Artist Interview: Serena Stevens

Q: Your work is based on re-contextualizing found and personal images. What is your process for finding images?
A: I have always been a collector. Throughout my life I have gathered photographs, magazine articles, tchotchkes, stickers… so many things. My childhood bedroom walls were covered with Starburst wrappers and ransom-note-style poetry. Mentors and friends have given me stacks of magazines—old and new, and my mom is a great resource, sending me thrift store and yard sale oddities that are sweet, funny or disturbing, as well as scrapbooks, postcards, and family heirlooms recovered from the depths of former home basements and garages.  I have totes and folders of entertaining items and images, some more precious than others. I have relocated a few times now, and with each move (Iowa to Illinois, California, New Mexico and now Rhode Island) a fair amount of shuffling, prioritizing, and downsizing inevitably takes place. Lost and forgotten mementos reappear and take on new meaning. Allowing for these bits and pieces to be a part of my paintings and collages makes it easier to then let them go. It is a granting of permission, if you will, to let something take on more significance by being a part of something else. In this reorganization of it all, connections reveal themselves. The whole process is like one giant collage and feels very natural.

Q: Why do you choose to take your collages a step further and translate them into paintings?
A: Because paint is gooey and fun! Hah! I love paint and all of its tactile benefits– drippy, goopy, all of the colors, just– yum. I get to take so many liberties with it–denying or embellishing the original source as I please. Collage is cut and dry (there’s a pun in there, but in all seriousness), if one looks hard enough, they will see the cut edge and what exactly was combined, how and where. There are also limitations of scale with [analog] collage—some images cannot physically come together in the ways they can in paint. But to put it simply, I like moving paint around, and there is something extra satisfying about taking a blank surface and creating it all.

Q: Which of your narrative paintings means the most to you and why?
A: It would be hard to say…I have different favorites for different reasons, and some are more personal than others. Some are very sad to me, so those might mean a lot, but are not necessarily my favorite.
I have always liked “Playtime.” It was a bit pivotal for me, and I have been asked many times if the figure is ‘me.’ I used to say no, as the source image was not technically ‘me,’ but now I say, “Kind of,” or, “It could be.”…It could also be you.

Q: When did you first consider yourself an artist?
A: I have always been considered artistic, but there was a point during my undergraduate studies, after pursuing, at least briefly, the medical field, graphic design, and finally fine art, that it dawned on me—I am an artist. This is what I do. This is what I will always do, even if I sometimes have to do other things. I make stuff and think a certain way. It was and is very matter-of-fact. And now I just keep working really hard at it.

Q: If you could have one story from your life turned into a work of art, which would it be?
A: For me? To display on my walls? I’m thinking a Henry Darger meets Hieronymus Bosch-style painting with everyone I have ever loved and that has ever loved me, including pets. I don’t know if that’s a story though. If so, it seems like a long one, so the painting would need to be big.