Esteban del Valle is an interdisciplinary artist currently living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Esteban has produced murals throughout various parts of the USA, such as New York, NY, Chicago, IL, San Antonio, TX, and Kansas City, MO, Spartanburg, SC, and Provincetown, MA. He has been in numerous publications and his mural work has been featured on HGTV, NY1 News, News 12 Brooklyn, and the New York Times. Esteban has also been a part of various exhibitions including Pulso: Art of the Americas at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI, EMPIRIA at Superchief Gallery In New York, NY, the 2009 New Insight exhibition at Art Chicago, and the East/West 2009: Emerging Artist Exchange at the CoCA in Seattle. In 2009, while at the Hub-Bub residency in Spartanburg South Carolina, Esteban collaborated with the Spartanburg city ballet to create their fall production. In 2010, Esteban was both a writer in resident at ISLAND in Michigan and a visual artist in residence at the Djerassi Program in California. In 2011, Esteban worked in Los Angeles designing a set for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival selection Filly Brown and was a participant at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Most recently, he has completed a 7-month fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA.
Hi Esteban, today MoW selected 7 of your artworks inspired by music. Can you tell MoW how did music inspired them? What was the music behind them ? What inspired you to create such pieces?
Music has always had a huge presence in my life and at one point I was also actively creating music. I find that it provides me with a completely different cathartic experience. It can be so immediate, so visceral, that it maintains a psychical resonance. It can be felt in both the body of the creator and the body of the audience, while painting usually only allows for physicality on the side of the maker, and the viewer can only watch the action in past tense. Music is a time based medium, so it unfolds as it is being experienced, creating a space that allows the audience to proactively participate in its making by participating in its witnessing. The difference between music and painting is like the difference between watching a tree fall in the woods and hearing the sound, and just stumbling upon a fallen tree, figuring that the rotting lumber is proof of an event.
The body of work I am sharing with Music On Walls came directly out of my live painting at music functions. I would begin and end a painting in the span of a concert whether it was hip-hop, dub step, punk, rock, or just a general dance party. My interest in live painting was based in my attempt to demystify the process of painting itself. I like that an audience can develop a sense of ownership through the process of witnessing. Similar to how listening to music or watching a film, both time based mediums, lend themselves more to a personalized relationship to that artwork.
I think my interest in music is more about my interest in creating a similar space for the “audience”. Despite my focus on creating this experience for a viewer, my work is also deeply personal. These paintings, at the end of the day, are all an attempt to give shape to a formless energy, one that demands a release. I am envious of singers and their ability to belt out a note that can empty an emotion out of their body. I have found myself chasing that moment and often trying to represent it directly by showing musicians with faces turned to the sky and mouths wide open. I have tried to capture this feeling in several pieces and I feel like I always fall short. I feel like the closest I have gotten is the piece “El Cantante”, which came out my desire to use the big broad white space of a sombrero as a quick abstract gesture.
Why is music important to you and your art?
I am mostly interested in sharing my personal experience as a way of expressing a type of emotional solidarity, an attempt to pay it forward and share the gift that music has given me by interpreting the impulse in another medium, one that I am more fluent in. I often find myself afraid of diving into the more challenging parts of my psyche. Art has always provided a way for me to be a spectator to that part of myself. I am fully aware of the overly dramatic and at times sentimental nature of these works, but I have always believed that clichés can function as an incredible structure, one that allows you to hang your own interpretations onto its skeleton. It’s very much about language and figuring out how to use existing forms to create a new space in between.
If you had to choose between the artworks presented today, which of your artwork would be your favorite ? And why ?
One of my current favorites, for many reasons, is “Ma Jolie”. I think I like this one mostly for the painting moments and not necessarily the content. But that being said, this piece was made during a very difficult life transition filled with heartache. “Ma Jolie” is the title of a Picasso painting I love. The title, a lyric in a popular French song, was also Picasso’s nickname for his lover Marcelle Humbert. “Ma Jolie” translates to “My Pretty Girl”. For me, the painting reflects back the question of who is the “lover” or “my pretty girl”? Is it the cat representing some type of feminine energy? Is it the fish in captivity? Is it the bottle of whiskey? Or is it the sketchbook in the foreground where the phrase is revealed? But the relationship is also complicated by the tension between the cat and fish. Who is whose “pretty girl”? And for that matter, what type of romantic, emotional, or sexual energy is taking place when so many levels of possession and captivity are present. I think I like this painting the most because it forces me to ask these difficult questions. Other than the content, I am just very excited about several formal elements such as the fracturing of the portrait as a reference to cubism, the neon green horizontal lines and smoke functioning as abstract gestures while referencing film noir dramatic lighting (think of the detective peaking out from behind blinds), as well as the foreground as a space for still life (in this case a reference to a Matisse painting I love).
Can you tell MoW more about the techniques you used. How old is your technique? How did it start? How long does it take you to make an artwork ?
These paintings are all mostly acrylic, ink, and spray paint. The “style” developed out of my live painting process, which used permanent marker to construct form as a way of trying to reveal the drawing process itself. I had no desire to hide my marks. I wanted to expose the process behind discovering form, so I highlighted it by treating the line work as several layers of negative space, which I edited with paint. I was interested in how an abstract mark could transition into form. Once I was drawing/painting in this manner, I began to look at wood block prints and other pieces that had a subtractive approach. I started painting in this style roughly around 2004 and the paintings originally began and ended in the span of an event, which meant they took about 4 hours. However, I also create pieces in the studio that can take up to a four to five days.
Do you listen to music when you’re working ? If so, what kind of music ?
I pretty much always listen to music while I paint. What I listen to varies and depends on my mood and also what I am painting. Sometimes I will listen to a song on repeat for hours because it inspires a certain mood that I am trying to capture. Listening to music allows me to create a third space of feeling and thought, a space outside of the psychical reality of making and the cognitive process behind it. It is like jazz thinking, in the sense that I am aiming for a space in between the notes
What is the song you liked the most lately? What album ? What was the last gig you went to ?
I find myself moved by all kinds of music and I go through phases of listening. Most recently, I was listening to Waylon Jennings, Katy Perry, and Beethoven. There was something about this combination that helped me access the mood I was after, which couldn’t be addressed by one single song or album. I tend to listen to music in this mismatched approach. Currently, I am listening to Jimi Hendrix, Sam Smith, and Drake. More specifically, three songs on repeat:
Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child”,
Sam Smith “Stay With Me”
and Drake “Too Much”
The last live show I went to see was the brilliant hip-hop artist DonChristian Jones. I highly recommend checking out his Renzo Piano album.
Are you a musician yourself ? If so can you tell MoW more about your music projects ?
I am not a musician but I did work on hip-hop music for 5 years or so and I recorded dozens of songs. I really enjoyed making beats, editing vocals, and all of the technical aspects of music making. I performed a little and participated in several rap battles. I use to spend every free moment freestyling with friends. I found the art of freestyle to be one of the most liberating spaces I had ever experienced. However, I eventually found that I was more effective at communicating through the visual arts and I decided to invest all my energy in trying to be the best that I could be in that field. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss making music, but I am just an all or nothing personality and I could never do the jack-of-all-trades thing. I keep hoping that one day I will set aside a few months and dive back into music making. My tastes and approach to creativity have changed a lot since my rhyming days, and I would be interested in seeing how my approach has evolved.
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