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Always an artist: NYFA fellow Sergio Sericolo displays one of his paintings.

Seeing Through the Layers

Painter Sergio Sericolo describes the artistic process that helped focus his vision and earn him a NYFA fellowship


By Jacqueline Keren

Midlife can be a time of doubt and regret. Or it can be the opposite, a time to reap the rewards of past struggles. Turning 40 for Loundonville painter Sergio Sericolo has meant recognition and fruition. In addition to a significant birthday, there is an upcoming marriage and a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, one of the few grant programs available for individual artists in the state. Only a handful of artists are awarded these grants of more than $6,000 to pursue their work in any way they choose.

“I always felt like I was an artist,” Sericolo says of the award. “But this is validation. I’m part of a select group of people and there’s an honor in that.” In a crowded field of painters, the award also offers a distinction that has already opened the door to a meeting with Pierogi, an artist-run gallery in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Over the next few months, Sericolo hopes it will unlock other possibilities.

Sericolo grew up in the working-class town of Watervliet, where his mother still lives. A retired telephone-company worker, she brought up her two sons by herself. Though she didn’t always understand her sons’ less-than-practical interests—arts and athletics—Sericolo says he owes a lot to her for supporting them all the same. Both siblings went on to successful careers: Sericolo showing his work throughout the Capital Region, where it also resides in private, corporate and public collections, and his brother in the National Football League, where he is a referee.

Sericolo says he has always been a visual artist, though a stint as a musician in the local band Even the Odd led to gigs with Hot Tuna and Meatloaf and a brush with a recording contract. Though Even the Odd never were signed, the musical influence can still be found in the titles of his paintings.

After finishing an undergraduate degree at the College of Saint Rose, Sericolo began working in commercial art, first at the Troy Record, then Siena College. “I knew I would have to support myself,” he said. At first, he had trouble reconciling his commercial career, but gradually, he began to appreciate it for the skills it taught him. In 2005, he earned his MFA from the University of Albany. Along the way, a first marriage ended in divorce and Sericolo found himself in a small apartment, using a closet for a studio. Still, it was his own spot, he says, a space he had carved out for himself, and his painting continued.

Sericolo, who paints in oils, courts chaos as he crafts each piece. Like any oil painter, he thins his paints using various mediums, such as linseed oil. But Sericolo takes it one step further, thinning them down until they are fluid enough to pour onto the canvas. As each layer of paint dries, he applies turpentine in another freefall. Where it hits, there are “little explosions” in the painting from which the turpentine spreads, creating new forms and textures, some crackly, others glowing and smooth. Sericolo “waits until it does something interesting. It takes its own time, its own way.”

This method is a boon to an artist who doesn’t “want to see my hand in everything I do” but needs source material from outside himself to bounce off of. As the paint begins to settle, Sericolo begins to work it—building on successive layers, wiping out other sections, letting deeper layers shine through. He plies the surface with Q-tips, and hundreds of swabs litter the floor as he adds and subtracts paint. “It’s a searching process,” he says, of the emerging figures and forms. “That’s interesting. Like characters coming into fruition.”

Throughout his work is a consistent set of images, familiar shapes that “allude to things in the world—bones, flowers, human anatomy.” Though rooted in the natural world, they have an irreal quality as well, elongated, distorted, pulsing in deep autumnal shades.

Using turpentine in painting was a monumental discovery for Sericolo, and it changed the way he painted. “Then it became easy,” he says, helping him tap into a new language. Before, he had focused on manmade objects—a boat, a chair—because he felt he “had to hang his hat on something real.” In graduate school, a fellow student gave him an anatomy book. “It was something for me to grab onto. It made its way into my painting.” Now, through his unconventional use of turpentine, he finds other forms derived from nature that give his work internal meaning. “For me that’s what I need—a purpose, a reason.”

In Sericolo’s spacious studio, in the basement of his new house, which he shares with his fiancée, flecks of paint dry around a blank space on the floor that once held a canvas, which rests now on an easel as Sericolo transitions from improvisation to the craft of painting, a process he says he enjoys as much. Q-tip in hand, he brings out a long, spinelike form crawling across the foreground. Cauliflower-like bursts erupt in shades of ocher, yellow and brown and float beneath a burning landscape. The painting is only a few layers deep but will eventually build to five or six layers, some broken, others smooth. “Looking through layers is what gives it its richness,” Sericolo says.

When he’s not painting, Sericolo finds source material in old books destined for the trash bins, black-and-white studies of ornate silverware, aerial photos of the Earth. He uses graphite, white chalk, razor blades, erasure, ballpoint pen and other materials to blend manmade and natural shapes. The scroll work on a spoon and the anatomy of an insect combine until they are nearly indistinguishable. A few plates he leaves untouched for the viewer leafing through the book to wonder if it’s an original or altered.

His book projects occupy Sericolo when his job as art director at Siena College consumes his energy, though he says his creative and commercial careers are related. Graphic arts are a “different communication,” he says, with an insistence on coherence and theme that applies to his fine art, helping him to see “common threads within my work.”

Recently, Sericolo has also begun teaching drawing at Siena. It’s work he feels is meaningful, personal and a process through which he is able to see “the whole of art history. How much I had to say surprised me.” This new knowledge will be put to use as he mentors a group of students at Siena to fulfill the requirement of the NYFA fellowship for an artist-audience exchange. “I’ll be a resource,” he says. “Let them see it’s possible to be an artist.”


-no peripheral vision this week-


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