to get going. I really love the process and physicality of painting, so that helps.

Taking Twix on a walk and being in nature is refreshing, and if I am ever really lacking motivation or excitement, I can always find it in a museum.


6. What is the future of painting in your opinion?

Tough question. Accessibility of and advancements in materials must be offering something to the painting world. I think we are already in a time when anything goes, and I think we will continue to see trends come and go. We are all so connected anymore… maybe that will somehow play a larger role.


7. When did you decide to be an artist?

Sometime during undergrad, after giving up on the medical school idea, and feeling bored and apathetic about advancing my graphic design studies, is when I had to come to terms with the fact that “this” is what I want to do, and it is probably not always going to be easy. I cannot really imagine spending my time here any other way.


8. What is your next project or exhibition?

Beyond exhibition opportunities, which I am always seeking, I have been thinking about making a book of my collages. Some of them are stronger when viewed as a series; that quality would be easiest maintained in book form.


9. Tell us about your subject matter and how it changes over time.

I have always been a collector of things old and new: magazines, photographs, postcards, trinkets, heirlooms, etc. My childhood bedroom walls were covered with Starburst wrappers, stickers, and, at one point, nearly 900 magazine posters and cutouts of Britney Spears, without a bit of wall paint showing through. During grad school, I was struggling with imagery, working from life as I had during undergrad, but really lacking enthusiasm and that sense of urgency I feel is so necessary. I did learn a lot working from direct observation, but it took one artist friend asking me, “What do you naturally want to do? What have you always done?” for me to really embrace the collage-nature of my process. I have more fun now, and it all feels more honest. My collections serve as source imagery, and I enjoy letting the individual bits take on new meaning by being a part of something else. Because I work with recognizable imagery, viewers sometimes find their own connections and stories; that is the best part.

As far as “over time” is concerned, mentors said it to me in the past, and they were right: life experience will change your work. As I have gotten older, I have had to deal more and more with loss– loss of family members, the idea of “home,” childhood innocence, and imagined ideals. That theme continues to come up in various ways in my work.


10. What is your favorite artist?

I have so many for so many reasons! To name a few current and long-time favorites: Karin Mamma Andersson, Neo Rauch, Martin Mull, Fairfield Porter, Eric Fischl, David Salle, James Rosenquist, and Matisse!