A CONVERSATION with Serena
When did you first get the calling to become an artist?
If you ask my mom, I was about four years old. According to family legend, I was strapped into my car seat in our garage in Austin, Texas, watching my grandmother work on a giant abstract painting, pointing wildly and barking requests – orange! there! – as she happily obliged. The painting turned out great and my family still jokes that it was my first real collaboration. With grandparents who were all professional artists, musicians, and bohemians, I guess you could say art was in my DNA, though I didn’t officially study or make art until I’d graduated from college and was into my 20s.
Were you formally trained?
Eventually, yes. Though first I earned my undergrad degree in Psychology from Wake Forest University. My entire life I’d wanted to be a psychologist because I was drawn to people – understanding them, aiding them, giving them a voice. I never wavered in this focus until the year before graduate school, living in Colorado. I picked up a paintbrush for the first time and began painting every object in sight. These objects got picked up by a gallery and sold. I painted more and those sold. Exciting, but I was entirely conflicted by what was unfolding because my path was interrupted. But I realized I had something to say and strongly needed to explore it. Instead of applying to a doctoral program, I went back to school to study fine art.
Describe your path from art school to professional artist.
While studying in Florence, Italy I was profoundly inspired by the degree of expression that Florence is a shrine to, and awakened to the notion that I could contribute to the world in the same way. In Florence, decoration is not just visual – it’s visceral. My goal was to go home and create beauty that surrounds and envelops. I became a decorative painter focused on creating original, freehand pattern in hotels, restaurants, homes, catalog sets, you name it. Each project was custom and inspired by the client and space. I developed a signature, and established a wide roster of interior design clients, as well as residential, commercial, and retail clients.
At what point did you begin to explore textile design?
As my personal style and philosophy evolved, I wanted to find more ways to make a mark and headed back to school to study textile design and printmaking. Soon after, I developed a line of hand blockprinted fabrics and accessories, sold through interior designers and boutiques, all printed to order in my California studio. And shortly after that launched I met Lily, and Serena & Lily was conceived.
What’s your favorite creation?
Well, kids, of course! But aside from my two little wonders, I have a couple of standouts. Creating Serena & Lily, the brand and the business, was one of the greatest challenges of my career, and also one of the most satisfying. Our mission was always to empower customers to create expressive environments unique to them. We dispelled decorating rules and encouraged individuality. I very much aligned to this mission, and we all worked hard to create something really fantastic. From defining the needs and look of a customer in product-form to constantly evolving that look while staying ahead of the market by saying something new over and over again- it was an enlightening experience, to say the least.
Next would be my first line of blockprinted fabrics. It was personal. It was original. It was challenging. And it was beautiful. It merged artistry with product in a way that I had not quite seen and have since always insisted on. The quality of the pigment pressed onto coarse linen continued to inspire my textiles for Serena & Lily, and really defined the hand and look of all of our prints. Many of those original patterns were in fact brought into the Serena & Lily line, and have had a long happy run there.
What does being creative mean to you?
Having worked with so many talented people over the years who are not necessarily in “creative” fields, I’ve developed a fairly expansive view of what creativity means. You don’t need to hold a paintbrush to be creative. Creativity is nothing more than new thinking. The innovators of the world are creative, regardless of their job or craft. Artists and designers simply develop skills that allow them to communicate their ideas visually. I wholeheartedly believe we are all born creative and we either nurture that or we don’t.
What do you wish to communicate with your art?
My art and design work is not theoretical. Nor is it purely aesthetic. Whether it’s a print, a product, or a painting, my goal is to create a feeling in the viewer that is synonymous with the feeling I had when I was creating it. To transfer that emotion to the object and the space, and ultimately to create a feeling for the person who experiences both.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
There are places I can go and things I can do to be assured inspiration. Travel always delivers, particularly when it's a place that’s new to me. Exposure to newness and originality re-wires my circuit board. New ideas start flowing for me when I’m witness to it out in the world. Then there’s the endless list of sources: galleries and museums, graffiti and street art, fashion – couture and street-style, World of Interiors, vintage wallpapers, flea markets, surf towns, a great meal, the rush of downhill sports, the stash of embroidered and mirrored gypsy belts I discovered on my last trip to India, time with friends, expansive views, the list goes on and on.
What is the vision for your new studio?
This new space is exciting...perfectly emblematic of Sausalito in its feel and location. It’s on the end of a rustic pier, with rough floors, walls of windows and a roll-up door facing the water that’s begging to be left open. As much as I love to come to a studio that’s light and peaceful, I picture a steady stream of visitors and regular open studios, and will set it up accordingly. I imagine the bar cart will be as important as the paint cart...my work is about relationships after all, so the spirit of the space will really be defined by them. This spirit carries into my work, and it becomes a virtuous cycle.