Birchbox Man Q&A: Shelter Serra, Visual Artist

There aren’t a many mediums Shelter Serra hasn’t conquered. Working with everything from copper and ceramics to silicone and paint, he has collaborated with an array of retail heavy hitters like Helmut Lang, Chanel, and Fred Segal. What’s more, size—big or small—is no obstacle. His scope of work ranges from a life-size replica of the Hummer H2 to a life size replica of the Rolex Submariner. We talked with Serra to learn about his creative roots and latest endeavors.

BB Man: How did your education and upbringing guide you to a career as an artist?

Serra: I grew up in Bolinas, which a small town in Northern California. My mom was always painting and making things when we were growing up so creativity was encouraged, and my dad is always full of ideas. It wasn't until high school that I realized my uncle (the minimalist sculptor Richard Serra) was such a radical artist. I had always thought of him as the uncle who surfed. He would visit time to time. At UC Santa Cruz I primarily focused on printmaking and drawing. It was there that I realized the potential of art and its ability to make people look at things differently.

BB Man: Tell us about the Fake Roley. How did this collaboration with Brooklyn's Grey Area art gallery come up?

Serra: In 2011 when Grey Area began, Kyle DeWoody, one of the founders, wanted to work together. I had made a simple cast of The Submariner, the ultimate luxury watch, as a kind of comment on status and obsolescence. Kyle asked if I could make some out of silicone that could be worn. I cast the original prototype from a fake Rolex that I purchased on the street in NYC. So in a way, it is designed from a replica of a fake, making it a new original. Also, making something that can be worn, or put on a shelf to be looked at as art, is an interesting dichotomy. It is an object that can reach a wider spectrum of people than a single work of art.

BB Man: Late last year, you cast 17 engine blocks from silicone, which were then displayed in various Helmut Lang stores worldwide. Why the engine block?

Serra: I chose American engine blocks from the late 1960's to early 70's because these are from the cars that have come to represent the past strength and power of our automobile industry. The Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and Chevy Corvette are icons of this era, which was a pinnacle of technology in the last century.

BB Man: What are you working on right now?

Serra: I am constantly working on new projects and experimenting with things. Continuity is equally as important as developing new groups of work. Recently, I have been working on a series of drawings of Camellia flowers for some of the Chanel boutiques, as well as some designs for Fred Segal. These projects are in a different realm than the drawings and sculptures that I make for gallery exhibitions. I feel it is important to have a variety of things going on at once, as it keeps things new.

BB Man: Can you recall the best advice you've ever received as an artist?

Serra: Simplify. Everyone is unique already. And to quote my uncle Richard: "Work comes out of work."

Photos: Grey Area (Fake Roley), Ivory Serra (Portrait and Disney Castle), Paul Kasmin Gallery Shop (Superman cap), Helmut Lang (store)

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