Meet Carmel Seymour.
I was first taken by her piece “The Secret Not Worth Knowing,” pictured above, when a co-worker sent it my way. The title itself lingered in my brain like a fine wine on the palette… one that you can’t quite describe but you just know you like it… a lot… and want more of it, a lot more.
Her imagination-stirring images dance in a land between fine detailed realism and abstract surrealism. I remain in awe of Carmel, who allows you to get happily lost between the lines of definitions. Right when you think you’ve got a handle on it… BOOM. Shifts occur and you find yourself in another land entirely, a land you never knew you always wanted to visit. Her use of loose watercolors linger comfortably in open space – asking the viewer – what is it that you see? Surely… it’s personal, and evokes in each of us our deepest childhood imaginations and desires.
I was able to have a chat with Carmel. Read on and revel in what makes her tick and tock…. how she gets herself out of a creative slump… and how her parents always encouraged her fantasy.
Above, “The Secret Not Worth Knowing”
Where were you born… where were you raised…. And where have you since lived? How have those environments shaped you?
I was born in London, raised in Melbourne Australia and I now live in Reykjavik, Iceland. I guess I have an appreciation of the natural world from many amazing family holidays around Australia. This was definitely heightened after living in Iceland. It is another island with a completely unique landscape, I feel pretty lucky to have experienced these two extremes intimately.
Describe to me your childhood – your parents – the way in which they raised you?
My childhood was pretty idyllic. We lived across the road from a park so I spent my time climbing trees with my brothers, I was a dreamer and I spent lots of hours drawing and making things. I made tiny communities from acorns and gum-nuts and little furniture for them from scraps of wood from my fathers shed. I desperately loved my childhood fantasy world and I dragged my feet to grow up when other girls were already chasing boys and being fashionable. My parents encouraged my creativity by helping me get to art and ceramic classes, I remember getting a huge tin of fancy pencils for my sixteenth birthday. I think I still have them somewhere.
Did they recognize you were gifted artistically from a young age…? What do you think is the best way to raise those that are obvious “out of the box” thinkers… movers and shakers?
I was always drawing so I guess they knew I was into it early on. I don’t know about the best way to raise children but I imagine supporting someone’s unique interests is not hard when you love them. I never felt any pressure to make money or go to university; I think my parents trusted me enough to follow my own path.
“The Sky Was Too Bright”
“The Mountains Are Doing Fine”
Did I read somewhere you have a history in Fashion and Pattern Making? Tell me the origins and how they lead to where you are now…
I did work in fashion for the first eight or nine years out of high school. It was fun for a time but I never felt comfortable in that world. I think years of technical drawing made me a better draftsman and I still like fabrics and patterns and enjoy painting them but that’s about it. It feels like a lifetime ago.
Why Watercolor? What sets it apart from oils and acrylics for you?
Painting with watercolor is so close to drawing. I did my undergrad in printmaking and I love working with paper so it seemed a logical first step. Initially I loved the spills and washes and unexpected textures that broke up my instinctually tight way of drawing. There is a beautiful lightness that comes with watercolor. I love botanical illustration and the illustrative language of science books so it seemed to allow me to reference those visual modes as well.
Your illustrations transport the mind and soul to another place; where possibilities are endless and the imaginative rules all… is there a part of you in each piece? What do you hope your viewer will experience with your work?
I don’t know that I really think of the viewer when I make the work. In that way they are quite personal. I usually try to resolve a question or image that has evolved from some research and see what happens in the painting process. The images are often collections of many symbols and references that are present in my thinking at the time. I really like to hear other people’s interpretations – it’s a bit like psychoanalysis in that way. The imaginative space in the works is something many people identify with, it is a permission to daydream. I think that is a beautiful thing about painting.
“Feels Lichen Home”
“Science Documentaries Taught Me To Love”
When did you start drawing and painting?
As a child, but I did not create much when I worked in fashion. I had dismissed it as a hobby.
Do you remember a moment in which you thought… ah ha…… this is it for me… this is going to be what I do…
I had reoccurring dreams of studying art and I woke after a particularly vivid one and knew I had to make art. My subconscious was way ahead of me!
Describe a moment you had when you doubted everything… said to hell with it all… (if ever)….
All the time. Making art is a miserable endeavor sometimes. I have had moments of such severe artist’s block that I could not have drawn a stick figure. When you are so invested in what you do it is easy to get scared of failing. However after many bad days being the forerunner to intense bursts of creativity, I don’t take them so seriously now. I think this is a pretty universal experience for an artist, it all comes down to how you deal with the lows.
What brings you back up when you’re feeling low?
For me the best method is research. I read, write, see exhibitions, go to the countryside, watch movies, and soon enough new and exciting ideas worm their way back. Oh and the hot tubs in Reykjavik are an amazing quick fix.
“C.S Little Rituals”
Favorite 5 artists of all time… and why?
It changes all the time, but today the most influential I can think of are:
David Hockney – I love his dedication to painting and his freedom of technique. I was first drawn to his portraiture from the seventies but I really enjoy his writing as well.
Amy Cutler – Her detailed figurative watercolors were very influential when I first started painting. They showed me that art could be illustrative, feminine and fantastical.
Cornelia Parker – Her work taught me the poetry of material. The way she transforms objects, and plays with narrative, are mysterious and beautiful.
Mamma Anderson/Peter Doig – These are both figurative painters who seem to revel in the painterly. They give me encouragement that painting is still a valid and important mode of expression.
You can invite 5 people to dinner- anyone in history- who is coming, what are you eating, at what album is playing?
It would be my mother, father, brothers and husband and we would be eating a roast and listening to Dad get the words wrong as he sings along to the White Album.
If you weren’t creating art, what would you be doing?
I’m not sure, maybe writing. Studying literature or history, that would be fun.
Dream home? Where is it-what is it made of-what is it filled with?
It’s in the forest, it’s made of bricks, it’s really old. I would say it’s in the Macedon Ranges in Melbourne but because we are talking dream home I pick somewhere less hot like Sweden. It’s filled with knickknacks and paintings and Persian rugs. Lots of house plants, friends, family, and a few cats. An amazing studio with a great view, and a beautiful garden.
Your favorite flower?
The Magnolia. The magnolia trees in Melbourne are my favorite site in late winter.
I love Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now from 1973. Or women of French cinema from the same period but I am too messy to ever pull of those looks!
Favorite place to visit?
Tasmania in Australia.
What is a typical day like for you?
I spend a lot of time reading and sketching. I generally make breakfast and answer emails in the morning, then spend time in the studio in the afternoon. At the moment I am gathering new materials for some new pieces so my schedule is a bit all over the place.
Your dreams for the next 5 years….
I have some exciting collaborative projects coming up. I hope to continue to do residencies and exhibit around the world and to play with some new techniques in painting and ceramic. I am open to whatever comes.
“Hung it Out There”
Thank you Carmel, and the very best wishes for you in all your future endeavors…. my eyes will be following your continued success.
Visit Carmel online at carmelseymour.com.