He may give me a hard time for trying to pigeonhole his style, but I think it would be safe to call Sergio Piña a “modern folk artist.”
The Mexican-American native of Long Beach has been a prodigious art-maker over the years, mostly painting with acrylics, but his work has primarily been a hobby and served as a source of gifts for family members. Last Christmas, he created a series of small paintings, mainly of houses, inspired by a recent trip to Cape Cod, and many of those pieces now adorn the homes of his relatives.
Because I’ve invited him to take part in a late-summer art show I’m curating at Greenly Art Space in Signal Hill, he will soon enter the realm of those of us who put ourselves out there artistically for the general public to behold. It can be an intimidating step for some creative folks, but Piña seems ready. When I asked him to let me profile him for this column, he jumped right in.
I visited him at his home this week, and we sat down to discuss what influences him and why he enjoys reading about the history of England’s royalty.
Why do you paint?
To enjoy time, just to enjoy myself. It’s an outlet– I’ve got to do something.
What’s the last thing that really inspired you?
I guess the trip to Massachusetts. I went to visit my relatives. I went to Plymouth Rock; it’s a rock about this big (outstretches arms). It’s just a rock, with a label on it. But [the Pilgrims] stepped on it. Yeah, Massachusetts– I liked it. Even though it’s not my heritage, I liked it.
How did it inspire you?
The buildings. It felt cozier, especially Boston.
Than, like, the ‘burbs here, and the (makes bustling type of noise) here. It felt like a happy Monopoly city.
And, when you say “Monopoly,” you mean like the game.
Like the game, yeah. That and Cape Cod.
And why was Cape Cod so inspiring?
It was nice, to see, like, they have the same kind of buildings we have, but with their own twist on them.
In what way are they the same?
I think the shapes, the architecture.
But in what ways are they different, to the point that it would inspire you?
The placement of them. And [Provincetown] is very rustic, but it was a small town with a big-city feel to it.
What’s your favorite type of art?
I like folk art– like stuff that regular people do. I like it all, but… more towards the modern stuff, you know?
That almost seems like a contradiction– modern art, but folk art. So maybe you would say that you like modern folk art?
Modern folk art.
Do you think you could be identified as a modern folk artist?
There you go– identifying me already!
I’m trying to pigeonhole you. I’m trying really hard.
You know… I never thought about what I would consider myself. It’s like a lot of influences I have: my white influence, my brown influence, my gay influence. So, it’s like I could take three perspectives on this, and they each give something to the artist.
What’s the most spectacular piece of art that you’ve ever beheld in person?
I think the Tower of London.
You read a lot about English history. Why do you find it so appealing?
I like the stories, the royalty, the intrigue. All the back-stabbing they had back then. It’s crazy, and I think that attracts me to it. And it’s a time of change– out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance. But the Tower of London– Traitors’ Gate– you know, you read about, and then you get there, and sometimes it’s kind of like you’re– I don’t want to say disappointed– but you don’t get the same feel that you had when you imagined it. It’s different when you actually see the real thing. Like Plymouth Rock. It’s like, you expect some majestic rock or something. They cut it. They chopped it in half or something. They dropped it, and it broke or something. People throw pennies at it. (He laughs.)
Piña can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .