To Carla and everyone at Varda Artists Residency,
Hello. I’m Celia. I know you’ll be introduced to me again and again in this application, so I won’t take long, but here’s a little something to start things off: I’m an illustrator and artist living in Los Angeles. I make work about human relationships, both personal and systemic; the self; the body, and the natural world it all occurs in. Like anyone’s, my work is inevitably a direct result of who I am, so I’d like to take this space to show my art alongside my self.
This first set of paintings are from the series Picnic for Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco. They’re inspired by lazy, hazy, hedonistic summer days and the bittersweet awareness of how short-lived that pleasure is. I was reading about Dutch banketjes, which inspired Banquet Piece, and how artists often included skulls or other symbols to remind viewers of death’s supremacy over the earthly pleasures in the paintings. That seems like a good note to start on, right? I’ll tell you about myself and my work, but hopefully counter the beauty and navel-gazey biography with “mortality wins”.
So let’s go back from death to birth. I grew up punky, female, queer, and hippie-ish in Portland, Oregon, where I learned to draw in the studio my mom had made out of our garage. She would paint next to me and on the weekends we would drive into the Columbia Gorge or the forests surrounding Mt. Hood. In the winter, we’d chase the snow, and in the summer, we’d swim and raft in cold rivers of snowmelt and glacial runoff. When I was a teenager and got into playing music and acting angsty and leaned in, hard, to drawing, my friends and I would bum around trails and bring snacks to swimming holes and weed to the quiet sections of Portland’s big forested parks. Everything was wet, green, and very alive.
In 2018 I made this series, Forest Memories, for a group show and my own nostalgic purposes. I was missing those times, the fir and the freshwater that we’re lacking in Los Angeles, and I wanted to paint them in the surreal colors of my mind’s eye. It felt good, like making happy artifacts.
I eventually left Oregon and moved to California for art school. I figured drawing was the only thing I could keep up forever, and I wanted to be an illustrator–to make money, of course, but mostly to always be reading and learning new things and working with other people. It was 100 degrees and lonely when I moved to my first apartment in Pasadena, but eventually I grew to understand the sun-bleached life, how the intensity of light makes people and colors hard and hot, and I got what I came for. By the time I graduated Art Center, I had met some great people and learned some big things, and I was very anxious. I started working as an illustrator right away.
My illustration career began to fall into place while #MeToo was exploding. I started to make a lot of work about sexual assault, trauma, identity politics, discrimination, Trump– sensitive subjects that I got a reputation for. I burned out on the sad stuff once or twice, but mostly I’ve felt grateful. My grand goal with illustration is to make ideas more accessible, and I feel most useful in accomplishing that with these hard topics.
Now I’ve been hard at work, making work: 5-hour op-eds, illustrations for magazines, portraits, horoscopes, a recurring column about health in The New York Times Magazine, work for outlets that have closed, work for outlets that have just opened, pieces for shows, a lot of failures, things that were never published, things that didn’t turn out, things that went through endless rounds of revisions and feedback, and simple, blissful drawings in my sketchbook or on squares of colored paper. I went on an oceanographic expedition to draw and ended up making a documentary. I went to Bermuda and snorkeled for ctenophores with scientists. I’ve gone backpacking and ripped covers off books to keep my pack light but always figured my sketchbook and pencils were worth the weight.
I’ll never stop drawing and painting, but my practice requires more than that. I try to come from a place of empathy and self-understanding with my commercial work as well as my personal and gallery projects, and those are internal and precious resources that have little to do with clients’ deadlines and Instagram likes. I hope that Varda Artists Residency can be a place for me to explore and re-establish these fundamentals so that I can emerge grounded, refreshed, and capable in my responsibilities as a contributor to the visual world.
Thanks and hope to talk soon,