Renee Valenti is one of our current artists in residence at Main Street Arts. During the month of October, 2017, she will be working on a series of abstract paintings and immersing herself in art history books. We asked Renee a few questions about her artwork and studio practice.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background.
I’m originally from a town right outside of New Haven, CT but I’ve been living in Brooklyn for the greater part of the past fifteen years. I’ve been making visual art for the past ten, after making a switch out of performing art and theater. I decided to make the change and went to Pratt for my undergrad and finished my masters last year from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s low-residency program. I feel that I still often draw from storytelling, the theatrical, or cinematic in my work; and I often like to work in series until something is finished for me.
Q: How would you describe your work?
Painting is the largest part of my studio practice and I also do a lot of photography. Most of the time I would take the photos that I was using for my figure paintings, as well. My painting had primarily been figurative or the spaces people occupy, but then last year I started turning toward abstraction. I just couldn’t carry the heaviness in the narratives that were in the paintings from 2015-16 and I also just didn’t have any ideas in my head! I was feeling mentally spent but also just needed to get back into the paint. So one day just started making without the photo imagery. However, then another narrative started emerging for me within these abstract paintings; which still very much have a place of body within them.
My photography has been a continued investigation of portraits of friends, bikers, communities, and empty hotel rooms. I started driving to nearby towns and staying in hotels while living briefly in the mid-west in 2014. As a way to combat the solitude I was experiencing while living there, I started to photograph these spaces—investigating the comfort within transient places devoid of personal memory. Recently, I started a project of landscape photos down Route 66.
Q: What is your process for creating a work or art?
That’s a big question and it varies. Sometimes I watch a lot of movies and that inspires me aesthetically; filmmakers like David Lynch, Wong Kar Wai, Fellini, and Pedro Almodóvar. Usually it takes me a minute to do all the background work before beginning a new series. Whether that’s going to the library to do research on a photo project or walking around the city or being or getting into a head space to feel out what the inspiration for the paintings is/are. Sometimes it’s just walking in the woods a lot. I need meditative time for sure. But then once it takes off I can kind of hit the ground running after that until a stop comes and then it maybe things need a minute to refresh.
Q: What is the most useful tool in your studio?
I’m going to say my speakers, or my phone speakers. I always have something on, whether it’s music or a podcast, or talk radio or something. That kind of gets me going or keeps me going. You spend a lot of time alone in your studio too, so it breaks up your own voice or lets me get deeper into it within the making.
Q: What type of music do you listen to? How does music affect your artwork?
Everything from Beethoven to Best Coast to Led Zeppelin, to Santigold. It runs the gamut.
Q: Where are your favorite places to see artwork?
Out in the world. I feel like some of the best art is all around us. Then Museums and galleries of course, depending on the show. The one thing about living in New York is that a lot comes through there, so you get to see a lot of great work up close and in person.
Q: What are your goals for this residency?
I plan on working on the series of abstract paintings that have been in process. I’m also planning on just bringing a lot of art history books and digging into those. I’m really looking forward to having a whole month to work there.
Q: What’s next for you?
We’ll see! I’m looking for an exhibition space for these paintings sometime next year and to complete my Route 66 project. That’s the immediate future, art-wise.
Renee is teaching a workshop on Saturday, October 14 from 12 to 3 p.m. at Main Street Arts. Her Paint As Material worksop will examine the versatility of paint with a focus on experimentation within the medium. Sign up on our website to reserve your spot!