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Séraphine Pick (born 23 May 1964, in Kawakawa, New Zealand) is a New Zealand painter. Pick has exhibited frequently at New Zealand public art galleries; a major survey of her work was organised and toured by the Christchurch Art Gallery in 2009–10.
Pick graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Ilam School of Fine Arts, University of Canterbury in 1988. In 1991 she completed a Diploma of Teaching at the Christchurch College of Education.
Early in her career Pick was grouped with other Ilam graduates, such as Tony de Lautour, Shane Cotton, Peter Robinson, Saskia Leek and Bill Hammond under the title of the Pencilcase Painters, known for a painting style that evoked the doodlings of bored teenagers. Pick drew on many sources for the imagery in her painting, from pop culture magazines to pre-Renaissance paintings to naive art. Writing about her work of the 1990s, curator Lara Strongman notes that 'Pick frequently incorporated renditions of talismanic objects from her childhood (red boots, party dresses, paper-bag masks, iron bed-frames) in earlier works, leading her practice to be viewed misleadingly as autobiographical'.
Two early residency opportunities (the Olivia Spencer Bower Award in 1994 and the Rita Angus Artist Residency in 1995) enabled Pick to take time away from secondary school art teaching and concentrate on painting full-time. During both residencies she was able to produce bodies of work that 'built upon her past style and explored new challenges'.
Curator Felicity Milburn has identified several stages to Pick's artistic development:
Pick's early work employed imagery sourced from significant moments in Art History, making particular use of the Gothic emblems of the Medieval period. By 1994, however, she had developed her own distinctive and captivatingly personal iconography. Works from this period have been described as 'dreamscapes' in which symbolic images from Pick's memory (beds, dresses, pincushions, colanders) float surreally across rich surfaces. These strangely dislocated objects were often domestic in nature, indicating the special significance memory can inject into otherwise everyday objects.
Shortly after making those works, Pick travelled to Europe, where she found she was again overwhelmed by the immense history of European art. When she returned to New Zealand, she began painting in a very different way, using figures and objects sculpted in the round with greens, blues, warm pinks and browns to explore a new-found sensuality and flesh out a gentle, often naive eroticism.
Milburn notes that ‘the spidery drawing she scratches into the viscous surface of her canvases’ remained a constant in Pick’s painting over this time.
In 2007 art critic Mark Amery noted that 'Even in this day and age Pick's intense focus on the female figure in a psychological landscape makes her something of a lone figure'. He continued:
If other contemporary artists unconsciously stay clear of the depiction of women for the fact that its overexploited, it leaves it to Pick to breed together imagery from fashion and art history in a hothouse, dreamily upsetting mythologies still inherent in our treatment of the female figure.
In 2009 Pick collaborated with writer Jo Randerson on the illustrated book Through The Door, published by Wedge Press. In the same year her work was the subject of a major survey exhibition Séraphine Pick: Tell Me More at Christchurch Art Gallery, curated by Felicity Milburn and toured to City Gallery Wellington and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. The exhibition was accompanied by a publication with essays by Milburn, Lara Strongman, Andrew Paul Wood and others.
Reviewer James Dignan, writing of Tell Me More in the Otago Daily Times in 2010, described the development of Pick's work as moving
[...] from ghostlike scratches on canvas to full-blooded figurative darkness [showing influences] from Bosch through Redon to Leonor Fini. Through it all, the subterranean undercurrents are a dominant thread, notably in the recent large crowd scenes and solitary figures surrounded by mental echoes of their physical surroundings.
In recent years, Pick has moved from painting the nightmare directly to implying it in a more intangible yet somehow more threatening way. A huge darkness is now present in many of the works – not an absence of light, but a presence of black, a darkness which clearly shows the influence of Goya.
In more recent years, Pick has turned to the internet for her source material for her paintings. Her 2013 exhibition Wankered Again at Michael Lett Gallery (works from which were shown in 2014 at the Ilam Campus Gallery in Christchurch) included paintings that drew on photographs of drunken teenagers that had been posted on the web.
Pick's work has often been interpreted as autobiographical. However, in an interview published in her 2009 monograph Seraphine Pick the artist stated:
I choose images because I like them, not because of any meaning they might have. I might take images from something I've seen or read, or I'll make them up, and that image becomes the starting point. I start adding other things, and that triggers feelings or creates an atmosphere which makes me think of something else. It's quite an organic process: building up different layers of thought, working out ideas on the painting almost on a subconscious level, plaiting the making and the concept together so that the painting process itself creates the content.
In a 2015 interview the artist explained that she is not wedded to any one style or approach to painting:
I keep changing. I don't sit still for long. That's just me exploring painting really. There are just endless possibilities with it. I'm a figurative artist and there's just so many ways you can approach figuration, so I've always tried out lots of different things.
In 1994 Pick was the recipient of the Olivia Spencer Bower Foundation Art Award, and in 1995 she was the Rita Angus Artist in Residence in Wellington. In 1999 she was awarded the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship.
In 2007 Pick won the $20,000 first prize in the Norsewear Art Awards for her painting Phantom Limb.