A world of colour

When artist and gallery owner Ser­ena Hall came to South­wold to live as a child she im­me­di­ately fell in love with the sea­side town. Mike Trip­pitt talks to her about why it so in­spires her

EADT Suffolk - - Music -

ON en­ter­ing South­wold’s Ser­ena Hall Gallery, thoughts of the out­side world are wrested from the mind by a bom­bard­ment of strik­ing, bold images. Artist Ser­ena Hall sits in the first floor bay win­dow, her apron stained with the same rich, vi­brant colours that shout cheer­ily from the paint­ings around her.

Talk with her for a mo­ment and the vis­i­tor is trans­ported ef­fort­lessly into her world, a world of colour, of emo­tion and of her South­wold.

“South­wold suits me down to the ground,” she en­thuses. “I love this place so much, the peace, the quiet and the beauty.” This year the 44-year-old artist is cel­e­brat­ing 25 years of paint­ing Suf­folk’s time­less sea­side town. An ex­hi­bi­tion of her lat­est work runs for the rest of the year.

“There are some key paint­ings in the ex­hi­bi­tion,” she says, hand­ing over the im­pres­sive cat­a­logue. “And a col­lec­tion of ce­ram­ics and mixed me­dia. It is a good cross-sec­tion of the kind of work I have been do­ing over the years.” Ser­ena’s fam­ily moved to South­wold when she was 11, re­lo­cat­ing to Ferry Road from the fam­ily home in Wim­ble­don. She and her brother, Spencer, made friends quickly.

“We were both in­stantly happy here. It was fan­tas­tic. I went from liv­ing in a busy area in Lon­don to sud­denly over­look­ing the beach and the sea from my bed­room win­dow. It was in­cred­i­ble, ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble. We never took it for granted. We knew how special South­wold was. It was a very special time.”

Cre­ativ­ity and colour were part of ev­ery­day life. Both her mother and grand­mother were pot­ters, and her fa­ther was an es­tab­lished writer. Her par­ents urged her to draw and paint, and to make gifts for fam­ily mem­bers. Even be­fore go­ing to art col­lege she was paint­ing in bright, vivid colours, and the style for which she is now renowned was forged. But that style was not with­out op­po­si­tion.

Dur­ing an in­tense two years at the Ed­in­burgh Col­lege of Art her tu­tor was crit­i­cal. “He didn’t re­ally like colour and I re­ally had to fight. We butted heads re­ally. He would say ‘Why do you have to use this bright colour? Why don’t you use creams and cof­fees and greys?’ I re­ally strug­gled with that.” But when the end-of-course show came around her de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­main true to her­self paid off.

“I got so much at­ten­tion, be­cause mine was the only work that stood out. It was so dif­fer­ent and I thought, thank good­ness I stuck to my guns.” Turn­ing down of­fers of work in com­mer­cial de­sign, Ser­ena re­turned to South­wold to do what her heart wanted, to

‘My paint­ings re­flect how I feel about South­wold and my cus­tomers tell me that my work de­picts how they feel about it too’

paint bright colour and to paint her home.

“I knew I didn’t want to paint South­wold as grey. I wanted to paint the emo­tional con­nec­tion peo­ple have with South­wold and the emo­tional ef­fect it has on me.” She worked ini­tially from a stu­dio out­side the town, and then from premises in East Street. Later, when a suit­able space for a gallery be­came avail­able, she saw an op­por­tu­nity.

Ini­tially the bank re­fused her re­quest for a loan, but then she got a phone call from the bank man­ager.

“He said he was go­ing to do some­thing that he had never done in his whole ca­reer. He was go­ing to change his mind and let me have fund­ing. It was enough to get the key in this door and get the gallery started. That was 17 years ago. I didn’t have a penny to my name and I made it from noth­ing. My bank man­ager was with me for a fur­ther ten years and has seen my success. He was re­ally pleased that he changed his mind.

