Within the secret rooms of the Miami-Dade Public Library, abstract cartoons are warped, expressed, and re imagined in the artist residency lab for local Miami artist, Kiki Valdes. A graduate of New World School of the Arts, a YoungArts Alumni, and a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate from Baltimore, Kiki Valdes’ home is the 305. I was escorted into the grand historic library building through the maze of hallways and rode up secret elevators to find Kiki, in a black t-shirt, dark shorts, and Converse shoes, decorated with colorful paint strokes of labor. Behind him were his masterpieces, from small to large canvases, sprawled out from wall to wall. With about a week until the exhibition on (November 21) and 4 weeks of work already behind him, his pace was remarkable – Kiki Valdes produced an array of figurative abstractionist cartoonic pieces sure to wow any spectator in the library or private art collector. Here is his creative process and his perspective on Miami art. Meet Kiki Valdes, art resident of the Miami-Dade Public Library System.
Third Dream Media: You’re an animal. All the paintings look beyond anything you’ve done. Do you center your work on a certain theme?
Kiki Valdes: I’m trying to work with figurative abstraction and then just really breaking down any type of figure, or cartoon shape, and using it to create something else. My previous work was a little bit more cartoon-based; but that’s because I was just trying to understand the shapes. Now that I understand the shapes better, I’m starting to break them down and they’re just starting to become much more abstract. I feel I am going towards abstraction. My hand is kind of the same.
[I asked to advance through the plastic coverings on the floor to examine the smaller paintings neatly aligned on one side of the floor. There are 3 larger, stretched out canvases surrounding a collection of cartoonist portraits.]
So these are drawings/paintings that I put onto canvas, so I’m going to show about 20 of them. Along with these, [portraits] and then I’m also bringing a little bit of the older work, that I’m going to combine with these – so I’m probably going to end up showing 35 paintings in total.
It’s like a warped childhood. They are an interesting take on animation, color, bold lining, and high contrast. It looks like you are not afraid to create these figures. From this collection, which ones have been the most challenging?
It’s not really one in specific; it’s more about creating that new language, that’s the most challenging part. You’re creating something that is who you are – and then, there is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s kind of what direction you want to go, and trying to decide where you want to be. Obviously, there’s ways for it to be stronger, you’re just not sure how to get there.
Do you have any influences? What took you to produce so many creations?
Just the history of painting; New York painting, abstract painting.
Do you feel like you’ve grown in Miami? What’s the contrast between New York Kiki painting & Miami Kiki painting?
Well Miami is home, so it just comes out differently, more fluid. When you go out and you talk to someone, sometimes you might be uncomfortable. When you’re home, you can talk to everyone like your family, like how you want to be. Being yourself is easier, here in Miami. Not that I was somebody else in New York, it just comes out quicker. Space over there is very limited – here there’s more space. The weather is always beautiful, so the weather can’t prevent me from doing things, I could just do them.
I’ve been going at it. Most of these bigger ones were materials that I found in the library – Oscar helped me find. I’m using whatever I can find. I just went to the art department area – they had house paint, moving blankets, sheets of canvas that were kind of broken. Some of the staff donated canvas from art school. One guy donated a big roll of canvas that was from the 70’s. I cut it up and I’m using that. Whatever is available – I’m not going out and buying/purchasing things, I utilizing things given to me from the Miami- Dade Library System. Whatever is in front of me will determine the paintings. If I have certain colors and I’m missing some, I’ve used a few bottles from my studio.
Where’s your studio?
It’s a small studio in Coral Gables. I’m making the work here because there are big walls and it’s easier to make the big work. For instance, these –
What are your mediums?
My older work had oils – these are house paint, enamel, acrylic, scrap canvases.
How’s the behavior of the materials?
It’s very familiar, but it’s different – it’s kind of liberating in a way. The paint dries really quick, so I can work on top of it. It’s doing things that oil sometimes can’t do, but there’s things that oil can do that acrylic can’t do. It’s interesting to use it. I feel very workmen- like because I’m using house paint.
[Be careful, you’re stepping on a canvas.]
Oh, that’s a part of it. I was stepping all over this one before you came.
[Kiki starts to trot on a canvas, giving the surface texture]
When did you decide to be an artist?
It just happened – I always did it. It’s changed over the years. I went to the oldest art school in the nation, Maryland Institute of College of Art in Baltimore, and I went to New World, down the street.
[Kiki grips the same large canvas, and begins to staple it onto a wall for a better view]
I don’t know if I like this one yet.
