Ana Serrano loves to build. Equal parts sculpture and architecture, the artist's colorfully painted cardboard cityscapes, installations, and scaled-down buildings are informed by the Latino culture of Los Angeles and the US/Mexico border. Her pieces pay particular attention to the details. Shop facades, security bars, plants and flowers all figure in to her vision of everyday scenes in the predominantly Hispanic areas she has come to know as a native Angeleno.
Serrano, 34, recently got a lot of attention when her 2008 piece Cartonlandia (made when she was a student at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena) was featured in the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibit "The US-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination and Possibility" at the Craft and Folk Art Museum. Inspired by her trips to Tijuana, "Cartonlandia" depicts the serendipitous nature of hillside neighborhoods there and in some areas of Los Angeles.
I caught up with Serrano last week during a break from installing her latest piece, "Homegrown," at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Made of cardboard, wood, paper, and acrylic paint, the room-sized immersive "garden" will compliment two other new exhibits, "The Feminine Sublime" and "Testament of the Spirit: Paintings by Eduardo Carrillo." Museum executive director Susana Smith Bautista says the three exhibits were curated to address issues of divergence, dichotomies, conflicts, and solutions. Serrano was chosen to complete the narrative, and her piece will be viewable in the museum's "project room," a smaller gallery space.
"Ana is dealing with not only her Mexican American heritage, but with issues of urbanity and how you can build creative environments within an urban state," says Bautista.
Serrano traces the beginnings of "Homegrown" to her move to Portland, a little over a year ago. "I'm much more aware of plant life there, which is something I wasn't always interested in or aware of in Los Angeles," she says. "You're surrounded by nature [her Portland home is close to a forest], so I notice the absence of it when I come back here."
Explaining her choices for "Homegrown," Serrano says "I really wanted to find a way to mesh the visual aesthetics I'm attracted to here in Los Angeles, and also find a way to bring in these plants that are important in my family, plants we've always grown wherever we are."
Originally from Sinaloa, Mexico, Serrano's grandparents and mother came to Los Angeles in the 1970s. She often went back to Sinaloa as a child to visit her relatives. "My family in Mexico lived a very rural lifestyle — no running water, grew their own food. My great-grandmother would kill the chicken for dinner. I started paying attention to how my family here in Los Angeles had access to small amounts of land and were still able to grow things to re-connect them to the same traditions they had in Mexico."
Concurrently, Serrano is working on her first solo show, "La Yarda," for Bermudez Projects/Cypress Park. Included will be three-dimensional sculptures of homes and courtyard gardens and a small installation. She says that ideas can come to her "at any second. I might just start building, or in Los Angeles when I drive around and take photographs."
Google maps are an important tool for her and have been an especially useful way to explore her hometown since the move to Portland. Serrano's work may be LA-centric but it seems to have a wide-ranging appeal. "A lot of people relate to it from different parts of the world," Serrano says. "Sometimes I hear, 'it reminds me of Brazil, reminds me of South Africa, or Italy.' It will remind them of a place they lived or visited."
Bautista hopes that in "Homegrown," visitors to the Pasadena museum "will find a space they can imagine and remember. I think that Ana's work is a lot about memory. It's not something you can plan for, but you always hope that people will make those connections and have a memorable experience they can bring back to their own lives."
Ana Serrano: Homegrown is at the Pasadena Museum of California Art until June 3.
"La Yarda" opens at Bermudez Projects/Cypress Park Feb. 17.