THIS NEW JERSEY ARTIST, FOR WHOM MUSIC IS AN ABIDING INFLUENCE, HAS SPENT MORE THAN 30 YEARS SHARING REMARKABLE VISIONS WITH THE WORLD
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI • PORTRAIT PHOTO BY ANDREA MCKENNA
It seemed a good omen to Serena Bocchino that her day job during years spent at NYU in the 1980s was as a window display artist, the same early vocation as visionaries like Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. “The East Village scene was just beginning,” the Englewood native recalled. “The location and energy were exhilarating, and it was reassuring that my early forays into being a professional artist paralleled the careers of others.” Her first review in the New York Times, she said, was also “extremely encouraging.”
In ensuing years, Bocchino’s work would be seen across the globe, though her “biggest” project is on the near horizon. She has been commissioned by NJ Transit and the New Jersey Council on the Arts to create two exterior mural sized banners (measuring 30 x 16 feet) to be exhibited on Newark Penn Station’s front and rear facades; part of that transit hub’s renovations. The works will evoke “flight” in a musical context music being an ongoing theme throughout her work.
“I was born into a creative family that was deeply engaged in music,” Bocchino noted, adding that early in her career, “I was the studio assistant to two well-known artists in New York City: Susan Rothenberg and Pat Steir. Rothenberg’s cerebral approach to painting and Steir’s spontaneous expression have greatly influenced my work.” In addition to her bachelor’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, she achieved a Master of Arts from NYU, and studied at Wroxton College in Oxfordshire, UK.
“My art has always been based on music, a physical expression of it, with an emphasis on contemporary jazz,” she explained. “I recently collaborated with saxophone player James Carter to create a portfolio entitled ‘Quartet’.” That pairing was arranged through art dealer and fine art publisher, Greg Smith, founder and executive director of Contemporary Art and Editions, a North Jersey gallery representing internationally recognized contemporary artists.
“I’ve been her primary dealer for the past 20 years,” Smith said. The pair met when Smith was on the board for City Without Walls, which maintained slide files on area artists. He selected eight for a project he was working on, and one was Bocchino. Currently, they are collaborating on a major art fair in Lugano, Switzerland, scheduled for the fall of 2020.
Bocchino was one of several artists chosen to represent the United States in 2017 to work with Chinese artists to create a sculpture installation at the Taoxichuan Art Museum of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts. The Museo Italo Americano in San Francisco recently acquired one of her paintings for its permanent collection, and The New Jersey State Council on the Arts has granted her Fellowships in both painting and drawing. Mack Cali Realty acquired ten of her largest works now part of the firm’s art collection in downtown Jersey City. She also holds the distinction of being part of six short films made between 1989 and 2013. Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art featured Bocchino’s paintings and process in a documentary that won “Most Inspirational Film” at The New York Film Festival. A new documentary, entitled Paint it Loud, is in the works, Smith said, due out in 2020. Music accompanying the films came from Pat Metheny, Peggy Lee, Peter Gabriel, and Max Roach.
“I had some collectors and friends in the film world that wanted to document my process in real time,” she said of those projects. “All art is a dialogue between the viewer and the work, and it is that relationship that determines the impact of the work for that viewer.”
Looking ahead to 2021, Bocchino and Smith are working on an exhibition in Rome and two museum shows at the Museo Italy Americano in San Francisco and the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper, Wyoming. Closer to home, an exhibition at the New Jersey Center for Visual Arts in Summit is scheduled for November 23 through January 26 of next year.
“I believe that an artist’s career is most often built on personal dedication to studio practice, and being open to cooperating with curators, galleries, and press, and those seeking private commissions as outlets for their work,” Bocchino summed up.