Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Serena Perrone is the interdisciplinary artist behind the absurdist landscapes currently on display in the List Gallery. Her exhibition, which opened on Thursday, is titled “Dislocation, Fiction, and the Transcultural Imagination.” Her work involves a skillful integration of printmaking and drawing.
Perrone was born in St. Louis, to a father who was an immigrant from Sicily. Her parents divorced when she was a child, which forced to navigate between two very different worlds. Duality is a recurring theme among her pieces, in addition to a pervasive sense of dislocation and resulting feelings of longing.
Attending Southern Illinois University, Perrone triple majored in French, Painting, and Art History. She then went on to receive a MFA in Printmaking from Rhode Island School of Design and has previously taught art classes at Swarthmore.
Perrone draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources. In a talk she gave on Thursday before the exhibition’s opening, she spoke a lot about patterns in nature she had witnessed during frequent trips abroad, and she shared several photos that she felt had influenced her work in some way. Perrone emphasized multiple continuities and differences between various cultures by pairing particular images together.
She also cited several authors as inspiration, such as the poets Craig Arnold, Emily Dickinson, Ann Carson, and Wallace Stevens.
“The things I like tend to verge on the magical realism side of the spectrum,” she said in an interview with The Daily Gazette.
Perrone described her process as very cyclical. First, she undergoes a long period of gathering and processing information from a wide variety of places. “I’m okay with allowing myself time throughout the year to do what, from the outside, may look like nothing. It’s sort of just living I guess: traveling, reading, listening to music […] It’s all about cultivating experiences.”
Next, she secludes herself from the world to focus on her work. “I get this burst of energy and I have to get back into the studio. When I’m in the studio I’m not really reading or writing or doing much living. I’m just producing and making work.”
Her work focuses heavily on both real and imagined experiences, as well as the intersection of the two.
“Everyone has a duality of self that can lead to different avenues of perceiving reality, depending on what else is going on in the world or in that moment. I think that perception is not necessarily a fixed thing, and that invention is a really important part of it,” said Perrone.
In her work, images of young girls are often juxtaposed with exotic landscapes and natural disasters like volcanoes. The titles of her pieces are generally very specific and poetic, from “The Origin of Self-Sacrifice” to “A Volcano Pilgrim in Exchange for Fire.”
In an essay about Perrone’s work, List Gallery Director Andrea Packard wrote, “[Perrone’s] works confront the loss, longing, and fear that well up unexpectedly in reverie as well as the redemptive power of art to transform and mediate intense emotions.”
“We look for artists who are exemplary in whatever medium they work in,” Packard told the The Daily Gazette, regarding her decision to feature Perrone’s work.
“Some of the things that drew me to her were her ambitious scale, her strong sense of narrative, and her mastery of the craft of art.”
“I think some of the things I think about a lot when I talk to someone who is just starting out is to try everything, don’t pigeonhole yourself into one concept or medium or even one mode of expression. It’s really important to try everything and then more. Also, learning a lot about art history and contemporary art is very important, but also learn when you can set it aside and listen to your inner voice,” Perrone said in terms of advice for aspiring artists.
Photos by Elena Ruyter/The Daily Gazette