Conversations with Artists

Artist: Serena Depero, Febrauray 2nd, 2021

Serena Depero Studio

Photo by Andrea B. Swenson.

How would you describe your work?

Mostly I am a painter, but sometimes I like to explore and experiment with other materials. My paintings are all acrylic on canvas or wood. I like to think of them as abstract landscapes. I sort of think of them as windows into another world - so I like to create a stage and then I place different shapes and forms within that world. I also think of my paintings as snapshots taken out the window of a moving train. They are impressions of a moment - a combination of looking out at the world while simultaneously looking inward.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by nature and landscapes. I love traveling and seeing new places, and I love the feeling of being in a beautiful landscape connected with nature. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of being outdoors. Simon Scarma writes that “the most intensely felt landscapes are the ones we walk through as a child" - and I love that.

I also love looking at patterns, shapes and forms that I see in the natural world, such as plants, seeds, seashells, and rocks. I'm interested in the visible, but also in the invisible - what goes on behind the scenes on a biological level (cells, molecules) and on an energetic level (the life force that connects us all).

Can you speak about your process?

I work on many paintings at the same time, so there is always something to do. I start out with an underpainting and then slowly build layers of colors with different shapes and forms. Over time some marks get partially covered or erased. I think of my art as being more intuitive and spiritual than intellectual. I don't always start out with a specific idea. Working in the studio is very meditative for me and I try to follow my intuition.

How did you become interested in art?

I have always liked drawing and painting, and making things with my hands. As a child, I remember spending hours playing with found natural materials. Art and math were my favorite subjects in school and I thought of maybe going into architecture or some field where I could be creative and make things. But in high school, painting and drawing became a way for me to tell my story and express my feelings. I found myself in a new city - not able to speak the language. I found refuge in the art room at my school and I spent a lot of time making art. In college, I took mostly art classes and majored in the Visual Arts. I was not really interested in anything else and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else with my life. After college I studied at the Art Students League of New York, and then went on to get my MFA in Painting from Hunter College in New York.

Do you have any favorite artists, movies or books?

There are so many favorite artists. Henry Matisse and Richard Diebenkorn were the first artists who’s work I studied closely. I was then obsessed with Francis Bacon, Joan Mitchell, Antony Tapies, and Eva Hesse (in that exact order). Today I very much appreciate the work of Milton Avery, Agnes Martin, and Brice Marden, and well as many many contemporary painters. There is a lot of really great painting out there right now - I think this is a very exciting time for painting.

Kiki Smith was also an important figure for me - not only did I have an affinity for her work, but her attitude and approach to art making are very genuine and inspiring.

My two favorite art documentaries are probably Rivers and Tides and the The Woodmans. But there are so many other things that inspire me. I recently read a novel called Outline by Rachel Cusk which made me think of being underwater - I think that feeling relates to my work.

What advice do you have for younger artists?

My advice is to do what you feel like doing - just keep making art. Don’t over analyze things too much - it can be paralyzing. Just follow your instinct.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I really love painting. I love the way paint looks on canvas, and the way all the different marks, colors, textures and forms work together. There is something magical about it. You can't describe those relationships in any other way.