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An Eye for Art: Westminster artist’s T-shirts are ‘passive activism’

Richard Serrao is a local artist living in Westminster. Serrao remembers finger painting when he was a child in South Dakota. He remembers mixing red and green together and getting brown, but it was fun.

When Serrao was in first grade he got a book on drawing animals from the library. He learned to draw animals using shapes.

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“I was born an artist and inclined to do that,” he said. Serrao received his first art award in fourth grade.

Serrao’s family moved to Carroll County in 1973, where he attended South Carroll High School. In 1978, he was elected most artistic male in his class. He also received the Governor’s Award for Art and one of his scratchboards that hung in the vovernor’s mansion. A scratchboard has a very fine layer of clay on the surface. The artist uses a sharp instrument to cut away lines in the clay, leaving a white image on the dark clay surface.

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When Serrao told his father he wanted to be an artist, his father asked him, “What are you going to do for a real job?” His mother told him to work at McDonald’s, but he was a vegetarian. His parents were practical but not supportive of his artwork.

“In my era, I grew up with the starving artist concept,” Serrao said.

After high school, Serrao worked in a factory for seven years making art on the side. He sold his first painting at an art show in 1986 in Tampa, Florida, where he lived for five years. Then he moved to Hawaii. While there, he won an annual poster contest and an honorable award for one of his paintings. In the 1990s, he started designing T-shirts and learned screen printing from the ground up. He has designed T-shirts ever since that time.

Richard Serrao is pictured wearing a Maryland cross T-shirt design he created.
Richard Serrao is pictured wearing a Maryland cross T-shirt design he created. (Lyndi McNulty)

“I love T-shirts because it is art for the masses and more people will see my artwork,” Serrao said. “I have always wanted to be a T-shirt designer.”

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One of his first designs was “No One Wins a War” during the Iraq War.

“T-shirts can be passive activism; you can say things without saying it,” Serrao said.

In 1992, Serrao’s parents offered him their house to live in when they were in Europe, so he came back to Carroll County. That is when he immersed himself in the Carroll County art scene, becoming a member of the Carroll County Artist’s Guild and the Carroll County Arts Council.

He designed commission T-shirts for Spider Web and Triple J & K in Westminster. Most recently, he has been designing shirts with Phantom Graphics in Littlestown, Pennsylvania.

All his commissions have been from networking and word of mouth.

Serrao’s most recent design is a cross with the Maryland flag as part of the design. The T-shirts will be available as well as decals. The design is a unique one-of-a-kind copyrighted image.

Serrao also paints murals. One is a Biggie’s crown (like the one worn by the late rap star The Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls) at Monsters Dance Conventions on Winter’s Lane in Catonsville. The mural is on Monster’s HipHop headquarters.

Last year, Serrao painted a mural for American Ice Café in Westminster. He painted its logo on the cafe’s front window and it looks like stained glass from inside.

Richard Serrao, left, with The Dispensary owner Amran Pasha.
Richard Serrao, left, with The Dispensary owner Amran Pasha. (Lyndi McNulty)

Most recently, Serrao has completed a mural for The Dispensary, a medical cannabis store, in Westminster. The mural is an image of a goddess rising out of a field with a surrealistic twist. He said he likes combining hyperrealism with fantasy. The title of the piece is Goddess Evolving. The Dispensary’s owner, Amran Pasha, also hired another artist to do two more murals. Pasha said that it makes his store different. It is a great way to support artists.

The mural is a self-portrait because the smile on the figure is an inner smile of Serrao creating the work. Seventy people participated in painting the mural using stencils and tiny animal stamps. A Yorkie named Annie did one of the stencils.

“The cumulative effect of everyone participating made the painting better than I could have done myself,” Serrao said.

The sign in the lower left-hand corner is one of his favorite parts of the image.

The major influences on Serrao’s art are Matisse, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali.

Serrao is also establishing a nonprofit call Prints 4 Peace. He wants to give back to the community.

“I do not have enough time or money to give back so everything done under that banner will be donated to local nonprofits including Access Carroll and The Shepherd’s Staff,” he said.

“I collaborated with my daughter Summer since she was 18 months old until the age of 9, when she told me she doesn’t want to work with me anymore, because I keep messing up her art,” Serrao said. “I was floored and flabbergasted but proud in a melancholy way. Our 16-by-20 acrylic painting ‘Memories of Spring’ was used to advertise 1998′s Art in the Park, which at around 5 years old, Summer was the youngest participantk. Summer and I did a 4′x 8′ mural inside the Longwell Recreation Center in Westminster, with an analogy of children chasing butterflies.

Richard Serrao’s work, Memories of Spring.
Richard Serrao’s work, Memories of Spring. (Lyndi McNulty)

“In 2006, I was asked to design and lead volunteers who wanted to paint on the Fallfest office trailer for the event. I left outlined images to be painted by children. It was a diverse mix of many talents, culminating in an example of a community art project.

“I like creating art because the process is cathartic. As an artist, I can’t stop the flow of ideas. I am always thinking, writing and drawing. My ideas come out through my fingertips,” he said.

Serrao can be contacted at printsforpeace@gmail.com. His Facebook and Instagram are titled “slackartstudio.”

Lyndi McNulty is the owner of Gizmo’s Art in Westminster. Her column, An Eye for Art, appears regularly in Life & Times.

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