“I wasn’t com­mer­cially minded when I first opened up. It wasn’t a case of mak­ing lots of money. It has never been about that. It was about open­ing up and sell­ing my work. I think some peo­ple have a ro­man­tic idea of be­ing an artist. Yes, it is a lifestyle, and I wouldn’t want to do any­thing else, but to be an artist you have to sell, you have to make a liv­ing.

“I haven’t been paint­ing to suit the crowd, that’s not how it works. It fright­ens me to think of do­ing some­thing else. That’s why I work re­ally, re­ally hard to make sure that never hap­pens. I love my work and I love be­ing in my stu­dio. My paint­ings re­flect how I feel about South­wold and my cus­tomers tell me that my work de­picts how they feel about it too. I am so thank­ful for that.”

Ser­ena lost her mother to cancer be­fore she was a teenager, and her fa­ther to the same dis­ease just as she was start­ing her ca­reer. While her work helped her cope with her loss – “My work saved me in a way, it be­came my

total fo­cus” – she turned to The Prince’s Trust.

“When I lost my dad, the Prince’s Trust was great. They helped me buy a kiln to get me go­ing with my ce­ram­ics. They gave me ac­cess to a gentle­man who I spoke with fort­nightly to give me ad­vice about my work. Ob­vi­ously I didn’t have the per­son who I would have turned to. The man was lovely, very sup­port­ive and a bit of a sound­ing board. The Prince’s Trust is an ex­tra­or­di­nary char­ity. It was just that bit of help at the right time and it made all the difference.”

Ser­ena’s tal­ent, her de­ter­mi­na­tion and vi­sion caught the trust’s eye. In 2001 she won the Prince’s Young Busi­ness Woman Of The Year Award and was re­warded fur­ther in 2008 by a visit from Prince Charles and the Duchess Of Corn­wall. “I was the first per­son they vis­ited when they came to South­wold. It was a won­der­ful day though quite nervewrack­ing. The streets were cor­doned off. Peo­ple were queu­ing with their flags. We saw the he­li­copter land and then they were driven up to visit me at the gallery. They bought quite a few things as well.” Does ev­ery artist have royal vis­i­tors? Ser­ena’s hu­mil­ity and mod­esty give way to jus­ti­fied pride. “No, not re­ally. It was quite an amaz­ing day. Amaz­ing things have hap­pened over the years.” Ser­ena Hall’s is an emo­tional story, laced with a love of South­wold, en­riched with colour and touched by tragedy.

“I had so lit­tle ex­pec­ta­tion back at the start that it is only in the last few years that I have been able to look back and think that it has been quite a jour­ney. I do believe in pos­i­tive think­ing, hav­ing goals and be­ing fo­cused.

“We grew up with pas­sion­ate peo­ple. What­ever you do in life, you have to be pas­sion­ate. My brother and I have tried to re­mem­ber that. It’s very im­por­tant.”

‘The Prince’s Trust is an ex­tra­or­di­nary char­ity. It was just that bit of help at the right time and it made all the difference’


This year a full size glass beach hut, cre­ated by Ser­ena as a labour of love, has made the fi­nal of Shed Of The Year on Chan­nel 4’s Amaz­ing Spa­ces se­ries. Called My Inch – The South­wold Glass Hut (af­ter her Ferry Road child­hood home, The Inch) it was four years in the mak­ing. “I was just at the point in time where I wanted to cre­ate some­thing that was re­ally beau­ti­ful, very colour­ful and very in­spired by South­wold. So I wanted to make it look like a beach hut. “I had the idea of a glass hut, al­most a mem­ory box, and as a ‘thank you’ to my mum and dad. I think it is so im­por­tant to have a happy child­hood. It is such an im­por­tant time of life as it shapes you as an adult. I had that. So I wanted to make some­thing that peo­ple can go into to be re­minded of a happy child­hood. “It was a bizarre idea, I have quite a lot of bizarre ideas. If I have done it cor­rectly, it should tell my story and peo­ple should have an emo­tional re­sponse to it.”

Ser­ena Hall

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