Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes. Life experiences dictate both knowledge and passions and so it only makes sense that much of what someone knows, what they feel, and how they view the world largely comes from how and where they grew up.
Kari Serrao lives and creates art in Toronto, but she had the unique opportunity of growing up in the Caribbean. Her Trinidadian father retired from the Canadian Air Force when she was only five years old and decided to move back to the island of his roots. And so for the next thirteen years, Kari grew to know Trinidad - and all of its cultural magic - as her home and place of inspiration. It was there where she cultivated her love of the arts. In fact, she states, “It was pretty much the only subject that interested me as a child in school.”
Kari Serrao’s “Whimsical Woodland” will be exhibited Sept. 7-Oct. 23 at Gallery 14731. An opening reception will be held Saturday, Sept. 17 from 2-5pm. Gallery 14731 is located at 5 E. Washington Street, downtown Ellicottville, NY. View more of Kari’s works at kariserrao.com.
ONE-ON-ONE WITH KARI
DASH: You state in your bio that by not doing, you are not being. At what point in your life did you come to this realization and how has it shaped your career?
KARI: I think I started feeling that way about 10 years ago, at the time I had been working for an antique dealer for a number of years - I began working there as a decorative painter but ended up in a management position and was doing very little that was creative. I just felt like there was a huge void in my life.
DASH: You grew up in the Caribbean. What made you choose Toronto as a place to attend university? The two locations seem … drastically different.
KARI: I ended up in Toronto because I had decided I wanted to go to OCA (now OCADU). It was the only school I applied to; not getting in wasn’t an option because my parents relocated to Nova Scotia and I didn't want to move there (leaving Trinidad was really tough, it was a wonderful place to grow up back then).
DASH: Who are your artistic inspirations?
KARI: That's a tough one. There are many artists whose work I admire, most of the imagery that I'm drawn to is dark though, a little disturbing and my work is not at all like that. They're also very diverse in style - from Hieronymus Bosch to Chaim Soutine, Jean Michel Basquiat to Tony Scherman. The fashion designer Alexander McQueen was genius!
DASH: What other hobbies occupy your time? Do they offer any sort of added inspiration to your artwork?
KARI: I read quite a bit; historical fiction is a definite inspiration when it comes to my latest series, "The Whimsical Woodland”. Other than that and hitting the gym when I can, my time is pretty much taken up with my painting and family.
DASH: Encaustic art - waxed based painting. How did you discover this medium and what is it that makes you prefer it?
KARI: I took one look at Canadian painter Tony Scherman’s work and was immediately attracted to the texture and depth. At the time (2009) I hadn't painted beyond the furniture work and decorative painting I was doing and really wanted to get back to fine art, but I wanted to use a medium that was completely new to me. It had been so long that I didn't want a reference point, something to make me feel like I had totally lost it. I looked up encaustic classes in Toronto and found one at Toronto School of Art’s continuing education program so I signed up. Initially I thought it was impossible, being a representational painter who was used to working in open mediums like oil; the immediate drying of the wax really threw me. I persevered and now really respond to the immediacy of it. I'm not a very patient person; waiting for paint to dry is not part of my make up. I also love the texture one can get with it.
DASH: You put a lot of effort into your social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Tumbler. Have you found the time you put into social media to be beneficial in terms of exposing new people to your artwork?
KARI: I don't actually spend all that much time on it. I tend to post something once completed on Instagram and then share it from there, usually while having my morning coffee. (I've even done it from the stair master - I'm a multitasker.) It's something that my daughter got me doing. She used to be in PR and is 25. For the millennials it's all about social media. I have actually got commissions from posts, not tons but each one counts. It's a free and relatively easy way to get your work out there. It’s the way the world is going now, nobody is going to see it hanging on my walls at home!!
DASH: Elaborate on your Decorative work, please. I’m assuming this is all commissioned work, but how did you start doing this? You’ve clearly done a fair amount of it. Is it something that you do regularly?
KARI: I started doing faux finishes and murals back in the '90's when it was very in vogue here in Toronto; this was shortly after graduating from art college. I was working for an interior designer at the time who also had a retail decor shop. I did some work in her home, it was photographed by a design publication here and I started getting calls. After a few years I felt I needed more stability regarding work. At the time I lived alone, worked alone and it was pretty draining. That’s when I started working in the antique industry. I started doing it again a few years ago when a designer friend was re-doing a chateau in the south of France and I realized how much more I enjoyed it than working retail part-time. Now I do it fairly regularly. There are a few really talented designers here in Toronto who I work with, so when I'm not madly painting getting ready for a show, I'm working on a project or two.
DASH: What's your favorite piece that you've done?
KARI: That's a tough one. I usually have a favorite from each series - my favorite pet portrait is of our bull terrier Lola. It was my first and a gift for my husband for Christmas the year I started painting again. It's certainly not the best portrait I've done, but it's special to me. Of the "grey barn" series it would be "Cyrus" the big white steer. I still really love the big emu/ostrich from the "red barn" series, and so far from the "Whimsical Woodland" my favorite is still the first of the series, “Beauty", the hare with the white collar.
DASH: Speaking of Whimsical Woodland, that’s your most recent series, correct? What put you on the path to create that elaborate 27-piece series?
KARI: It is (the most recent). This series was actually influenced from two very different decorative paining projects. One, a mural I did in France last summer in which a rabbit with an Elizabethan collar was included at the client’s request, and the second done early this year - a nursery mural in Montreal, which featured a few animals including a deer and a rabbit. The client requested that I put the antlers on the rabbit not the deer. The murals were very different - one sophisticated and monochromatic, the other polychrome and somewhat more playful. On the drive back to Toronto from Montreal I started thinking about merging the two rabbits together in an encaustic painting. I wasn't necessarily thinking of a series, just the one painting (that was "Beauty" the antlered hare). Once I started I couldn't stop. They just sort of flowed out of me, one more elaborate than the prior. I'm pretty sure there are more than 27 now that I'm getting ready for the show at Gallery 14731.
DASH: Describe your process a little if you wouldn't mind.
KARI: I always work from photos. (I've got too much going on in my head to focus on an image in there.) I find a pic of a particular animal that speaks to me and go from there. I work on wooden panel boards, drawing the image in an outline (with the Whimsical Woodland series I work from 3 different images, one of the animal, one of the costume and another of the antlers). I then paint the background around the image and melt it with a heat gun, this smooths it out and creates an atmospheric quality to it. Next I begin painting the image from the top down, completing a section at a time, almost as though I break the piece down into many individual little paintings. If working in smaller pieces, I may work on a couple at a time. My studio is the size of a postage stamp so the larger pieces are quite challenging, I generally end up painting parts of them upside down …
DASH: Sounds like art isn’t your only talent. Aside from online and your showing at Gallery 14731, where can people find your work?
KARI: Canvas Gallery here in Toronto has a few pieces and I regularly show at group shows in the city throughout the year. This year in particular has been a busy one for shows for me!
DASH: Lastly, why do you consider your mind to be muddled?
KARI: I've got a lot going on in there! I find focusing a challenge, which may seem odd because I am able to produce a great deal of work which one would think requires a great deal of focus, but for me it's all more intuitive and not all that cerebral. I'm given to rambling at times both verbally and in thought, maybe because I tend to do too many different things at once, I'm not sure …