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Inspirational Woman: Serena Caulfield | Founder of The Sweet Shop Gallery

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Tell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently

I am an Irish artist, based in Rosslare, Co. Wexford. I first attended Gorey School of Art, where I completed a BA in Fine Art before going on to achieve a BA(hons) from Wexford Campus School of Art and Design, I.T Carlow. In 2008 I received the Travel/Training Award from Wexford County Council, and proceeded to attain a Master’s Degree in Fine Art from Norwich University College of the Arts, UK. I now live and work back in Wexford, where I run The Sweet Shop Gallery; a fully functioning sweet shop and contemporary art gallery which showcases an eclectic mix of raw talent, emerging artists, and established art practitioners.

I was brought up with horses, and my parents ran a very successful equestrian centre. My mother is a very strong woman, who always had an insatiable appetite for success and a very strong work ethic. It obviously rubbed off on my sister (who is a make-up artist for Stage, Film and TV) and I from a young age. Our love for the sport also gave us both a very competitive edge, which has certainly helped in our chosen careers!

My plans for world equestrian domination came to an abrupt halt when, at 16, I had a bad accident from a horse and ended up in and out of hospitals for 2 years. That’s when I really discovered my love for painting and drawing, although I had been drawing since I was very young- often to be found sat in the stables drawing ponies, when I was supposed to be shovelling s**te or some other hard manual chore!

I believe that contemporary art should be accessible to all, and aim to engage the everyday person in a very relaxed art environment, where the pretentiousness that can be associated with the art world is obliterated, and curiosity is encouraged.

Why did you start your business?

There were a few reasons why I started up. One was that I needed the flexibility to get in the studio and do what I do best, and still have an income. Also, after graduating from Art School in a particularly competitive time when everybody seemed to have degrees, one of my main priorities was to provide a platform for other emerging talent, such as myself, to showcase their work and gain recognition- even at a local level. It’s difficult to get shows on the return to the ‘real world’ and many talented artists get lost to the nine to five way of doing things, neglecting all their hard work and ideas. There seemed to be an awful lot of jumping through hoops and knowing the right people to get anywhere, which really wasn’t for me.

I believe that contemporary art should be accessible to all, and aim to engage the everyday person in a very relaxed art environment, where the pretentiousness that can be associated with the art world is obliterated, and curiosity is encouraged. The sweet shop part of the business helps that; children are amazing and curious and so confident in their creativity. They tell it how it is. I get a lot from that.

Another reason for starting up here was that so many talented young Irish people had emigrated. It seemed everyone with prospects had left Ireland for greener pastures- and the idea that they would be contributing elsewhere frustrated me. After spending a few years in the UK myself, I decided I wanted to play my part in helping the economy here to recover in my own little way – hard as it may be. Also, I thought that if I could sustain my little business through the recession, I will be ready to strike hard when things pick up again!

Being an artist can be quite an isolating profession. I’m most definitely a people person, and painting in my studio in rural Ireland on a daily basis isn’t something I could do without engagement, encouragement and interaction with other people. Dealing with other artists allows me to learn a lot, as well as sharing my knowledge and allows me to gain a better understanding of my contemporaries as well as the world around me.

What appealed to you about setting up your own business?

Freedom. I think I am probably unemployable now 🙂

What has been your biggest challenge?

The whole thing from the beginning has been a huge learning curve. Possibly the biggest challenge has been financially sustaining myself through the Winter months, as Rosslare is a very seasonal seaside resort, and I aim to make enough dosh in the Summer to keep me going.

What’s been your greatest achievement personally?

In April I had my first solo exhibition in Paris. I had had a couple of one-man shows here in Ireland, so I knew how things worked. Last year I was invited to exhibit in this great gallery in Montmartre, and accepted it. I begged, borrowed, and stole to acquire what I needed to get there- any applications I had made for funding has been rejected.

With my car loaded up with 30 paintings, I got on the ferry in Rosslare and drove to Paris solo- an achievement in itself. On the last day of the exhibition, I sold two paintings, cash in hand, and had covered my expenses! So, I guess that ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ thing rings true.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?

Ummmmmmmmmm……

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

Angus Fairhurst- A very inspiring artist I met when I was still in my early days in art school. He was very good to me and became a kind of mentor. Angus was one of the YBAs – responsible for setting up the Frieze festival etc. and happened to be a family friend. He told me that being an artist is “99% rejection- get used to it”. I listened – luckily!

If I’m allowed to have two, I would have to include my Mother. She was 43 when she had me (her first born) and is the strongest and hardest working person I know. She has instilled in me the importance of taking risks and being a ‘go getter’. She was on the first ever bus to go overland from London to Kathmandu – way back in 1967, on her own. She still travels and explores the world now, at 71, with the same curiosity and magic as she did as a young adventurer in her early 20’s!

Her love of travel has found her now running ‘The Silk Connection’ a business importing silk goods from the Far East – just a ‘hobby’ in her retirement.

With my car loaded up with 30 paintings, I got on the ferry in Rosslare and drove to Paris solo- an achievement in itself. On the last day of the exhibition, I sold two paintings, cash in hand, and had covered my expenses! So, I guess that ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ thing rings true.

What does the future hold for you?

I plan to keep doing what I do, and hopefully inspire others to take a chance to do what they’re passionate about. Who knows where it will take me? I will exhibit my own work in Germany and Holland within the next two years, where I’m starting to acquire a following. Also, I aim to attend art fairs and exhibitions worldwide, to promote a stable of very talented Irish artists- both emerging, and established, through The Sweet Shop Gallery.

For more information visit:

Web: www.thesweetshopgallery.com

Web: www.serenacaulfield.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thesweetshopgallery

Twitter: https://twitter.com/thesweetgallery

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