This month we are featuring an artist whose murals are inspired by prose. Kevin Barry Fine Art worked with Northern California artist Bryan Valenzuela on a recent mural project for the Marriott Vacation Club Pulse in San Francisco, CA.
For over a decade, Bryan’s been aiming to perfect a unique drawing technique involving the atomization of the figure by carving out shape and light with handwritten text. Though virtually unnoticeable from afar, once the viewer steps closer to each work they are engulfed in a barrage of words intermingled with other mixed media elements such as needle and thread, acrylic paint, and collage.
KBFA recently sat down with Bryan to talk to him about his art, what’s inspiring him recently, and his love of large-scale mural work.
KBFA: You’ve said that building images with the written word is your primary visual focus. Did your passion for writing or visual art develop simultaneously or at different times?
Bryan: The two veins of my work developed in relative succession, the written word being the inception from a younger age with an obsession of literature, ideas, and poetry; a visual appetite developed later in my college years. College was when both interests collided into the direction I’ve been pursuing ever since.
KBFA: What is it about words that you think compliments visual art?
Bryan: For me, the words becoming an added layer of content that is visually interesting when someone decides to step closer and investigate. The fact that there is a whole other world inside a world has a lot of appeal to me — a world that makes up a bigger world with little parts and little phrases peeled from a larger narrative. The words are not just a compliment but the nuts and bolts, the beams and columns of whatever the idea in the image conveys. Even if the idea is nebulous the text can give clues to its nature and comment or use metaphor to extrapolate or expand on the idea. Words can tell parts of the story only hinted at with a visual clue.
KBFA: You have described yourself as having a fascination with exactitude and precision. Have you always been this way and how do you think it has shaped your growth as an artist?
Bryan: The pursuit of perfection, while elusive, is for me something definitely worth chasing. Through the pursuit I feel an evolving depth to the work and the figures in the work. The idea of really making something come to life with every detail, not in an illusory way but in the way that really conjures it into existence, is an attempt to carve out the true nature of the thing being drawn.
KBFA: What is it about mural work that inspires you?
Bryan: Working on that large of a scale has always had that allure for me. There’s always these mountaineering metaphors and analogies in my head, like climbing Mount Everest for the first time. It just seems like such an epic undertaking, one that is addicting. I’ve always drawn or painted large but once I started doing it on giant walls the statements and ideas had to be that much clearer because they were larger, which is challenging. The opportunity to evolve my work in such a way that refines the clarity and seeks that exactitude I spoke about is something I am truly grateful to be able to pursue.
KBFA: How much influence does the location of a piece your working on have on the piece?
Bryan: I feel like the location is everything. Not only does the specific wall speak to the shape of the piece and how it is going to evoke the idea, but the surrounding area is always very integral to whatever the idea is. My thought is that the mural not only has to speak to the people who view it but also to the space that it will live. It has to make sense that those images or those ideas are specifically communicating in that specific place. I definitely take cues from the environment, the history, the landscape and the culture of the area, and attempt to distill that down into less obvious iconic forms that are evocative of that research.
KBFA: What is a memorable response you’ve had to your artwork?
Bryan: People are always so kind. I feel lucky to get to talk with people during the making of a project or even after its finished, hear their stories or their thoughts on the work, or how they relate it to things in their own life or things going on in general. A few stick out but one I recall is talking with a gentleman who was a veteran, walking his dog early in the morning. I was just getting started and he came up and just watched for a while but then asked some questions. It seemed like he was having an emotionally hard time. We talked about the work, about his life, and after he thanked me with a big hug and started crying a bit. He told me it was a gift and to just keep making work. That has always stuck with me.
KBFA: What is a piece of art that has inspired you recently?
Bryan: During the making of the mural I was able to sneak over to the de Young Museum during a rainy day when I couldn’t work and I caught the Monet exhibit of all his water lilies. It was breathtaking! I’ve also been going down the rabbit hole of a lot of David Hockney work too. It’s hard to pin it down to one piece.
KBFA: What is your dream project to work on?
Bryan: The Venice Biennale — the big dream!