Marijuana artist uses relief painting for cannabis creations
August 15, 2016
The novelty of marijuana isn't even close to wearing off yet, even here in Colorado. As more and more states continue to legalize the plant, whether for medical or recreation, the stigma is slowly being replaced by a greater understanding of its many uses. Alyssa Serpentini, a longtime local artist, has recently begun using her talents in relief art for a new kind of project based on this rising industry.
She paints large, colorful flowers on canvases to hang in people's homes. The flowers are cannabis, but not the kind of in-your-face structure of a marijuana plant. The subtle paintings are a mixture of greens, blues and purples layered on top of each other, so they pop when you look at them. Those familiar with the plant will immediately recognize it for what it is, but those less familiar will usually marvel over the beauty of the piece, like Serpentini's mother's 80-year-old friends who contacted her after she posted pictures of the paintings online, wanting some of "my pretty green and blue flowers."
This subtlety is exactly what Serpentini is going for — she hopes that these paintings will help change the public's negative perception of the plant.
"That's the way I want to go with it — focus on making it beautiful," she said. "People (who) don't know, they think it's a beautiful flower, so then it starts to change perception, one tiny step at a time. Because that's what it's about. If I take away 'weed,' 'marijuana' — all these ridiculous things people think about this plant — and turn it into a beautiful flower, they just think, 'Oh, pretty artwork,' and then they hear it's cannabis."
MERGING TWO INDUSTRIES
With years of experience in the world of architectural artistry, Serpentini has done everything from faux finishes, bas-relief and upholstered walls. Her work can be found all over the county, in homes and in local businesses, such as Caamano Sweaters and The Hearthstone in Breckenridge. She turns blank walls into three-dimensional, textured areas with raised trees, flowers, business logos — whatever clients are looking for.
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After years of doing large-scale relief work on walls, local musician and artist Cody Wayne, a friend of Serpentini's, suggested she scale down her work into smaller paintings. She did two relief paintings for him, and they both sold. So she decided to do a few more, which also sold.
"Everything I did sold within two months," she said.
This eventually led her to the cannabis relief paintings about a year ago. She was in Steamboat with some friends who own a large-scale dispensary, when another friend of theirs was opening a store in Denver called Secret Stashh Gifts. The store sells high-end hemp clothing and high-end pipes for thousands of dollars, so her friends in the industry suggested she create a piece for the store. She did, and it was so well received that she created a few more.
"Since then, people keep asking for them, and I haven't had much time to sit down and do them," Serpentini said. "I've got all these ideas, and everyone keeps ordering them."
In the blink of an eye, things have begun spiraling forward for the artist. She is having professional photographs taken of her work to be printed on posters and postcards to start, in order to give her clients smaller, less expensive options of her work. She has two major projects in the works, although still in the planning stages, so she isn't quite ready to share the details. With a degree in fashion, she could see printing her work tastefully on clothes or undergarments in the future.
"Twenty years working in Summit County as a faux painter and fashion design, and it's all culminating to the last week and a half," she said.
There was a point when she was a little unsure about the idea of creating the marijuana design.
"I almost stopped doing these, quite honestly," she said. "About eight months ago, I said, 'What am I doing?' … But then a friend of mine who has been battling cancer and using cannabis, as well as chemo, told me she felt like they were uplifting. She was like, 'I love looking at that — it's so uplifting.' So then I thought, 'You know, people are using this as a healing herb.'"
A LIFE OF DESIGN
Serpentini grew up in the world of fashion, as her mom owned a women's clothing store in Ohio and would take her to all the shows in New York and Chicago.
She moved to Summit County in 1996 after completing her degrees in fashion merchandising and design. She moved here from Ohio with a roommate, who is also a designer, with the idea of creating ski gear together. During her first two years in the county, the two would comb thrift shops and take apart clothes to remake them. Her roommate eventually wound up as the head designer of 686 and is now a designer at Under Armour.
Serpentini eventually got into construction painting, and, because she could draw, a friend of hers suggested she try faux painting as a way to make some money on the side. Through her construction job, she landed a gig doing a faux finish at the old Keystone Discovery Center. This led her to another job in the Frisco Towers, a large condo complex, which asked her and her roommate to take a bunch of metal and make it look like pine.
"Her and I did this whole big condo at the Frisco Towers in the mid-'90s. From those two jobs, things went from there," she said. "The economy was a lot better back then, and there was a lot of faux finishing going on and that was it — I quit that job with construction painting, went on my own since '99. And I haven't worked for anyone else since."
Serpentini loves to do just about everything the county offers — snowboarding, rock climbing, hiking. She now lives in Fairplay with her daughter and finds inspiration for her work in her everyday life.
"There isn't much I'm not inspired by," she said. "All experiences in life, everything I look at, my daughter and all of my people, they are all what inspires me. It's why I feel so lucky."
Her work with cannabis art has taken off so much in the last month, she is excited for all the possibilities in the future. She hopes that her pieces help change the negative stigma surrounding the plant, especially when it comes to cancer patients using it as a treatment or healing tool.
"I do hope these pieces — if I had any real dream — make somebody look at something different," she said. "Why is this so hated? I don't understand. The area I'm from in Ohio, I've seen too much of it. Why not let people have what they want? … If I can help change that perception in any way shape or form, that's all it is."
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