Studio Artifacts is an interview series, which invites artists to select, examine, and discuss some of the significant items they keep in their studios and gives readers an intimate glimpse into their practice.
Bryan Valenzuela is a Sacramento-based artist who creates complex figurative drawings with a unique mark making technique. His whimsical images of subjects, including people, animals, and natural elements, appear realistic from afar. It is only upon close inspection that the viewer sees how each image is composed of lines of handwritten text.
TUBE. Magazine: What is the first object you would like to share?
Bryan Valenzuela: The first object is a copy on wax paper of a rejection letter that was sent to Andy Warhol in 1956 from the Museum of Modern Art. This letter is a rejection of a drawing that he was trying to get into their collection. I think it’s so awesome. I always keep it in my studio because it’s a reminder of patience and handwork. Even Andy Warhol got rejected from an institution that now praises his work. It is a great reminder to keep moving forward.
Coupled with the letter is a postcard of a water buffalo that my girlfriend gave me from the Philippines. The water buffalo is praised in their culture for its symbolism of handwork and patience.
These two things are together on the wall in every studio that I inhabit.
T: When did you first come across the letter?
B: My girlfriend, Julie, also gave the letter to me about 7 years ago when we first got together. It was a small little gift, which she thought was awesome. She just always had it for some reason.
They [The Museum of Modern Art] are asking him to pick the drawing up “at your convenience.” I think it’s so funny. It wasn’t long after, like 4-5 years later, that they would have loved to have Warhol’s art in the museum.
T: Has there been a time when you felt like you could have used some motivation and you specifically came and looked at this letter?
B: I look at it all the time. It’s just a daily reminder. I don’t like to put up a lot of things in my studio. I don’t like to put up a lot of distractions. But that’s one thing that stays.
T: Do you want to move on to your next object?
B: Sure. My aunt gave this chair to me. She got it at Habitat for Humanity like a million years ago. It’s kind of a shitty chair and it falls apart a lot. I put it back together. And I always keep it in my studio. It’s the chair I always sit on. It kind of has become a mainstay of my studio. It kind of reminds me of Van Gogh’s chair or whatever. You know that famous painting that he has in which normal everyday things become immortalized in the artwork? I love this chair for some reason.
T: Have you ever used it in any of your own artworks?
B: I have not. No.
T: But now you’ll be immortalized in the chair in the photo for this article!
B: That’ll be great! Even my girlfriend was like, “What objects are you going to pick?” And I said, “I think I’m going to pick the chair.” And she said, “I always associate that chair with your studio!”
T: How many studios has it been in?
T: Do you have any fond memories of sitting in this chair and thinking about your artwork?
B: Dude, that’s like all the time! Much of the art making process is about looking. You just have to sit and look for a long time. I always sit in this chair to look at my artwork. I’ll take it to a spot far away from the artwork. That is what I did while working on this piece called Autumn of the Outsider, which was part of ArtStreet. It’s a really large piece. I was standing on a ladder while working on it. So I sat in this chair to take breaks and look.
T: I imagine that you have to view and ponder your next moves from a distance, especially with your work.
B: Yes, it’s always kind of like a macro/micro thing. Go in and go out. So that I can get a sense of where it’s going. But then get really involved into the details.
T: Awesome. What’s your final object?
B: I didn’t think about this object until yesterday. But it’s always in my studio. I lived over on 15th and F streets seven or eight years ago. I became friends with this homeless man, Greg Carr. Greg was hanging around the alley near my studio. I had conversations with him and he seemed so intelligent. He had a problem with alcohol so sometimes I’d see him and he was super wasted. But in those really lucid moments, he was such an amazing guy.
I started listening to his stories and discovering who he was. He worked for the Sacramento News and Review in the 80s and he had this huge amazing past. Anyway, at the time, I got this idea to do this large-scale project where Greg would introduce me to all of these homeless people. We planned to record all of their stories. Then I would use their stories to create their portraits. I would use all the text from their stories to draw their image.
We started making plans and it was giving him some sort of focus, maybe. He had this 16-millimeter camera that he had had his entire life. He gave it to me to hold onto so we could use the camera to record these people. About two weeks later he died, and it was under some sort of suspicious circumstances. The police didn’t really investigate. He ended up dead not too far from my studio.
It was really sad. So, I totally abandoned the project. We never started. We had only just started making plans. I’ve been thinking lately about trying to resurrect that project. Especially with what’s happening with the criminalization of homelessness in the city. So anyway, that’s what that 16-millimeter camera is all about.
T: That is a sad but beautiful story. Have you used the camera?
B: I’ve never used it.
T: Do you think you will use it for the project?
B: I think I’ll try to use it. It totally works. I haven’t used it yet but it’s almost in mint condition. Maybe I can honor his memory and get this project together.
To see more of Valenzuela’s artwork, check out his website at www.bryanvalenzuela.com
Words: Justina Martino.
Photos: Emma Montalbano.