Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I was born and raised between St. Louis and a small town in Sicily. I lived in St. Louis before going off to college at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design. After RISD, I lived for a decade in Philadelphia, then three years in upstate NY. I have just relocated to Atlanta and am based between the United States and Italy, where I typically spend 3-4 months of the year.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
Drawing, painting and writing were some of my main hobbies early on. My mom taught art and my dad taught languages. My parents are very much into the arts and humanities, so it was always present at home. When it came time to go to college and choose a major I decided to commit to art and languages.
What do you like most about working where you do?
I consider myself privileged to have lived in Philadelphia for a little over a decade before moving to upstate NY. Philadelphia was a special place where I enjoyed a wonderfully supportive community of artists, and a city that energized me. I’m still in love with Philadelphia and it was an incredibly important formative period of my life. Recently I relocated to Atlanta (one week ago), and while I’ve only lived in Atlanta for a short period of time, I am already feeling very supported by my colleagues at the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design at Georgia State, and see the city as a vibrant and conducive place to making art and finding community. I’m excited to be here and start a new chapter!
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
While I’ve mostly been working two-dimensionally in printmaking/works on paper and book arts, I’ve recently been involving photography, ceramics, and installation into my work. I expect to be pursuing some projects in animation and film as well and look forward to picking up more skills in these areas.
What is your process like?
I go through periods where I am focused more on research, and then periods where I’m engrossed in the studio. My work in printmaking and alternative photography often requires a significant amount of preparation and trial and error. Some pieces have taken several years to complete, while others take shape in a spontaneous way in a short amount of time, even just a couple of weeks. After long and complicated projects, I often seek relief by executing some smaller and more direct projects. At any given time, I have numerous projects at different stages of completion.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
For many years I’ve been exploring ideas of duality and contradiction, the foreign and familiar, and different forms and functions of nostalgia, and the problems nostalgia can pose in our perception of reality. Aside from printmaking, I draw a lot of inspiration from literature, film and photography as well. Storytelling and travel are key to my work.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
It isn’t the ‘strangest’ thing I’ve ever done for art, but this is the most recent: A few weeks ago, I had the roof removed on the house I live in when I’m in Sicily and I involved the workmen in a video performance and site-specific installation in one of the town squares utilizing the old ceramic roof tiles. At first, everyone thought it was a strange request but the workmen got really into it and it became a fun and meaningful experience. The whole town got behind the project and it became the centerpiece for a community performance during the inauguration of an art festival that took place for the first time in our town.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I have held many different day jobs in the past, both art-related and not. It really depends on the situation and they place in life someone is in – I can say that all jobs I’ve had have served a greater function for me, either by showing me more clearly what I want to do, am good at, or what I absolutely never want to do again. I have also been teaching off and on for many years. In recent years I’ve focused more on teaching and it has been immensely rewarding. I have grown so much through teaching and have just begun a new position as the Assistant Professor of Printmaking, Tenure-Track at Georgia State University. I am so excited by the possibilities for collaboration, exchange, research and growth that accompany a position of this kind, and I look forward to contributing as best I can to this new environment. Whatever one does – teaching, in my case – it is so important to achieve a healthy balance between teaching, professional practice, and personal growth as an artist while not neglecting our personal lives and cherished connections with those dear to us.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I’ve been lucky to have many mentors throughout my life who have been so supportive of my work and my aspirations for growth. Some important things I’ve learned: Try not to overthink everything. Believe in your work and make what gives you joy. Don’t compare yourself to others. Keep learning and try to be generous with your time without over-extending yourself. When it matters, protect your personal time fiercely and learn how to say no.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
Seek out people who inspire and understand you, and try to be supportive to others.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
For me, being part of a supportive community is important for feeling motivated and inspired.
What is your studio like?
Currently my studio is my dining room table, the spare bedroom of my rental house, the classroom I share with my students at school, and the printmaking studio at the residency I created (Officina Stamperia del Notaio) in Sicily. Often my work requires that I go to different printmaking studios to work on specific projects which is always exciting and permits me to meet new people and learn new ways of working. In the past, I used the community printshop Second State Press in Philadelphia where I continue to be a supporting member, and I look forward to becoming a member of Atlanta Printmakers.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I honestly work in spurts of intense production in between periods of research, teaching, rest, and travel. When I am in studio mode, I often work in the afternoons until late at night, depending on the situation. I have to get into a rhythm in order to feel like I’m in the flow while printing. Music and podcasts are essential.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
Clearly, the benefits of not pursuing an advanced degree include not having immense student loan debts and the various problems that result from being under the weight of debt. Pursuing an MFA is not possible or necessary for everyone – I do believe it is possible to be successful and happy without one. But for me, an MFA was something I wanted to earn and needed to earn to pursue a career in teaching at the University level. I did my undergraduate study at a large state university and earned my master’s at a small private arts school, RISD. The two experiences were very important to my growth and development as an artist and I’m so grateful to have had these opportunities, despite the very real hardship of debt that resulted from the choices to follow that path.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
The most frustrating thing may be having more ideas than I can actually realize with the time and energy I have. Another frustration is when others don’t realize the amount of skill, time, and effort required to make quality work, and at times feeling compelled by others to do creative, specialized and professional work without fair compensation.
How would you define “success” in art?
If I could define “success”, it would have to do with achieving work that surprises myself and makes me hungry to grow, learn, take risks and make more, and in the process of doing that, being able to energize and support others in their attempts to do the same.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
A few months ago I had a major body of work enter into the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art which was a really special moment for me.
Are you involved in any collaborative or self-organized projects?
In 2013 I conceived of Officina Stamperia del Notaio, an international artists’ residency program and printmaking studio in the small town of Tusa, Sicily, my father’s birthplace where I’ve spent my summers since childhood and have a second residence. With the support of family friend and collaborator Alfonsina Bellomo who provided the space (an abandoned warehouse complex in the center of town dating back to the 1500s) the construction and renovations began in 2014. In 2015 we hosted our first artist in residence – a filmmaker and Pew Fellow, plus a group of international artists as an informal retreat (as part of the collaborative curatorial project Due South), and our first official residency season took place in 2016. We have continued to grow and expand. Since 2016 we have hosted over to 30 artists, writers and filmmakers, held numerous community workshops featuring alternative photography and printmaking, hosted a 2-week on-site fresco painting workshop led by instructors from Temple University Rome and Stonehill College, and have held public events including exhibitions and open studio events. I have also sponsored and hosted several former students who have served as my assistants for the residency in exchange for studio time and lodging. In addition to facilitating exchange between artists, the residency has become a welcome feature of the town of Tusa, which in turn benefits from the exposure and yearly influx of activity and the modest yet noticeable economic boost the presence of the residency provides to this small town, which like many in the region that are economically depressed and suffering from depopulation, struggles to survive.
In that vein, this past summer I was actively involved in the planning and execution of the first iteration of what we hope will be an on-going annual art festival in the town, with the intention of highlighting the unique vernacular architecture and lesser-known spaces in town with site-specific installations and interventions by local, regional and international artists, writers, and performers.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on adjusting to a new city and job and completing some on-going letterpress and alternative photography projects, as well as beginning some new bodies of work. I’m looking forward to a period of research and collaboration, and gaining experience in some new techniques.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for taking the time to ask these questions and read these responses! I feel lucky and life has been truly challenging and ultimately good.
Find more at serenaperrone.com and on Instagram @mariaserenaperrone!
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