Roman Serra feature painting for Blacklisted Copenhagen

Speaking with Chigaco-based artist Roman Serra

Digging into the rules of composition that artist Roman Serra follows in the creation of his work.

Published: October 24, 2018Words: Roman Serra & J.Scott StrattonArtist Link: romanserra.com

At times I find myself trying to find a set of rules to impart upon my own creative expression. I have developed rules for how I am writing this article. There are rule for how I interview artists. Even in my spare time I try and create rules for how I paint. Yet for the last one, the painting, I’ve always struggled with establishing a set of guidelines for my process to follow. And I alway admire artist, painters in particular, that can establish a type of visual canon from which to work.

The poet Marvin Bell once famously said, “Learn the rules, break the rules, make up new rules, break the new rules.” I’ve alway been draw to this testament, and after speaking with Chicago based artist Roman Serra, I began to understand that he follows a similar conviction – and he imparts that belief on his painting practice.

Roman Serra is not your typical artist. He is unassuming under the day-to-day guise of real-estate agent, yet with a Bachelors and Masters in Fine Art from two prominent schools. There is this deep well of conceptual and cognitive reflection just underneath the pedestrian “average guy” surface. In fact, when you look him up, you can find just as much information about his real-estate practice as you can about his art. And I like this.

There is this misnomer that when one chooses to be an “artist” at a serious level, they need to forsake “normality” and dive headfirst into the Pariah-hood of being a starving artist. Give up the 9-to-5 for the constant hustle. I’ve never believed that having a career and pursuing success as an artist need to be the same thing – nor do they need to be mutually exclusive. And I applaud Serra for being equally proud of his success in both fields.

And while I found this duality a bit intriguing, this isn’t a real-estate publication. When we spoke, I kept my question pertaining to his artistic practice, to learn more about the development of his style the rules that he has crafted for himself in his practice.

Roman Serra painting 'Untitled' for Blacklisted Copenhagen
Roman Serra painting 'Rise' for Blacklisted Copenhagen

Digging directly into your work. It is both geometric and tactile. Tell me a little bit about
how you choose your mediums and compositions?

I’m drawn to geometry because it’s constant. When life moves too fast and I’m caught in the middle, sometimes struggling to adjust, it is self-discipline that propels me forward. Like the geometry in my paintings, I’m self-governed by a secret set of rules I created for myself long ago. As an artist, I feel that I have to be this way or I would fall off the hinges. I feel a sense of responsibility for my craft. I can be quite hard on myself. I constantly edit myself, and sometimes it can feel like a private hell, but it is this discipline that grants me any of the success I’ve had in life. Unfortunately for me, life is not black and white, and so it is between the harsh lines that the viewer gets a glimpse into my most vulnerable moments.

I see the geometry of a composition like a rule and all good rules were meant to be challenged. This is where my paintings become more tactile. Between the stark black and white lines, I allow my paintbrush to wander into an infinite gray area, free-flowing, erratic, sometimes beautiful, often painful, always emotional. One of the ways I break the mold is by making all my own paint. I source powdered pigments from around the world to do so. The vehicles are chosen purposefully, with the composition in mind. For example, I use vinyl which can be opaque, transparent, and also self-leveling, meaning if you drop the right amount in a perfect circle it will maintain its shape. There is a lot of math involved. I take special measurements, but make sure to include errors to showcase the human element. Contemporary painting is viewed in unison with digital media….it competes

Do you work with specific research or inspiration in mind when you create your work?

For me, a strong image breaks it’s mold or disturbs its environment in some way. It does so by being more precise or exact than its environment, or by disrupting its environment with an intended pattern. The core elements of my work tend to be geometric. This comes from my appreciation for architecture. A perfect circle is nearly always present circles remind us of our life cycle. A circle is both constant and closed, symmetrical and divisible, it succeeds and projects in unison. Rectangles become the city and its many structures that make up my environment. Grids refer to the horizon. Lines divide the day and each movement. I take a technical approach of both risk and design in my work.

The technical approach to your work visual seems both chaotic and surgical in your conformity to shape while allowing the medium to take its own form. Take me through the process of how you create one of your works?

I start each piece from a raw canvas. The hand stretching, sizing and gesso process really just gives me time to plan and draw. The canvas becomes an object first. Sometimes the process dictates my decisions. At the beginning of a new piece I try to stay open to the fluidity of paint. Layers of paint are often carved out or sanded with water to reveal a new surface. Drawing has become a primary focus in my work, and I put a lot of emphasis on the composition. As needed, different kinds of paint are chosen for their particular qualities like impasto or fluidity.

Roman Serra painting 'Portrait' for Blacklisted Copenhagen
Roman Serra painting 'Out Numbered' for Blacklisted Copenhagen