- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

NEOSHO, Mo. (AP) - When Sarah Serio was on her high school newspaper staff, a writer turned in an article about human trafficking.

As she read it, she was surprised. She’d had no idea slavery like that still existed.

“I felt like, ‘How did I not know about this problem?’” she said.

The realization was one of a couple that planted the seeds for what would become part of her body of work as an artist, The Joplin Globe (http://bit.ly/1rSkzPu ) reported.

Years later, a desire to start conversations about social justice stemming from an awareness of human trafficking forms the basis of her two pieces being featured in an exhibition in Los Angeles.

A full-time artist by trade, Serio’s art includes a focus on those issues in hopes her work makes people more aware of problems they might otherwise miss.

“If I can create an image that makes people think for just a second, maybe there’s something else going on out there that they need to know about. Being aware is the first step,” she said.

Serio, 28, has two works being featured in B(asterisk)tch Fest, an exhibition put on by The Haggus Society, which was created to be a safe place for older feminist artists, director Terri Lloyd said.

The show opens the door for artists to showcase different struggles, Lloyd said. Gender issues form a dominant theme among many artists in the show, she said.

“It all resonates pretty strongly with a feminist vibe to it,” she said.

Both of Serio’s black-and-white block prints are meant to speak to the problem of human trafficking. One of them, “It’s Not My Choice,” portrays the idea of someone being forced into that occupation. The other, “Losing Hope,” is meant to show someone doing just that.

“What that situation is, I’m not sure, but it’s not a good one,” she said of that second piece.

The aim with those pieces is less to tell a specific story and more to create a general depiction, she said.

“I never take anything that I’ve read, maybe someone’s story in a magazine, and go, ‘Oh, I’m going to make a picture for it,” she said. “It’s all just accumulations.”

The two black-and-white works were created using a technique called block printing, which is one of Serio’s main focuses as an artist. To make a block print, she carves a mirror image of the final design onto a wood or linoleum block.

That block is then covered in ink, then laid on a printing press, which is used to press the image onto cotton paper she imports from England and France.

The carving process can take several hours, she said, and then there’s the added time of printing multiple editions of the work, plus time for the oil-based ink to dry.

Lloyd said she was drawn to the two works in the exhibition because Serio was able to convey a sense of mood using just black and white.

“In art, we can hide a lot of stuff with color, but to pare things down to its most fundamental form of black and white takes a certain type of eye and a certain sensibility,” she said.

Serio knew for a long time that some form of art would play a role in her life.

After she started taking art classes in middle school, she didn’t go anywhere without a sketchbook, and in high school, she sold some of her art.

Though she decided to major in journalism when she headed off for Crowder College, she realized that, more than anything, she preferred the artistic aspects of the job, such as building layouts or taking photos.

So when she transferred to Missouri Southern State University, she decided to study graphic communications - a middle ground between design and art.

The impetus for her artistic career came around that time with a visit to the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts in Joplin. She went to see an exhibit of serigraphs - essentially, artistic screenprinting - and ended up coming back more times than she’d been to any other show.

That led her to check out a printing class at Missouri Southern, where she learned to make block prints, etchings and aquatints - created by dipping a metal plate in acid. She fell in love with the art forms.

“I thought this is just the greatest way to make art,” she said.

She found herself in the printmaking studio as often as possible. She’d be assigned one print and end up making three.

She loved the process so much, she realized she wanted to work on her own prints at home. She bought a custom-made printing press, which she operates out of her home in Neosho.

“I went to the show at Spiva and took a printmaking class, and the rest is history,” she said.

Now a full-time artist, she specializes in those areas that caught her attention in college: block printings, etchings and aquatints. She also makes custom wedding invitations and note cards and dabbles in ceramics.

“You have to be able to step away from that heavy subject matter and do light stuff,” she said.

Some of that heavier subject matter is pulled from her larger body of work, an ongoing series of projects focused on social injustices stemming from that initial interest in human trafficking.

Though she creates a wide variety of pieces, she said she hopes those works open the opportunity for people to step back and think about issues they might not know about.

“I hope they take away just an awareness,” she said. “Maybe they’ve learned something.”

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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