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Carmel Seymour is an Antidote to Adulthood
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I'm reading
Carmel Seymour is an Antidote to Adulthood
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Carmel Seymour is an Antidote to Adulthood
Pass it on
Pass it on
Conversations
26 May 2014

Carmel Seymour is an Antidote to Adulthood

Interview by Jessica Wilkinson
Photography by Carmel Seymour

Carmel Seymour’s art is like an antidote to adulthood. Or at least our science driven, technology-laden version of it. Delving into the boundless realm of imagination, Seymour’s painterly fields of vivid watercolour explore life with the wonderment of childhood firmly within its grasp.

You can’t help but want to be swept away by it—transported to the corners of her imagination where the world is painted through the lens of a mystical dreamland.

This sense of wonderment and mysticism isn’t the only thing that makes her artwork unique. Each piece tells a narrative. There’s a story within each of her paintings and sketches, and the beautiful thing is that for everyone, that story will be different. Carmel describes her art as,“Feeling the mystery of the world, the way you do without all the answers.” With that in mind, it’s no wonder we find mature solace within the whimsy of her brushstrokes and pencil shadings, for there, in her art, we don’t have to know the answers. We don’t have to know the ending. It’s all about the journey, the story, the narrative. And isn’t that always the best part?

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

You were born in London, grew up in Melbourne and now live in Reykjavik in Iceland—those are three pretty amazing, but also disparate places. How have the places you’ve lived affected your art?

Most of my life I have been in Australia, we moved from London when I was four. I had a pretty strong reaction to the nature in Iceland when I first came here. It’s really like nothing I had ever seen. It is very untouched so you don’t have to go far out of the city to have a private moment with a huge field of moss covered lava or giant waterfalls.

It sounds amazing! What made you move to Iceland and what’s it like living there? I have to say, I’m little jealous.

I came here on a residency four years ago. I wanted to experience a colder climate, something really different to Australia. I fell in love with the city (and my husband). Reykjavik is really small, just 220,000 people, but it has a really rich cultural life. I think it has the highest number of artists per capita of anywhere in the world.

Was it hard making the move?

It was at first. People are much more private than in Australia so it was harder to break the ice with them, but now it’s great. The dark winters were really tough but I am getting the hang of them and they are worth it because the summers are divine.

You still hold regular exhibitions here in Melbourne at Helen Gory Galerie. Is this because a small part of you still calls Melbourne home?

Of course! Melbourne is a great city. Most of my favourite people in the world live there.

Do you think you’ll move back?

Who knows what the future holds, though I think it would be a huge adjustment to the heat and the traffic after living in Reykjavik!

You studied in Melbourne at VCA, graduating in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Honors and both the Rosemary Ricker Award and George Hicks Award. Before that, you were working in fashion as a pattern maker and designer. Both very creative paths—what made you change?

I didn’t really find fashion that creative in the end. It was a great way to spend my early twenties, but I never felt like I fit the mould in that world. Maybe no one ever feels that. I was working in fast fashion and once you understood the customer and what they would purchase, there was not much room for a personal touch. There is a lot more freedom but MUCH less money as an artist.

Money aside, you’re career is obviously very gratifying. What is it about art that fulfils you?

I love having my own hours and being able to disappear on residency for a month or two every year.

Sometimes it is really frustrating to make art, you are always critical of your own work but when a great idea appears it gives you a sense of purpose that is incomparable to anything else.

I really enjoy the occasional moment when disparate ideas would come together and there is this moment of clarity and you just know you have been on the right track all the time.

Narrative is probably the most consistent approach from the drawing and into the sculptural work. I love telling stories.
Carmel Seymour

Your art is magical. It reminds me of my childhood, though has an undercurrent of complexity. Is this dichotomy between adulthood and childhood something you’ve done consciously through your art or did it just happen?

Childhood wonder is a big part of my work.

I think a lot of my pieces are attempts at feeling the mystery of the world, the way you do without all the answers.

I have been reading a great essay lately by Roger Caillious about childhood treasure. It has been a huge influence on my current work. I think the deliberate secret making/treasure keeping of children is totally transferable to adult life. It’s a domestic way to make your own inner life full of romance. I think it is really important to maintain an active imaginary world.

I agree! Life can become so waterlogged with the mundane, it’s nice to stir up the imagination and bring back some of that child-like wonder. Speaking of, has your childhood influenced your work?

I think my time in nature as a child has had a huge influence. We were fortunate enough to go on lots of small holidays around country Victoria and there was a park across the road from our house. I spent a lot of time climbing trees and making things out of sticks and acorns. I actually just made a collection of ceramic pieces reflecting on this time.

So how much of you do we see in your pieces?

Every work is a combination of my personal influences but I don’t intend the works to be autobiographical. The works often feature details that relate to things I have been reading or have seen while I make the work. So in that way, they tell me a story of where and what I was doing at that time.

How would you describe your work?

Narrative is probably the most consistent approach from the drawing and into the sculptural work. I love telling stories. I guess there is a surreal aspect to the works but I really shied away from that term because of the postcard surrealist paintings that I’m not that into. I really enjoy the psychoanalytical part of surrealism and the freedom of imaginative association and the games they played.

Having studied fine art, what are your thoughts on art appreciation? Do you think people need to understand the artist’s intention to appreciate their work?

I think there are levels to it, like anything else in the world. I do think great work transcends those levels and can reach people who have studied art and provoke questions in the layman as well. I don’t know if it is necessary to understand the artist’s intention all the time.

People see very different things in my work and I think it becomes a reflection of them, which I like.

How differently is your art perceived and received around the world? Do you notice a difference in audience appreciation between Melbourne and Iceland?

The art market is completely different in Iceland. They don’t have the population to support a huge commercial art market like Melbourne does. They have much more of a DIY culture, it is really exhilarating to participate in.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have been experimenting like crazy for the past year. I have been working on ceramics for the last six months. I just finished a huge installation today. It is made up of lots of tiny elements; small glazed ceramic rocks, sticks and plants and old furniture. It’s a bit like grandfather’s living room rock collection has exploded into space. I’m in a group show in an unfinished museum building just outside Reykjavik this month. The museum was started pre-crash and now it has been sitting empty for years. We are so lucky to be showing there, I think it has the best view in the whole city. Plus, I will have some new work at Helen Gory Gallery in July.

What are you looking forward to?

Seeing my family in Australia soon.

We featured Carmel’s work in Dumbo Feather #39. You can see more of Carmel’s work by visiting her website here.

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