What satisfies you when you look at a painting? What’s in your head while you’re making your pieces?
It just feels right. Right now it feels a little stiff. It feels too much like a form – I’m trying to make this one a little more abstract. I guess it’s okay so far, kind of cool, still got it’s ways to go.
What’s the right justification for you? What makes a painting a “Kiki Valdes”
I’m just trying to make it feel right. It just has to flow well. It has to connect with me first. It has to speak to me. It can’t be too static.
Do you have any pieces dedicated to certain people?
This one, I might call it this.
[Within his art space, there are dusty, metal storage shelves, one of them, decorated with a little yellow sticky note] “I love you Nanis (10 – 9 – 99)”.
Want to hear something crazy?
When I came up here to paint, Oscar [The Biscayne Poet] came up one day and we were talking. I noticed that little sticky thing. Look at the date. When we saw it, it was the 15 year anniversary. It’s a relic of the spirits of the Miami-Dade Public Library. It’s kind of ghostly. I might title this painting that. “I love you Nanis”. It’s like a ghost of the past; this sign has stayed here forever. I mean – this is a library. It’s great because it’s very neutral. It’s a public space. As artists, we have to use what’s available to us. I was doing things a little unconventional, you know, whatever works for me. So this just made sense. A bunch of people from the library, the Freedom Tower, from History of Miami museum have stopped by. It’s cool that I’m working in solitude, but then I do get visits. It’s just nice.
Do you feel Miami is your strongest support system? Do you have your base here in Miami? Are you a Miami artist?
Absolutely, I know everybody down here. I’m just born and raised. You meet people, and I definitely move around easier in Miami.
How do you feel the current art scene in Miami is right now?
It’s good. To be honest with you, I don’t pay attention to a scene much. It’s more of what I can do with my work, and as long as I focus on my work, and everybody focuses on their work and they try to make the best work possible, and they want to make something good, that is not so trendy, but will last the test of time, I think that kind of creates a scene. & I think when people get too caught up in trying to create a scene, I think its counterproductive. It’s more important to make good work, keep relationships with people. So as far as this overall scene, I don’t really pay attention. I just focus on the art I like, no matter where it’s from. It could be from New York, Paris, anywhere. & that’s what I pay attention to. I pay more attention to the art globe and what’s happening in the world and I think when you pay attention to that that is more beneficial for Miami than just thinking about the Miami scene.
It’s kind of a Miami fairy tale story that you made this full circle.
It’s very interesting. I always thought I would be in New York, and I was in New York for five years, and then I came back to Miami, not like with my tail between my legs, but like “Damn, did I fail?” The thing is, every time when you succeed, you need to fail to succeed. In retrospect, failing is really like nothing. You just got to get through it and then keep going. It almost felt like repeating 12th grade. “Okay, I’m back here, so what?” and then I realized, well, I’m from here. I have certain advantages. If an artist from New York comes here, they won’t have the same experience of me being here, because I’m from here. So it’s different. That’s like a hidden blessing that I’m not taking advantage of. That’s how I thought a lot – seeing Miami differently. I realized that people that are very successful in Miami that have that mentality, they don’t make excuses for the city. You just go and do what you need to do. When you say, “people down here don’t understand.” That’s a very small-minded way to think of the general public in Miami.
I feel that you need to connect with people – people are people, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. I’m from here, so I want to connect with people, and elsewhere. I feel like doing it here is fine for now, we’ll wee what happens. You can’t underestimate people that are from here. You can’t make excuses. “No one came to my music event.” “People in Miami don’t understand” – No! You need to connect; you need to educate the public. If people don’t understand expressionistic, figurative abstract painting, the kind of thing that I do, then I will educate them, that audience. I will create an audience that will like my work. I won’t think that there’s already an audience so therefore, I will be stubborn and not be happy that I’m here. It’s about creating an audience. I think that’s really important for me to grow down here. That’s a challenging thing, but that’s fine.
Embrace abstract expressionism and go experience Kiki Valdes. Presented by MDPLS’ Permanent Art Collection, there will be an Artist Talk and Opening Reception for Kiki Valdes – Saturday, November 21, from 3 – 5 p.m. Look in the Main Library, Lobby Exhibition Space & Upstairs – 101 W Flagler St, Miami, Florida 33130
Exhibit Duration: November 21, 2015 – January 20, 2016 Main Library, Lobby Exhibition Space. Facebook event RSVP.