In this edition of Spotlight, we’re joined by U.K-based landscape artist Celia de Serra. Formerly an abstract artist, it is now the incredible realism and masterful depictions of light, shadow and colour that is attracting the most attention in her home area of West Dorset, England. We talked with Celia about how much of this magnificent talent came naturally to her, and what she thinks is essential in to the art-life balance.
Thankyou very much for agreeing to join us here on Spotlight, Celia. It’s great to have you. Could you first start by telling us, how much of your amazing technical ability is natural talent, and how much did you learn in formal training?
Thanks for your generous comments. I’ve been fortunate in that I seemed capable of drawing and painting from a fairly an early age, quite some time before I had any formal training. Most of my skills since then I have built up over years of hard work, practice and, crucially, time. I was also formally trained at art college, but it was a fairly laissez-faire environment. The training was important, though, in providing a stimulating arena for critical analysis and painting practice; and it was a good time and place to meet like-minded people over a few beers and some loud music.
2) What is your process for preparing a piece, and how long does it usually take to execute from beginning to end?
I start a piece of work by spending a lot of time outdoors, being quite immersed in where I am, looking for ideas and interesting light. I like to spend a lot of time just pondering and looking, particularly when I am on my mountain bike off-roading where you can get to some amazing places perfect for just this. I use a couple of digital cameras and sketchbooks to gather ideas and spend yet more time at home printing photos, drawing and thinking some more. Eventually I’ll start painting, sketching out forms and shapes in thin washes and building these up over time. Parts of my paintings are more gestural and immediate, it depends. It can take many weeks, sometimes months, to complete a single painting, although it does vary. Often, as probably other artists will attest, deciding when a painting is finished can be quite difficult and you can find yourself coming back to a piece of work at a much later date and reworking it.
3) You do work on commission. How do people find out about your work?
I do some commissions although most of my work is uncommissioned and sold or shown privately or in exhibitions. My website is a good way to find out about my work, especially for news and forthcoming exhibitions. Otherwise I can be contacted at home where my studio is, although currently I am in the process of relocating. I also work with galleries and dealers from time to time. I also have a series of commissioned works on permanent public display at the Yeovil District HospitalU’s Pharmacy and this came about by a previous temporary show at Dorset County Hospital.
4) You seem to be a bit of a master of natural light. Were there any artists in particular that inspired you / influenced your style?
Thank you. The painters that I have come across who seem to be able to capture light include, I suppose:- Bonnard, Rembrant, Bonnington, Ivan Aivazovsky etc. Generally I like allsorts of painters, perhaps some are influences, but I think it is less definitive than that. I enjoy the work of painters such as Gerhard Richter, David Reed, Maggie Hambling, Francis Bacon, Joan Mitchell, Hughie O’Donaghue, Paul Nash, Brice Marden, Robert Motherwell and many, many more – a fairly eclectic mix.
5) What subject matter would you like to dabble in in the future, if your direction changes?
I used to be an abstract painter, in fact this basis has helped me with my grasp of landscape painting. In the future I might like to dabble in other types of landscapes, perhaps to conceptualise the work more, maybe with an industrial or social bent. I have got lots of ideas, and probably not enough time, the usual problem.
6) Have you ever found it difficult or isolating working in a field where essentially you produce something by yourself?
Yes, painting can be an isolating activity. You have to be quite self critical and motivated, and it’s easy sometimes to be over critical. For example, I have had difficult times in the past, particularly when I have felt I was going round and round in circles with the work, scrubbing out more than I was producing. I worked through these difficulties, quite literally, and feedback from other people, particularly my painter husband, became very useful. I also think putting on an exhibition, however humble, is a great confidence boost and it gives you a good overview and context to your work – very helpful.
7) What kinds of advice would you give to someone with a good deal of talent and not a great deal of concentration? Is getting down to work something you have ever had trouble with?
When it comes to painting I am focused and single minded, but primarily I enjoy what I do and if I am not painting for prolonged periods I tend to become miserable. Even so there are times when it is more difficult to get down to work than others, it really depends. A solution might be:- try to relax (I have heard that some artists use meditation, whatever works really) – begin to work quite freely, play about a bit with the paint and see what happens. Or, if the painting is at that tricky stage, spend a good amount of time looking and thinking before even reaching for the paint brush. Put some music on perhaps, shut the door, make sure you have everything you need in front of you so that nothing niggles or is a distraction. You then have to give yourself time to become immersed in what you are doing, it doesn’t always happen straight away. As painting is a discipline I think focus becomes easier with practice, so keep on working; it does pay off, and the painting will start to take on a life of its own and create is own energy.
8) How do other things in your life help your work? (I.e. time with friends, family, a great dinner, travelling, the morning sunshine). Have you found anything that hinders your art work, and what do you do to get back in the zone?
Mountain biking probably helps my work the most, giving me head space, ideas and mental refreshment. I particularly enjoy travelling to mountainous or remote areas of the countryside, and walking or cycling with friends or family. Good music definitely helps with my painting, accompanied by the odd glass of Rioja, and good food. I would say that the normal stuff of life does get in the way of painting (cleaning, cooking, paperwork, etc.) but this can be constructive, not only to make you a more rounded and less boring person, but also to focus the mind back onto painting; in any event, this is how I like to see my part time jobs over the years. I think the biggest hindrance to painting for me tends to be emotional upset. Last year our family suffered a significant trauma and I was unable to concentrate on painting for 2-3 months, and this is pretty rare for me. Eventually things sorted themselves out in my personal life and I was able to return to the studio. At the moment I am in the middle of moving home and relocating, which although very stressful, hasn’t stopped me from working – in fact painting can be quite a cathartic activity in itself.
9) What kinds of reactions did you have to your work in 2007?
I had a lot of positive responses to my work last year. I was invited to participate in an exhibition in Salisbury and was very pleased that the work sold out and was followed by further enquiries and an offer of another exhibition later in the year. Obviously sales are important but the feedback was much appreciated; people typically commenting on the light, sky, sense of distance and place etc.. It is always very nice to hear and much appreciated. The website has been very useful, particularly webstats, and just being able to be in contact with clients or interested people.
10) What do you think you’d be if you weren’t an artist?
Well, in a fantasy world, I’d like to be any number of things such as an active participant in music, film or TV, a biologist (maybe an environmental/political activist), maybe a chef or a food critic, or a writer, or, if I were a adolescent male, a pro-downhill mountain biker. In the real world, however, I stupidly didn’t have any contingency plans for if the painting didn’t work out. Years ago I did study English Literature alongside the painting at university, but it was quite miraculous that I passed as I spent most of my time in the studio, ignoring essay demands.
We thank you Celia for your interesting and insightful answers to our questions.
To see more of Celia’s incredible work, please head to her homepage at: www.celiadeserra.com