Artist Spotlight: Mark Serrianne June 13 2020

Describe one of your earliest experiences with art and what led you to become an artist? 

As a teen, I was an errand boy for a large architectural firm which sparked my interest in going to a design school. Once I enrolled in the College of Design at the University of Cincinnati, I was like a kid in a candy store. I became fascinated with graphics and advertising design, which drove me to a career in the advertising industry and a lifetime spent working alongside outstanding creative people who set a high bar in all sorts of disciplines from illustration to film. This experience provided a very deep well for me to draw from.

What made you decide to venture into assemblage art and how did you get started?
A close friend who attended my first show said, “Mark, all of your lifetime interests have converged into your artwork.” Well, that’s true. I have been a collector of old stuff and forever on the search for unusual and valuable curiosities. Looking through bottomless piles of dusty old objects became an obsession. My assemblages emerged from my attachment to these objects and my curiosity around the mystery and magic in their stories. My studio and workshop are like a heavily curated fantasy museum and I enjoy looking at everything. It’s a great laboratory for inspiration, ideation, and channeling creative energy. After retiring from the advertising business, this naturally became my new world and I have enjoyed bringing objects and stories to life through my art. 

Please elaborate on your art practice and what a typical day in the studio is like.

I tend to enjoy the catharsis. I’m pretty patient with the development of an idea and am constantly challenging the concept. Several pieces are always percolating. Some need a long gestation time to know whether I can live with it or not. I am fortunate that my wife, Jane, has a terrific creative background as a ceramicist and former greeting card artist. She is a wonderful sounding board, tough critic, and source of “truth,” which is hard for an artist to find since people generally want to compliment what you do.

When I work, I always have music on.  Mostly classical.  Seems to keep me mellow.  I also like long lunch breaks.

What are some common themes you explore in your assemblages?
Big anchors to my thinking are whimsy or to be strikingly provocative.  I’m a musician so that often creeps into my thought processes as well. I tend to explore tensions, juxtapositions, and counterintuitive ways of looking at things. I want people to enjoy looking at what I do, perhaps smile, or raise their eyebrows.  Then, after seeing the title of a work, hopefully they’ll also feel an “ah-ha” or a “wow”.  In the end,  I’d like someone to say to themselves, “I’d like to have this piece around me for quite a while because it speaks to me.”

Image Above: Lucky Strike, mixed media, 12 x 2.5 x 16 inches


Would you elaborate on your process and some of the diverse materials that make up your mixed-media pieces?
Most of the objects I use are inherently valuable. Many are unique, one-of-a-kind items that carry their own aesthetic and story, along with the arc of the story behind the concept. The challenge (or the art) is to help these rare finds live on in another context or greater significance and new texture. In this sense, these sculptures have a “double value” in both their individual components and in their new form as a finished work of art. Additionally, I do all my work with vintage tools.

Where do you find inspiration when you begin a new piece? Do you have an idea in mind when you begin or do you work more intuitively, figuring it out as you go?

Tough to say where (or when) inspiration comes from.  With the right objects, some concepts can hit like a bolt of lightning.  Then it’s all about refinement.  Other times, I’ll have a concept and embark on a mad hunt for the right components.  There can be a lot of dead ends, but I keep going. Many serendipitous things happen in the hunt and I thrive on this.  Many of my objects come from all over the world and their stories are wonderful. There are cost surprises too—good and bad—but always new and beneficial learning.  I’ve had many silly and regretful purchases along the way but also many magnificent finds. I get attached to my sculptures because I’ve lived with many of the elements for a long time and I want to be sure they’ve passed the test of long stares. 

Pick one of your pieces on to discuss.  Can you share a story about it or offer additional insight?

Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide (pictured below) is one of my favorite personal stories. Like Geppetto, cluttered among other things high up on a shelf in my shop, I had an old (1939) wooden Pinocchio marionette sitting with its legs hanging over the edge of the shelf.  Pinocchio’s nose, among other things, was heavily damaged.  It was like he was overlooking the shop crying out for me to notice him and do something. Well, the magic happened one day when we caught each other’s eyes. I rebuilt his nose, patched several other things and the concept fell into place as I paired him with other items I had in the shop. What better title for Pinocchio than having it handwritten in a child’s script on the base.   

What are you working on now?
I just finished a piece called The Invisible Man (pictured below). In assemblage art, there is always a temptation to keep adding and refining however, a wise man once said, “the real art is in knowing when there is no longer anything to take away.” I am enjoying having the sculpture around.


Images (L-R): 
Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide, mixed media, 9 x 9 x 20 inches
The Invisible Man, mixed media, 5 feet tall

To view available artwork, click HERE.