In San Francisco, painter Vincent Serritella is breaking from convention, bridging the gap between artist and collector, traditional painting, and advanced animation technology. We meet the artist resolutely following his own path
“I love all the curves and inclines along this coast,” says artist and effects supervisor Vincent Serritella, as we take a tight hairpin bend with utmost control in the Lexus LC. Traversing the 18-miles from San Francisco to his secluded home and studio in San Rafael, the Lexus coupe hugs the road with its muscular 21-inch wheels, aerodynamic roofline and powerful hybrid electric drivetrain. “It’s extremely smooth while driving and grounded through acceleration,” notes Serritella as we cruise across the Golden Gate Bridge while Jungle’s Casio plays on the 13-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.
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Pulling into his sloping driveway, Serritella parks the Sonic Titanium-colored LC before ascending the cantilevered staircase to his home’s hidden courtyard. Designed by American architect Joseph Allen Stein, a protégé of Richard Neutra, whose designs were celebrated for marrying the structure to the landscape, this 1951 house does just that, with large rectangular windows framing the surrounding oak and acacia trees. “My former art mentor, Don Kunz used to remind me that beauty is what you surround yourself with, and what you surround yourself with becomes what you create.”
Fittingly, this notion of beauty extends inside where art takes center stage. Serritella’s own paintings, including a wry self-portrait sit alongside a considered collection that includes a signed Rauschenberg lithograph and James Rosenquist leaning against the wall. “I think art should make you stop and think, not just be something you pass by,” says Serritella, who divides his time between his own artistic pursuits and a role as effects supervisor at Pixar Animation Studios.
Adjoining the car port downstairs is Serritella’s meticulous studio. A large computer screen resides in one corner juxtaposed beside ceramic pots filled with paintbrushes and neat rows of oil colors along the shelves—further evidence of Serritella’s multidisciplinary work. “Here in my studio is where I love to let everything go that I do as an animator and filmmaker and just allow my mind to be very receptive and open to ideas,” he says, mixing paint onto a plexiglass palette before applying it to the tiger depicted on a work-in-progress canvas.
a fine art degree from the prestigious Cooper Union in New York, Serritella’s
beginnings as an artist were in the traditional confines of the gallery
system—a world he grew rapidly disillusioned with. “They had a formula about
what would work and what wouldn't,” he says. This approach led Serritella to
question his purpose. "The art world wants you to be the same. They want
you to produce the same work year after year with no change. And for me, I had
to break that barrier and go a different route.” Serritella’s new direction
wasn’t an easy path, taking him across the country to the West Coast and
challenging him with a new kind of image-making—that of 3D animation for film.
Jumping back in the Lexus, we drive to Serritella’s office at Pixar in Emeryville. Entering the Steve Jobs Building, he explains that per the directive of co-founder Jobs, the animation studio divides technical departments to the left side of the building and creative to the right, leaving Serritella standing somewhere in the middle. More accurately, he serves as a unique bridge between left and right-brain processes: While effects are eventually created in 3D, Serritella doesn’t begin this way. “I go straight to the visual side of it and literally paint what I think the director is talking about,” he explains. “Take the rainbow rocket trail for Inside Out [Pixar’s 2015 Oscar winning feature film], what does that look like? How much stuff is inside it? What’s the texture of it? Those are all very nebulous things that are typically hard for us to iterate.”
Not dissimilar is the creative approach that was taken when the LC was no more than an artistic concept. Free from the constraints of production, it was initially just a design experiment before becoming a road-worthy reality—a feat that challenged designers and engineers to work closely to produce the most exacting and refined model possible.
“Do you notice how the lines in the interior all direct my eye towards the road? It feels very comfortable on the eyes,” notes Serritella, keenly observing several design details of the LC, including the flush deployable door handles, complete with Lexus badge and the holographic rear lights (inspired by the afterburners on jet aircraft). It’s arguably a visual language like no other on the road. Which brings us back to Serritella’s painterly approach in a technical environment: “I'm the only one in this whole department that actually uses that skill set for this part of production,” he says, matter-of-factly.
Painting at Pixar aside, Serritella increasingly desired to produce his own art that was free from the limitations set by a gallery. “I needed to go back to the origins of why I wanted to create in the first place, what it was that brought me joy,” he explains. “I grew up in Miami with a Cuban grandmother who didn’t speak any English, so the only way we could communicate was for me to draw pictures for her,” he says. The combination of a fast-paced challenge while forging an emotional connection led Serritella to initiate his series, Project 365. As the name suggests, he created one new painting a day for an entire year. “Every day, I would create the art, scan it, and then upload it onto a website. I would then gift it to the first person who connected with it online,” he explains.
Serritella’s latest works continue to break the mold of what’s been done before. By experimenting with robotic technology to plot large scale drawings he is fusing fine art and animation together. “After years of working in traditional media with the art world and 3D technology in the visual effects industry, I'm now in a place to take advantage of that knowledge where I’m literally starting to mix those things,” he says. “But I think now more than ever, it’s important that we find a way to connect with each other.”