In The Swirl

Contemplating the curvaceous works of Rudolph Serra at Mark Borghi in Sag Harbor.
One of Serra’s ocean-inspired sculptures. Photograph courtesy of Mark Borghi

By Julia Szabo

The sea has been speaking to Rudolph Serra for as long as he can remember. Now, Curling, Swirling Contours in Space, a solo show of sculptures and works on paper (at Mark Borghi, Sag Harbor, through July 14) lets us in on the conversation. “Almost all of my life, I’ve been near the ocean,” Serra says. “Growing up in San Francisco, I could see the ocean out my back window; I watched sunsets, saw waves breaking, fished on the ocean with my father. I became a surfer in college, and studied at Berkeley with Peter Voulkos, the Jackson Pollock of ceramics.” Today, the polymath artist and lifelong wave rider, known to friends as Rudy, divides his time between Montauk, Sag Harbor and the downtown Manhattan location of his studio.

Renowned for sculptures that achieve what few before or since could—dynamic drawing with high-fired terra-cotta—Serra says that clay let him “draw three-dimensionally, which I couldn’t do with other materials.” Then necessity mothered a new invention: “COVID hit, and I couldn’t get clay.” So he rode a wave of inspiration, exploring surfboard foam material, finished with water-based fiberglass. The resulting works are as white as a watery wake, calling to mind Eastern calligraphy.

His sinuous characters add up to asemic writing—“writing that has no specific content,” Serra explains, “like a gesture. I just want the pure shapes: the perfect rock, the nice seashell. When you’re looking at it, asemic writing lets you get lost in your imagination, and I hope you have a nice journey there.” Hence his decision to leave the work beautifully blank: a meditative launchpad. “I’m not giving directions; I’m providing a place to ponder, to find enjoyment,” he says. “When we choose to be an artist, we take the power to put something into the world: I want to put beauty there.”
34 Main St., Sag Harbor;