Rafael Serrano’s mesmerizing artwork is rooted in LA’s tradition of visionary art.
In the late 19th century, Southern California attracted misfits, idealists, and entrepreneurs with few ties to anyone or anything. Swamis, spiritualists, and other self-proclaimed religious authorities quickly made their way out West to forge new faiths. Independent book publishers, motivational speakers, and metaphysical-minded artists and writers then became part of the Los Angeles landscape. City of the Seekers examines how the legacy of this spiritual freedom enables artists to make creative work as part of their practices.
Since the artist Cameron's scandalous Peyote Vision first put an image to LA's burgeoning mid-century arts scene, the city has become a global arts capital that hosts about as many different genres as it has neighborhoods. The varied styles mirror the Island of Lost Toys-esque individuality of all the loose change that falls out in the City of Angels, as Frank Lloyd Wright once quipped.
As a blank slate for artists, LA has therefore always struggled with its vague identity as a creative-cum-commercial hub. Early on, the film industry morphed into a well-oiled machine that relied on a coterie of skilled trades. Now, cinematography, photography, editing, lighting, stunts, wardrobe, and makeup are just a few careers tied to the exhaustive credits that roll after every TV show or film. Whether it's title design or sound mixing, each of these contributions has a legacy and future that relates to technology, entertainment, and the Arts with a capital A.
Meanwhile, as a pop-culture generator, there's a continuous tension between subject and form, as well as industry and creativity. Now, questions like "When is a movie set become a work of art?" are analogous to "What makes an effective meme?" Gradually, the setting of a meme can come to define the provocative nature of the meme itself—just as the story and/or message of a film comes alive through all the varied crafts.
Lodged somewhere in the comparison between movies and memes, established LA artists such as Cuban-born abstract painter and photographer Rafael Serrano have managed to ride the ever-crashing waves of the city's change by producing artwork that evolves to reflect the aesthetic zeitgeist of the town itself: part movie set, part internet fodder, and all art.
Serrano moves between mediums based on the most effective means of representation, whether it's painting, photography, or both. The self-described "abstract neo-surrealist" has also embraced the use of collage to bring his visions to life.
After leaving Havana for California at the age of 12, Serrano has reached a universal understanding of the city's complex art dynamics. "LA is different from most cities in the US and the world by its unique physical structure and vast distances between places within the city," he tells The Creators Project. "This quality creates an interesting dynamic which undoubtedly reflects on the type of work being produced here."
And what kind of work is it that Serrano produces, exactly? "Much of my work is the product of my subconscious," he says. "I'm interested in the soul of humanity and the inner workings of the mind enhanced by a poetic vision." It’s an approach that’s neatly in keeping with LA’s original visionary artists.