Interview: Serena Cole

Serena Cole‘s work bridges fashion and traditional portraiture. Showing a mastery of her medium, Serena transforms watercolor and gouache into pieces that feel effortless. Some of her earlier works incorporate gold leaf as well, which feel reminiscent of medieval altar paintings where the face and gesture are key. Her take on fashion portraiture is full of emotion, often unseen in the stoic nature of fashion photography. Being such a busy time with her graduation from CCA, she was sweet enough to answer a few questions about her work and life.


Serena Cole

Hi Serena, I see you just graduated with your MFA, congrats! What’s in the works next for you?

Thanks!  I am currently taking a much-needed breather in Bosnia for the summer where I have been sipping $1 espressos and eating great food.  When I return to the Bay Area, I have to get back to work on some new pieces for a show in New York in the fall.


Serena Cole- I'm An Animal, I'm Going to Eat You

Your work brings together some aspects of fashion photography with painterly portraits, what draws you to the subjects in each of your pieces?

My new work is completely based on the appropriation of fashion imagery.  I have amassed a large catalog of ads which relate to various themes I have determined as certain cultural desires and psychology.  I paint these ads in series to remove the images from the magazine and to show the viewer how strange some images are when they are not taken for granted as advertisements.  Some of my categories include women beating up men (“He’s My Bitch/The New Feminism”), aggressive, animalistic expressions (“I’m an Animal, I’m Going to Eat You”), and people inexplicably looking up to the sky, (“Communicating with a Higher Power”).  These categories are intended to both be tongue-in-cheek and also to show subconscious desires employed in the advertisements.  My headdress pieces are combinations of multiple images from the same categories.

Serena Cole

What’s your favorite summertime adventure to go on?

I really love the beach because I grew up in the woods.  I will go to the beach whenever the opportunity arises, even when it’s freezing!  I also like to feed only the ugly seagulls because I feel bad for them.

What’s a typical day for you like?

I will be starting to work at the California College of the Arts, so once I am done vacationing, I will cross the Bay Bridge from Oakland each day, do my job, get in some painting, maybe get in an art show, drink some wine, and watch cartoons til I fall asleep.

Serena Cole

In addition to painting and drawing do you dabble in any other artistic mediums?

I wouldn’t use the word dabble, but I do experiment with making paper headdress sculptures. It’s good for me to have various projects going on.  In my youth I also used to write a zine and sing in a punk band, if those things count.


Serena Cole - Ecstasy Face II

What sort of playlist is playing in your studio right now?

I like to listen to upbeat music when I paint but i’m mostly into downer stuff, so I like Elvis Costello (“Pump it Up”!), the Cult, and Gang Gang Dance.

Are you working on any new series? Anything you’d like to share with us?

I am working on more paintings for my headdress series to show soon, and would love to do some collaborations with someone a little more uncoventional for paintings, like a designer or a store.  I am really excited about breaking the barriers of art and fashion and commerce, ala Takashi Murakami or Richard Phillips.

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  • here work is really amazing. i love the painterly aspects. i almost went to cca. but san fran’s too cold for me. love her work.