Thursday, March 22, 2012

Studio Visit and Interview: Valerie Roybal

If you haven't heard of Valerie Roybal by now, you'll probably discover that she's kind of a big deal.

I remember the first time I saw Valerie's work, I was flipping through a West Elm catalog and I noticed, somewhat surprised, how the art adorning the walls in the fake room mock-ups were cohesively placed and was actually quite good. Through some sleuthing I discovered that print editions of her work were available through a West Elm collaborator, 20x200, which is an on-line arts retailer working to connect emerging artists, collectors and art enthusiasts with affordable artwork. Spoiler alert: you can buy some great art for as little as $25 bucks, not to mention that there are some big name artists making their work available as well.

Turns out Valerie has been here all along and has quietly been making a name for herself via national/international exhibitions, publications in books and shout-outs on up-and-coming, buzz-worthy Internet sites and blogs (like 20x200)Enormous Tiny Art Show, Etsyamong others.

I had the pleasure of visiting her place recently and exploring her amazing collections of objects.

Where are you from originally and how did you find yourself in New Mexico?
I am a native New Mexican, born and raised in Santa Fe. Except for a brief stint in Israel as an exchange student during high school, I have lived in New Mexico my entire life.

Has living in New Mexico or specifically Albuquerque influenced your artistic process?
I haven't thought about it much, but I imagine being here has greatly informed my artistic process. I am very inspired by the outdoors, the open space, the colors of New Mexico, if that makes sense.

You have quite a collection of old books that you use for your collages, where do you find them? Ever find some unexpected treasures you can't cut up?
Indeed, I have amassed a small fortune in books. Luckily, I have acquired the majority by attending book sales at the downtown library. The Friends of the Public Library hosts a sale every month of discarded and donated books that are sold very inexpensively. Some of my favorites are very old books that are falling apart, anatomy and medical books, and nature and reference books. The amount of books available at the sale is truly astounding, and it's nice to give new life to the pages of these books.

Book for days! Field guides, anatomy books, atlases...

A particularly nice find if I do say so myself

Occasionally, I do come across a book I can't bear to cut up and re-purpose. Some books are just too lovely, and I have come across a rare book or two.

You are quite a prolific artist making work in several different mediums. How do you decide which pieces to work on and when?
I tend to work on a number of things at once. It mostly depends on my mood. I try to work on something almost every day. I have a day job (I am an editor/graphic designer) which involves sitting in front of a computer all day, so working on something tactile is a great contrast, a great way to maintain balance. I work mostly at night and it becomes sort of a meditative process, a great way to clear my mind before sleep.

Your embroidery drawings are very non-traditional in the sense that you don't follow patterns to create the end product. What is the inspiration behind those?
Several of these drawings are part of a series called "Inevitability," of which I'm interested in capturing the intricacies of natural forms such as diatoms, radiolaria, and objects and creatures imagined. The series began with inspiration from the studies of Ernst Haeckel, a naturalist and artist (among other things) who fantastically captured and published natural history from the mid-nineteenth to early-20th century.

Looking at both your embroidery and collage work and some of the things you've collected in your studio, it's evident that the natural world/history/science has informed your work. Is this something you've always been interested in, perhaps more of a childhood curiosity or has it been or something that you've gravitated to as a result of years of looking through field guides, anatomy books, etc...?
Since I can remember, I've been completely fascinated by the natural world and have been a collector of natural objects. I had an insane collection of rocks and fossils as a kid, so it was something that was always there and it's grown stronger over the years. I grew up on a dirt road, not far from a river and foot hills, so I spent a lot of time outdoors finding things. I do enjoy field guides, anatomy books, anything natural history-related. I find them very inspirational and of course great material to cut up and work with.

Skulls, bones and things with sharp teeth. 

Your work is becoming more prominently featured, it's been seen in West Elm catalogs and has been very popular with Jen Beckman's 20x200 project and The Enormous Tiny Art Show. How did these opportunities come about? Has this increased visibility in the public sphere influenced your art making process? Do you think that this increased accessibility with respect to emerging collectors or art enthusiasts will continue or eventually change the way people view and buy art?
I feel very fortunate to be part of 20x200, a online site that sells limited editions of affordable art prints. The motto of 20x200 is: art for everyone, as it really encourages anyone and everyone to become a collector. I applied and was accepted to become part of it early on.  It has grown tremendously and has provided excellent exposure of my work to a very wide audience. 20x200 has some collaborative retail projects with West Elm, so that's how my work ended up in the catalogs. It was fun to see my work in that context. The Enormous Tiny Art Show is a great ongoing project by Nahcotta Gallery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Not only do they have a wonderful physical space, but they have a really extensive following online. So again, I feel very lucky to be part of it. There really are some great opportunities for artists on the Internet, opportunities that exist outside the traditional gallery setting. What I like most about the projects that I participate in is that they aim to make art accessible and affordable. Etsy is another good place for that, artists have the opportunity to sell directly to people. I love to sell work that way.

The increased visibility of my work has not really influenced my art-making process, but I have been challenged by the process of turning some of  my pieces into the digital versions that are required to make limited edition prints. A great deal of effort goes into getting it just right, so that the printed version is an accurate and quality representation. It's an interesting process because my actual work is pretty low tech: old paper, scissors, glue, paint, etc.

I do think that increased accessibility through the Internet has really encouraged emerging collectors and enthusiasts and is definitely changing how people view art, not only because of the affordability, but also because it's not a risky investment when you buy something affordable, and it's such a good feeling to purchase a piece that you really like and connect with. Another motto of 20x200 is: live with art, it's good for you. Some very well-known photographers such as the Starn brothers and Joseph O. Holmes are represented on the 20x200 site, providing an amazing opportunity to acquire their work. You don't necessarily have to have a lot of resources, be in New York, or visit an art fair, you can be a collector from anywhere by using your computer.

The process: lots of paper, lots of cutting

Albuquerque can seem insulated at times from the rest of the world and maybe even a bit slow to catch on with respect to current trends in Contemporary art or even with accessibility to those seeking representation in galleries. What advice would you give to other artists looking to have their work seen by a larger population of people without moving to art-meccas like NYC or LA? How do you find out/stay informed about cool new things going on?

Keeping an eye on the place
Again, the Internet is a great way to be connected to what is going on in the rest of the world. Through the Internet, I had a couple of exhibition and book opportunities in New York and Europe last year. Through individual artist web sites, tumblr, flickr, blogs, and art and design web sites you have access to so much art and design being made out in the world, as well as reporting on what is going in different cities and in different countries. I think it's worth it to spend time online, visit what other artists are doing, look around, see what's happening. It is my experience that opportunities emerge that way.

Short of buying art directly from the artist, what are some other ways that people can support local artists?
We can support local artists by attending shows and telling others about what we see and what we like.

Newer pieces inspired by cellular function, growth and mutation

Some of Valerie's finished work with a recent acquisition on the left

GIANT rubber band ball!

Any favorite artists?

Richard Diebenkorn's New Mexico paintings, Anselm Kiefer's paintings and drawings, natural history documentation by Ernst Haeckel, the textile works of Louise Bourgeois, the embroideries of Tilleke Schwarz, and so many more!

Valerie's piece Mutations 1 is on display at 516 ARTS thru April 28th.

1 comment:

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