Paolo Serra was born in Morciano di Romagna in 1946. The son of a shoe designer, who worked out of a small shop in the centre of Rimini, Serra’s skill in craftsmanship is innate. In 1955, Serra moved with his parents to Northampton in England, where he lived for twenty-seven years.
Serra attributes his burgeoning artistic career to a primary school teacher who fostered his appreciation for Italian art, in particular that of the Trecento. This lead to a compulsion to visit museums and galleries, with two exhibitions making a particular impression upon him: Picasso at London’s Tate Gallery in 1960 and Art Alive, an exhibition of European contemporary art held in Northampton the following year.
In 1962, when Serra was not yet 16, the Century Gallery in Northampton, held his first solo exhibition, which received the plaudits of the Guardian newspaper in an extensive review. In the years that followed he won a number of scholarship grants from the Arts Council of Great Britain, which also bought one of his works. After contributing to several group shows following his first solo exhibition, he put painting to one side in order to focus on unconventional materials like Plexiglas, with which he produced assemblages and artefacts that he called ‘constructions’. Around 1969 he once again became very interested in the painting of the Old Masters, an interest he cultivated assiduously through frequent visits to the National Gallery in London. From then on, partly as a result of his discovery of Cennino Cennini’s fundamental treatise, Il libro dell’arte, the art of the Trecento and Quattrocento became a fixed point of reference for him.
Throughout the 1970s Serra had solo exhibitions in various European cities, including London and Amsterdam. In Paris, he participated at the Salon Des Réalités Nouvelles, and in 1973 he contributed a work entitled Light and Shade to the English Pavilion of the 12th São Paulo Biennial in Brazil. In this period, he was chiefly using the egg tempera technique, which he still occasionally adopts today. With it he produced works that have a spatial and perspectival organization of Renaissance derivation which, combined with the Nordic abstraction of Mondrian and Malevich, became attuned to the minimalist North American artists who were principally concerned with surface values. The second half of the 1970s was a prolific period for the artist, during which he had numerous solo shows especially in England and the Netherlands. A key exhibition in this period was in 1976, when Serra participated in a group exhibition at the renowned Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The museum went on to acquire one of his works for their permanent collection, and a number of European museums, financial institutions, and foundations followed suit, including: the Nuffield Foundation, the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, East Midlands Arts Association, the Rembrandt Society, the National Bank of the Netherlands, the Amro Bank, the National Versicherungen, UBS, the French-German Banquiers Dreyfus & Cie, Sammlung Biedermann, and Museum der Stadt Waiblingen.
Serra returned to Italy in 1982, returning to his roots in the hills near Rimini. This move again transformed his practice as he moved in a radical new direction, towards an “essentialism” that aimed to do away with any spurious accident that might upset the clear-cut geometric tension of forms and their super-smooth surfaces. Since his return to Italy, Serra has continued his extensive exhibition history with recent exhibitions including: Paolo Serra: Homage to Sasetta, Ronchini Gallery, London (2020) (solo) ;Carlesso | Serra, Ronchini Gallery, London (2016); Galerie Henze & Ketterer & Triebold, Riehen, Switzerland (2012) (solo); Die Landschaftsdarstellung von 1909 bis heute. Von Dario Alvarez Basso bis Bernd Zimmer, Galerie Henze & Ketterer & Triebold, Basel, Switzerland (2012); Galerie der Stadt Waiblingen, Waiblingen, Germany (2004) (solo); Ronchini Arte Contemporanea, Terni, Italy (2003) (solo); Galerie der Stadt Waiblingen, Stuttgart, Germany (2002) (solo); Galerie Triebold, Basel (curated by Francis Naumann) (1994) (solo).
His current practice surrounds him tirelessly layering hundreds of materials including lacquer, gold and palladium leaf, acrylic, chalk, and rabbit-skin glue. His monochromatic and dichromatic paintings explore two-dimensional textures, essentialism and surface tensions, all inspired by his continued, ardent exploration of museums and galleries. In 2007, a monograph was published by Gi Ori about his practice with contributions from Kenneth Baker, Achille Bonito Oliva, Francis Neumann and Alexandra Henze Triebold. Achille Bonito Oliva, in one of his texts, writes – “in Paolo Serra's work we see a stratification formed by the moral figures of Mondrian, Malevic, Albers, Reinhardt, Newman and Rothko being the ancestors who monitor the evolution of abstract language right through to the beginning of the 21st Century. In his iconography he welcomes the atmosphere of Zen philosophy that can reconcile project and causality, geometry and indetermination, shape and matter.”