There’s a particular intensity to Kiki Valdes’ method; whether he’s wielding a pencil, pen, or paintbrush, when the 36-year-old artist takes to the canvas, he loses himself within it entirely. Even while working in a busy environment – in this case, the City Gazettes office on a markedly frenetic Friday afternoon – there’s seemingly little that could get between Valdes and his task at hand.
Staring intently at the blank canvas pinned to the wall, Valdes never comments on whether the disco and dance music booming around him is a hindrance or a help before picking up a pencil and laying down preliminary linework. What at first appears to be a straightforward figure in recline will change and morph over the next few hours; the proportions become exaggerated in their curvature, and several cartoonish faces will emerge and disappear along its body as Valdes uses his paintbrush to obscure or further define them as he sees fit. By the time he’s done, what was once a simple, single figure now contains multitudes, with a variety of visages making their feelings known through Valdes’ deceptively clean black and gray shadings.
Speaking to Valdes only once he’s finished, it would seem as though he’s in a constant state of contemplation. He chooses his words carefully, and given the situation he’s found himself in and his casual ware – rocking black jeans, sneakers, and a red, white and blue flannel – he’s proved that he’s prepared to get to work at a moment’s notice, ready to capture an idea and commit it to paper at the moment of conception.
“As I've been growing, as I've been getting a little older, I like using all types of art forms to make paintings in a way,” Valdes says. “For instance, when I'm working on a painting, I like to photograph the painting many times, so that way I can put it into the computer... Kind of like a graphic designer, and kind of see what I need to do next; it's kind of like a third eye of knowing where to take the piece next.”
The Miami-born Cuban American artist also mentions his enjoyment of videography and writing, seeing no reason to limit his means of expression solely to one medium. It’s this constant self-interrogation and determination to grow that has lent Valdes an edge in the art world. The artist has garnered acclaim for his stunning ability to ground even the most garish of his painted figurative caricatures in powerful, evocative human emotions.
“For a while, I was just doing a lot of cartoon imagery because I was trying to figure out a way for my work not to be so serious and make it more playful; life is happiness, sadness, laughter, and we have to laugh and everything is funny,” Valdes says. “I like to kind of play chess with the viewer. Cartoons are in our subconscious mind from childhood; childhood is a very vulnerable place in our upbringing. So I feel that if I incorporate something that will remind someone of childhood I can pull them in, even if they’re not interested in art.”
Speaking on his process and the intense focus that accompanies it, Valdes equates his methodology to that of improvisation, or more specifically, that comfortable, fruitful groove that anyone who’s adept at their craft – whether they be a musician, an athlete, or otherwise – finds themselves in when the going is smooth and good.
“Usually it takes me a little while to get into the rhythm of the work, you get into this state of being connected- it's like a magnet,” Valdes explains. “You're connected and then you get into that rhythm; you're just on the perfect path, and it just comes out of you. In a way it doesn't come from yourself, it comes from somewhere else.”
Miamians will have the opportunity to soak in Valdes’ newest work beginning Friday, December 1, when he will be showing about 50 drawings of varying size and scale at The Swamp Space. Valdes notes that the show will be something of a break from the norm, as he usually showcases his paintings rather than his drawings.
“I'm really curious how people will be receptive to it and if they get anything from it,” Valdes says. “I'll probably stand back and just kind of see how people respond.”
Although he was born and currently resides in Miami, Valdes’ work and career has seen him travel extensively, bringing him to Baltimore to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art, as well as stints in Arizona and New York. Through his travels and continual refinement of his technique, Valdes has honed his ability to channel his personal experiences into universally affecting work. According to him, that’s what art – or good art at least -- ought to do.
“I think an artwork is supposed to have fingerprints; it's supposed to be this thing that's so close to life and someone kind of figuring it out... figuring out life,” Valdes says. “I don't want my work to be an echo chamber. I want it to be its own thing, but at the same time I would like for it to feel familiar and make people feel a certain way... make people feel good, make people think a little bit. I want the work to grow on the person that's viewing it, where it's not just a one trick pony, but it's something that they can look on with the duration of time and maybe pull something out of it... a slow burn.”