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Chris Valle: Branded

Chris Valle: Branded

In Chris Valle’s LV Double Moss, the model is fragmented, her visage, the Louis Vuitton background overlapped with graffiti letters. The picture is cluttered, a clear view of Kate Moss, or the product she is selling, impossible. And yet, in this muddle is a clearer representation of reality than the often hyper clear HD advertisements Valle is critiquing. “Because we are bombarded with these images on an everyday basis, we just accept it as part of our reality,” he states. What seems real is anything but when considering the amount of staging, makeup and Photoshop that goes into producing, not just advertisements, but all media. There is layer upon layer of artifice, according to Valle, which masquerades as reality but hides the true nature of humanity.

In this context, Valle’s art, in its insistence to never present a clear, unadulterated image, is a more honest representation of the world. A major theme of his artwork, especially his portraits in his latest Branded series, is a fragmented view of the world. In most of his art, the image is discernable, but unclear. Familiar, yet unrecognizable. The allure of such an image, according to Valle, is how such art works on different levels. The subject of the portrait is often voiceless, an abstract construct rather than a living being; put up for display, but not meant to give anything to society. In the case of the viewer, an unclear image forces her to engage in a more attentive way. There are no easy answers within the portrait. One must look deeply and figure things out on one’s own. In this way, Valle’s art is more visually arresting. “If you want a panting to look more like a photograph, why don’t you just take a photograph?” Valle jokes.

Of course, we have to laugh at the irony of this statement since the 20 Art artifice of the modern photo is exactly what Valle is identifying in his portraits. His critique of the media is often the key subject of his work. “The images mass media presents become selffulfilling prophecies, media thus shaping popular culture rather than merely reflecting it.” However, the images the media often presents to the public is anything but realistic. “These advertisements that construct reality are far from real; they look very programmed, artificial, and at times clownlike.” Valle appropriates those images from advertisements and popular media and disrupts the tidy perfection of the image, doing what media should do for culture but doesn’t: reflect its nature. He is not afraid of using the same medium that he is critiquing. On the contrary, Valle understands how his participation in the proliferation of such media can be construed as contradictory to his message. However, the purpose of his work is not to condemn, nor chastise the media, but merely raise awareness of the media’s essence. There is a playfulness to his criticism, like an old friend teasing another. “I’m sort of poking fun at it, but at the same time, I’m part of that discourse. There’s really no way around it.”

In contributing to the construct he is critiquing, Valle’s work reminds the viewer to look beyond the curtain of artifice to remember what the media is truly trying to accomplish. In the creation of these images, Valle revels in experimentation. “If you name it, I’ve tried to paint with it at some point in time,” he says. This vicariousness allows him to create unique images, setting him apart from other painters who will stick with what they know or what is traditional. The purpose of his experimentation, of course, is art, but in a more technical way, Valle wants to maintain a sense of excitement in the projects he creates. The final product is not the result of a fully formed vision at inception, but rather of the creative process, where the abstract Art 21 flow of ideas moves the project to completion. Oftentimes, Valle will take a digital image of his unfinished work and play with it on Photoshop, allowing the work to evolve on its own. This process not only makes the finished product unique, but motivates Valle to continue making art. This motivation is something he likes to instill in the students he teaches at the University of Tampa.

He does this by teaching the students how to “see” their world. “Everybody sees passively. They can walk through a door, and I ask them, ‘what color is the door,’ and no one can really tell me what color the door was; they don’t look at it.” Once students start actively seeing the world, they can begin to look at it in new and exciting ways, unlocking the possibilities that no one else has tried. In other words, through teaching students how to paint, Valle teaches them how to motive themselves to be successful. According to Valle, “only 4% of students with a B.A. in Art are unemployed.” These students learn the value of the creative process and are tuned into the world in such a way they are motivated to succeed, whether in art or any other endeavor.

As a student himself, Valle was often told he could not use certain materials in his paintings. Instead of holding him back, these constant prohibitions drove him to seriously experiment, an act which has been both fruitful and difficult. In his own classrooms, Valle does not stifle his students’ creativity by telling them they cannot do something. To do so would be to handicap the students’ sense of discovery and limit them to simply what has been done before. To do such a thing, would be to become part of the problem Valle sees in the media. An acceptance at face value the images we see would be to surrender ourselves to an illusion. The only counter is to remind ourselves of what is honest and what is artifice. Basically, we need to learn how to actively see the world for what it is and shape it in a way no one else has.

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