Caroline Sillesen’s Art is a Playful Blur of Memory and Reality

We caught up with the Danish artist about her latest exhibition and what it’s like to put memories to canvas.

Photo: Abdellah Ihadian

There’s always a gap between what you really experienced and how that memory is saved in your brain. Calling New York her home for the past six months, 24-year old all-around talent Caroline Sillesen explores the intricacies of her own perception by creating a walk of memories and impressions, titled Uno Tenore. In this new body of work, Caroline does not play by standard Danish color palettes: her work is vibrant and playful, just like her life. It’s safe to say she has her hands in almost every creative field that is out there—whether it’s architecture, jewelry design, art and fashion. Before Uno Tenore opened at Copenhagen’s VESS Gallery, we caught up with Caroline about her process, her colors and what happens when you try to put your memories to canvas.

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Hey, Caroline. What does creativity mean to you?

Caroline Sillesen: Creativity is when you can transform, communicate and share an idea, feeling or theory to other people through an intelligible medium. To surprise, inspire, enrich, facilitate or create awareness.

How did your early years define your work and your presence within different creative fields?

Since the age of two, I’ve always expressed myself through paintings. My family is totally non-creative but they have always supported me. I sold my first painting of a landscape when I was 16, and the following year, I sold naturalistic coal portraits of people. After high school, I did some freelance graphic work and started my own studio/company before I started my studies at The Architecture School at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 2012. Since then, my works have evolved around space and body, as well as perception of space and atmosphere.

I think this gradual change in direction is very noticeable in my paintings. While paintings will always be my thing, I am constantly experimenting with different ways of expression by tapping into various creative fields and using different materials. For example, I just launched a clothing collection together with PIECES. It’s a range of sweatshirts that originated from my paintings. It was a fun way to see how an artwork moves on a specific fabric.

Photo: Abdellah Ihadian

Photo: Abdellah Ihadian

Talking about your interest in space and atmosphere, what’s the process behind your upcoming exhibition at VESS—Uno Tenore?

The series captures my time in New York, where I’ve been living and working for the past six months. I initially assumed that I would have time to paint because I know less than a handful of people there. However, my work took up a lot of time, so although I was busy almost all the time, I made sure to collect small notes, do a few drawings in my notebook and create sound postcards from recordings of the different atmospheres in the City. I used the last two weeks in New York to focus on paintings. Since I didn’t have many materials there, I kept it very simple and only used a few colors, as you can see in the five small oil pieces painted on paper in the exhibition. The past four weeks leading up to the exhibition opening, I used VESS as my atelier to create and finish the five big canvas pieces.

Uno Tenore refers to an element in classical music. How does that connect to your paintings?

Uno Tenore is the act of playing a wind instrument in one breath. My Uno Tenore is a walk of sensed memories, and should be experienced as multi-sensory exhibition for your eyes, ears and body. The art really comes alive with the sound installation because it recreates how I felt in very specific moments: you can hear my breath, different beats, a saxophonist (practising uno tenore) or just a pulse. Uno Tenore itself is also very in synch with the process of how I worked on the pieces. For every painting, I took a deep breath and went inside my mind to remember all the layers of the memories I chose to portray on canvas. It’s hard to separate memories from each other because it’s a random pool of different emotions where sometimes two become one. The pieces in the exhibition are not chronological; they are random in time and theme. However, you can see which memories are strong, such as the Guggenheim Museum.

Photo: Abdellah Ihadian

Photo: Abdellah Ihadian

Your color palette is very unusual for Danish standards. How would you describe the process of choosing the color palette for Uno Tenore?

(chuckle) Yeah, tell me about it. As an architect, I’m supposed to wear all black, right? Actually, the colors you see in my works are also the colors in my life; I have a lot of earthy and pink tones in my wardrobe. My home is very colorful, but I also have classic architectural and Nordic elements. For Uno Tenore, I was very much inspired by Richard Serra—one of my favorite artists—and the colors of his sculptures. I had the chance to see his exhibition in New York and I thought to myself that I’d love to create something as simple as he does with a similar kind of color scheme and atmosphere. In line with his use of COR-TEN steel for his sculptures, I chose ocher yellow, pink, dark warm red and brown as the main colors of my pieces—which also happens to match most of my outfits (laughs). In total, I chose about eight colors, all being variations of the base tone with the exception of royal blue to set a contrast. (You will also find that blue in my home and my wardrobe, of course!)

How would you describe your aesthetics?

My work is simple—it’s a play between graphics and spatial elements. Due to the influence of my studies, everything melts together. Sometimes art can become architecture and vice versa; it’s not just black and white.  Naturally, a lot of my paintings combine space or architectural elements with other creative fields. I like to think that I work in the intersection between architecture, art and design.

I think all this comes from my contradictory minds: I’m good at math and logic, and I have a thing for straight lines—but on the flip side, I carry a weird piece of left-handed logic that is very colorful and absent-minded. Anyhow, the result often turns out quite female (or at least that’s what my male friends tell me!)

Photo: Abdellah Ihadian

Photo: Abdellah Ihadian

When do you know when a piece is done? Would you call yourself an endless perfectionist?

Yes! For me, a piece is never really done; only time decides that. There is a piece in the exhibition that feels undone. I’ve already changed the colors four times, while keeping the same shades. (I ended up changing the color one hour before the opening!) Sometimes a painting doesn’t seem done while you’re working on it. Re-evaluating it after a few weeks helps you come to peace with it. Or a deadline (laughs).

Being involved in all these things, how do you switch off from work at the end of the day?

Honestly, I can be really bad at switching off if I have my computer or my phone nearby. So usually the best way for me is to not have them near me or put the phone on silent mode. A good movie or book also helps!

Photo: Abdellah Ihadian

Photo: Abdellah Ihadian

Girls are awesome when/because…

We can produce milk?! How awesome is that?

So true! Thanks, Caroline.

Enjoy ‘Uno Tenore’ until the 9th of October at VESS (Oehlenschlægersgade 36, 1663 København V).

Photo: Abdellah Ihadian

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