My Sunshine - Ren Seffer, Cayman Islands
Aussie artist Ren Seffer's portrayals of familiar places and pastimes in Cayman are alive with movement and energy.
Words by Natasha Were.
Rendered in vivid tones and bold brushstrokes, Ren Seffer’s artwork seems to pulsate with life and laughter. Enchantingly whimsical and almost naive in its simplicity, her body of work shows life on Cayman as the artist experiences it. Whether it’s a Sunday beach scene, friends chatting on the dock or snorkellers drifting over a reef, there is a light heartedness and effervescence in her canvasses that is instantly endearing.
Although she often depicts well-known locations around Cayman, such as Heritage Kitchen in West Bay, the Lighthouse at Breakers and Miss Lassie’s in South Sound, Seffer paints entirely from her imagination, back in her studio. The creative process is an energetic one with music playing, constant movement and swift work, applying multiple layers of acrylics to canvas, to create the deep, saturated colours that characterise her work. She doesn’t sketch or take photographs but transfers the images in her mind’s eye directly to the canvas, as quickly as possible, to ensure that she captures the emotion of the moment.
Even in her more generic scenes of catboats cruising on turquoise seas, fishermen cleaning their catch or Caribbean cottages in the moonlight, the tones she uses clearly evoke a mood, whether it’s a sense of serenity, frivolity or industrious activity.
In the 20 years that she has been painting full time, Seffer’s style has inevitably evolved but it was only after Hurricane Ivan, she says, that she really found her stylistic identity.
“That’s when I felt like I had something to say, something to offer and so I started moving in a different direction,” she recalls.
Seffer began painting a good deal more than two decades ago, however. Born and raised on the Mornington Peninsula in Melbourne, Australia, she grew up in a family where all forms of artistic expression were encouraged.
“There was a never-ending aroma of linseed oil from mum painting and dad engineering something creative in his workshop,” she recalls, and as a child she learned the piano, ceramics and textiles.
A third generation artist - her mother was a portrait artist, her father a metal sculptor and both her grandfathers were talented painters in their time - it was perhaps inevitable then that she would also feel compelled to create art. However, as so often happens, life events steered her on a different course initially.
When, at the age of 14, her father passed away, she was taken out of high school and sent to a secretarial college. By the time she was 16 she was working at a law firm, where she remained for several years. Fortunately for Ren, her boss shared her creative, restless spirit and would let her go off travelling for months at a time, keeping her job open for her when she returned.
Ultimately, however, a one-way ticket and undiscovered shores proved to be the greater draw. That adventure led her to Cayman and a new life that enabled her to follow her vocation and paint full time.
Her art, she says, reflects her personality – there’s lots of vitality and activity in her paintings - and more than a hint of humour. This is perhaps most apparent in the way she includes her beloved dogs in her paintings. Gidget, a white rescue dog, shared her owner’s wandering ways, and would frequently go walkabout in the neighbourhood, becoming something of a local celebrity. And so it was then that Ren began to paint her, and later Bindi, the new studio mascot, into local scenes.
In some ways reminiscent of children’s Where’s Wally? books, one sometimes has to search for the little white and brown dogs in the busy scenes. They’re not the main protagonists and they don’t appear in every painting, but they do often slip into the background almost unnoticed, inevitably bringing a smile to those who recognise these canine cameo appearances.
It is the openness, the personality and the sense of fun that is incorporated into every piece of work that makes Seffer’s art so distinctive and appealing. Sunny, light and energetic, she captures the essence of everything she – and no doubt so many others – love about Caribbean life.
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