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Soleé’s art is a dream come true

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Another creative outlet: Soleé Darrell is shown sitting directly in front of Release, which is part of the 2024 Bermuda Biennial: Places, Presence & Poetics: An Unpacking. To create Release, Ms Darrell applied dye to silk velvet (Photograph supplied)

Soleé Darrell woke from a dream about peach-coloured velvet with the incredible thought that she could turn it into a work of art. She’s glad she did. Release is a first for the Bermudian artist who moved to California more than a decade ago and, until the pandemic, was better known for her jewellery designs.

“This is my first time submitting to the Biennial. This is my first time showing in a museum of any capacity, so that was really special to me that it gets to be in Bermuda,” she said.

In 2020 Ms Darrell was working on her silversmithing business when she decided she “needed another creative outlet”.

Although she hadn’t “officially” worked as a painter before, “artist” was a word she had always felt comfortable with.

“I started with acrylic and watercolour and mixed media and then I started working with velvet, maybe in 2021. And then I took a break and did some encaustic work and now I'm back to velvet,” she said.

To create Release, which is now on exhibit in the Bermuda National Gallery as part of the 2024 Bermuda Biennial: Places, Presence & Poetics: An Unpacking, Ms Darrell applied dye to silk velvet.

“I had a dream one night, a very specific dream about this peach velvet, and I woke up and I was like, ‘I wonder how I could go about recreating this in real life?’ Luckily, my mother-in-law is a clothing designer. I’d been with her to this fabric store before and so I just went in and I bought the stuff that I needed.”

In her shopping cart she put white velvet and powdered dye, some of which she mixed with hot water to make liquid. She used a paintbrush to apply the mix, as well as the dye in its original form, onto the fabric.

“I decided to try to use the same techniques that I would with any other medium and see how it came out. And it just was mind-blowing to me because it came out so rich, so dimensional,” Ms Darrell said.

“I could layer and play around with both the powder and the liquid form in a way that I can't really do with acrylic paint. And it's just stuck with me ever since.”

She believes it’s the pairing of the fabric and the dye that enabled her to “create movement in a way that I probably couldn't with just regular canvas and acrylic”.

“I have a technique in which I sprinkle the powder on top of the wet so it leaves these little sparks of colour on the velvet and everything kind of melts together in a really nice organic way.”

Unknown paths: Release, by Soleé Darrell, is part of the 2024 Bermuda Biennial: Places, Presence & Poetics: An Unpacking (Photograph supplied)

Ms Darrell is especially thrilled with the outcome as the technique is something she created all on her own.

“I’d been trying to replicate this dreamy, layered vision that I had and the closest thing I got to it was airbrushing, because you can layer light, airy colours over each other – I've seen people do that really well. I guess that might be the closest I'd ever seen to what I'd been trying to achieve.”

As described in the statement attached to Release, she is completely “self-taught and her work is purely intuition-driven”.

“Darrell uses layers of mixed-media to symbolise the healing of wounds, and maps the unknown paths we take in life.

“She is for ever fascinated with the idea of things we can never know about our existence, and the self-inflicted suffering that human beings can endure through generations of trying to figure it out.

“Her hope is to bring some optimism to the viewer and bridge the gap between the intuitive world and the physical world,” it reads.

Had her idea not worked out she would have happily moved on to something new.

“I do everything very instinctually and there was a huge chance that this wasn't gonna work out – I've had many experiments that just didn't come out the way that I wanted them to. I try to just think of everything as a fun little experiment so that I don’t add too much meaning and pressure to everything,” she said.

It’s been her good fortune as an artist that her parents, Lisa and Terrence Smart, have always encouraged her “to have that moment of solitude with myself, whatever the outcome is”.

“I've always been very connected to my dreams. I just think they’re a whole world that we don't really explore. And I feel lucky that I even remembered this one. Who knows how many dreams I’ve had that I just didn't remember.”

What also helped is that people responded positively to her switch.

“I didn't have as much insecurity about sharing what I was working on because I had been doing it with my jewellery already and people were really responding to that,” she said.

“I definitely think there are people who were confused about the transition [but] I had a feeling that people would want to see it and so I just put it out there. I still feel like I'm building a community, just trying to get my work to be viewed by more people. I think that's why I applied to the Bermuda Biennial.”

Even though she has lived in the United States for about 15 years Bermuda remains a big inspiration, Ms Darrell added.

“I do think that being Bermudian plays a huge role in what I do. I feel like because I’m Bermudian the colour and the brightness and the light are all just in me wherever I go. And I have done some paintings in Bermuda that turned out to be my best work.”

Although she has shown her work in smaller galleries in San Francisco, displaying it in a museum with the stature of the BNG is a first.

“I applied because I thought it might be really fun and a way for me to create a community in Bermuda, a way for people to see my work – specifically my family. I didn’t think I would get in so when I did, I was just so honoured.”

Next up is her first solo show, an exhibit in Oakland, California on June 1.

“I’m very excited about that. And then I’m also going to be in the Museum of the African Diaspora here in San Francisco in December. I'm part of their emerging artists programme. So this year feels like a very big year for me. I hope that I can continue to evolve but I just take it one painting at a time.”

Thirty-two works by 25 artists are on display as part of the 2024 Bermuda Biennial at the Bermuda National Gallery until January. For more information, visithttps://bng.bm/exhibition/2024bermudabiennial/. See @soleedarrell on Instagram

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Published May 17, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated May 18, 2024 at 8:12 am)

Soleé’s art is a dream come true

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