Cerise Zelenetz is a Vermont raised New York artist who left her heart in Paris. With a striking doll-like composure, stark demeanor, and coy sense of humor, Cerise creates curious illustrations that encapsulate her unique and thoughtful perspective on the world. Her portfolio of work resonates with both satire and emotional undertones, and has been featured in print and digital publications such as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and NYLON. Although Zelenetz works predominantly in watercolor and ink, she has lent her introspective eye to a wide array of mediums and projects, from collage to video and sculpture. After studying in Paris, Zelenetz graduated from Parsons School of Design in 2014 with a BFA in fashion design. Her work has previously been featured in group and solo shows throughout New York and Paris. Her drawings reflect relatable instinctual human nature, an inner life of uncommon objects, and nuances we almost always feel but don’t typically share.
We chatted with Zelenetz about
AF: What was your first aesthetic memory as a child?
CZ: I grew up in Vermont, surrounded by an abundance of color, texture, and natural beauty. I remember watching caterpillars crawl on the concrete, and noticing the fluid vibrancy of their bodies contrasting against the rough, grey sidewalk. It’s hard to pinpoint a first memory of aesthetic appreciation, but a few that remain vividly in my visual memory are discovering the ruby red wild strawberries hiding in the green grass of my local playground, plucking purple chive blossoms from the cracks in the stone wall paths, and watching a butterfly emerge from its lime-colored chrysalis in kindergarten. Everything as a child was set against bright green, which is still one of my favorite colors.
AF: Where does your inspiration for narrative drawings stem from?
CZ: I’ve always liked making things up. I like the idea that seemingly simple objects and spaces have all had a past of their own that they can’t themselves relay. I like to imagine what they’d tell us if they could. Time and space play a big role in my process and work. I was an introverted child, and traveled in Europe straight out of high school. Not speaking the language around me definitely had an impact on my outlook as an observer. Travel and food are two of my biggest passions and inspirations because of their transitory nature. Knowing that everyone has a different viewpoint on the same things. I’m always trying to think in different perspectives, or imagined mindsets. I try to get to the bottom of how others think and process emotions and experiences.
AF: What projects are you currently working on?
CZ: I just completed a mural in Boston for Oddfellows Ice Cream which was exciting! It’s my biggest piece for them yet. I’m working on a personal book of short stories, and illustrations centered on food memories. This past summer I went to Formentera Spain for a week-long environmentally focused residency. I’m involved in launching a shirt line of handmade prints, as well as a number of secret collaborations with independent brands and designers.
AF: Can you talk more about the residency in Spain?
CZ: It was a collective of artists from all different practices spanning music to painting to cooking, focused on raising environmental awareness and preserving the beauty of the island. I was honored to be a part of it, and was inspired by the newness of the whole experience.
AF: Can we talk about how you connect food and lifestyle to your work?
CZ: It’s a big part of my inspiration and process. I have trouble sitting still for too long, and I find that I often work better when I switch locations every few hours. This means I spend a lot of time drawing from cafes and wine bars. I’m very impacted by the feeling of my environment. My work reflects that in color, line work and mood. I also like to sketch from real life as an exercise and sitting alone in public spaces is a great way to capture different characters without having to change perspective. It’s like a free live drawing class for the price of a glass of Sancerre.
AF: If you could exist as an edible treat in human form, which would it be and why?
CZ: They have this uni pomme dauphine at one of my favorite restaurants in New York, Mimi, which is basically just a really fancy tater tot topped with sea urchin. I think that pretty much sums me up. It’s a seemingly bizarre, mushy meld of unapproachable flavors. It appears in mysterious orange shades at first, but once you take a bite, your tongue recognizes the familiar taste of potato, and you’re left in a state of perplexity as to what just happened to you.
AF: If you could live in any era of art in any European city which would it be?
CZ: Definitely Paris. I’d love to be able to experience it in the time of Dali, Breton, and Louise Bourgeoise when surrealism permeated the boundaries of both visual and written realms. Sitting at a cafe in Le Marais writing exquisite corpse poetry over a bottle of wine is my idea of a perfect evening. If I could live there now I’d take that offer too.
AF: What is your advice to your former child self?
CZ: Don’t stress out about grades so much. You’re not going to law school.