Roaming with Serena Curmi

According to Plan © Serena CurmiSerena Curmi’s paintings have a curious, nostalgic feel to them – it’s as though I’ve have seen them before, perhaps in my childhood, or someone else’s. She’s illustrating the Russian faerytales I was never told. I love the snowy, misty landscapes and uncanny encounters between girls and forest creatures, especially the way the wolf is just lurking in the background in the piece above. Friend or foe?

Caught in the light © Serena Curmi

And yet, she says, her creative awakenings began as a merchild – or rather, as a small child roaming a sailing boat.

“I’ve always been a creative person of some description,” she says. “I grew up on a sailboat and I think being creative was an outlet for me during the many boring days at sea in a confined space with three other people. I was always coming up with great ideas that I would daydream about. Once I tried to make my own perfume by gathering a very small amount of rose petals together in a jar and adding some cooking oil. Needless to say it turned into a soggy mess.”

Brilliantly, on recalling this she adds: “I improved a little and went on to do a degree in Illustration at Falmouth College of Arts in Cornwall.”

Departure © Serena Curmi

The first piece of art she remembers being proud of was “painting a picture of Minnie the Minx on the back of a white 80s cotton jacket that I was pretty pleased with” when she was aged about seven.

Today she draws inspiration from online sources including Pinterest. “I’m addicted. It’s a great tool for finding and compiling images. I look at a lot of surreal fashion photography actually, probably more than the work of other painters. But sometimes it’s something completely uncreative that sparks something in me. The other week I took a trip to Bethlem Royal Hospital (otherwise known as Bedlam) which I found incredibly inspiring.”

Italian Bathers © Serena CurmiIt’s true that her work exudes a sense of the unsettled and uncanny, but also, as her name befits, a great deal of serenity.

“I have quite a minimalist approach to life,” she tells me. “I don’t like clutter and I think this reflects in my paintings. My work is concerned with storytelling with a touch of the fairytale. Through a restrained technique, I try to focus the attention onto only the important elements in the painting which I hope helps to create a narrative which is sometimes peaceful and still, sometimes melancholy, and sometimes provoking a sense of unease of apprehension.”

Queen © Serena Curmi

And this ongoing narrative is evolving all the time, “which means that in a year or so, it might have gone a slightly different direction. I am getting very interested in social behaviours and norms (hence the trip to Bethlem) so I see my work going more towards this kind of thing in the future.”

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Amid trees with Daniel Ablitt

Drifting cr Daniel Ablitt

I have a recurring dream, or daydream perhaps, of wading into the cool, clear waters of a lake or river, surrounded by trees. It’s a moment of calm that I can draw in supermarket queues, crowded commuter trains, and while waiting to speak on stage about my writing.

I have no idea where this tranquil scene comes from – perhaps its an amalgamation of places visited and glimpsed – who knows? But then one day at the Affordable Art Fair in Bristol, I discovered Daniel Ablitt’s paintings and realised his artwork reflects the mood in that dream with uncanny familiarity.

Waiting At The Jetty cr Daniel Ablitt

Waiting At The Jetty © Daniel Ablitt

His pieces often show a single figure, or a pair, allowing you to imagine yourself stepping directly into the setting, meandering amid the trees or slipping into the water. There’s a sense of contentment, and self-containment, exuded by his work that I find wonderfully enticing.

Daniel studied for a degree in fine art at Cheltenham and Edinburgh, but feels his education “really started as a child with family travels through Europe in a camper van, stopping at any church with a fresco and museum or gallery on the way.”

Sounds heavenly to me.

“I think the first piece of art I was proud of creating was a drawing of a deer that I did when I was about 10,” Daniel says. “It was the first drawing that wasn’t of superheroes! It is also my first piece of work that was framed. I think as an artist you create pieces throughout your working life that for some reason are seminal to you, that mark a turning point or break through of some kind.”

Warm Winter Light © Daniel Ablitt

Warm Winter Light © Daniel Ablitt

Daniel says he draws inspiration from “places that I find hold a sense of peace and contemplation. These can be places I have recently visited or part remembered places from my childhood.”

That makes perfect sense to me, given my personal response to Daniel’s artwork. More recently Daniel travelled to Patagonia and has embarked on a series of paintings inspired by his time there. “The landscapes I encountered there were truly breathtaking.”

I asked Daniel what influences his work, and while he listed Peter Doig, Toulouse-Lautrec, and landscape painter Casper David Friedrich, he was keen to point out that he sources inspiration from many different sources “not only other painters. It can come from music, film, literature or something as simple as a quality of light at different times of the day.”

He adds: “I honestly try and empty my head at the beginning of a piece. Being surrounded by trees or moorland or mountains, gives me a greater sense of self. In these places I feel more physically, mentally and emotionally aware.”

Secret Place cr Daniel Ablitt

Secret Place © Daniel Ablitt

You can see Daniel’s work at various art fairs in September and Octobe, and at the following galleries on an ongoing basis.

John Martin Gallery, 80 Fulham Rd, Chelsea, London, SW3 6HR.
Wills Art Warehouse, 180 lower richmond road, putney, sw15 1ly.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)