Thursday, December 10, 2015

Artist of the Year: Valerie Pobjoy

At the end of every year, I like to geek out and compile a list of my favorite (and least favorite) art of  said year, Sadly, I just couldn't do it this time around. Maybe I'm just getting cranky in my old age, but for me, art in 2015 often had the unholy stink of "meh" all over it. In large part, I blame our collective 8 second attention span. Truly talented artists are being forced, by sheer economics, to create work that is vapid, garish, cute, and hollow just to get a moment's glance before you check your phone again. I don't know how we are going to deal with this problem and still be able to create anything meaningful. But I'm holding out hope. There was one artist this year that stopped me in my tracks, every time I saw her work. Valerie Pobjoy is a revelation. She is taking classical techniques and standing them on their arcane heads. She applies a masters' hand to the grime under our feet, and, wait for it, makes us actually feel something.

In October of 2014, I was in a show at Flower Pepper Gallery. Valerie was in the show too, and her paintings grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go. I immediately asked Nicole Bruckman who this girl was. I was soon introduced to a tiny stick of dynamite, poised to blow up all your preconceived notions of what art is, and what it can do. I've been lucky enough to show alongside Valerie at a number of shows, and she humbles the hell out of me every time. Imagine if Delacroix and Sargent were alive today, and entrenched in the Black Metal scene. It's quite a leap, I know, but they would certainly have a response to the glut of Ryden-lite art being continuously vomited up in gallery after gallery. Pobjoy is that fantasy fully realized. She can render a urinal at a metal club utterly alluring, without losing any of it's bleak, harrowing nature. She is extraordinary at capturing the hardened despair of concert-goers, and hangers on, People on the outskirts, searching for a moment of contentment in a brutal riff, a sense of community, a bottle or a dog.

I visited Valerie's studio last week, and in spite the presence of 3 chickens, and a cat, the place is pretty clean. She keeps her brushes immaculate, a trait I've found rare among artists. Her work is hard to photograph. She frequently employs delicate, soft edges to figures. It's not exactly blurry, but there's a slight haze that my camera didn't know what to do with. There's also masterfully executed textures that beg to be seen in person. But you may be seeing less of that in her future work.
I’ve kind of lost my boner for texture. I feel like it was becoming a crutch almost.  Like, ‘let me make this really cool by making the texture really weird’, as opposed to having it actually be interesting. It was becoming a crutch. So, I haven’t really been playing with texture as much as content.
Spend a few minutes with Valerie, and you will bear witness to a keen intellect (and sense of humor) that belies her 26 years.
I had all these commissions in a row. You know, painting people’s kids, portraits of Dads, stuff like that. I started having such an existential crisis, and feeling like I was so boring. I wasn’t putting out what was in my soul, you know? I decided that I need to go to grad school. I need to move away from L.A. I felt like the most boring person in the world. I came to the conclusion that I just need to paint a toilet. I just need to paint something gross.
I was pretty shocked to learn that she'd never even used oils until she was 21.
When I was 17, graduating High School, I decided I wanted to go to art school. I went to visit the Academy of Art in San Francisco.  When I got there, there was a bunch of teenagers that were just like me, like rebellious and Goth, and I thought, ‘Man, this is just a phase! I’m not an artist.’ So, I left thinking, ‘I’m just going to go community college, figure myself out, and make sure it’s not just a phase.’ So, I started studying to become a vet. But every time I would study, I would draw, instead of take notes, and it was like, clearly I just want to draw. I had been at Santa Monica College for a few years, and I was just so bored. I wanted something really challenging to happen. I went to Art Center because it had the reputation of being the hardest school. I talked to an admissions guy, and showed him my sketchbook and he said I needed to do oils and figurative. So, that’s when I started with oils.
Valerie studied under Sean Cheetham, names Shaun Berke as her mentor, and sites Lucian Freud, and Edgar Degas as huge influences. You can't pin her down on a favorite metal band, although she offers Metallica as a default answer. She used to do graffiti as 'Punk Rock Pussy' (don't try to Google that). She's the kind of art nerd I adore, eager to show you her comic books and record collection, and she says she'll never stop painting her brother's dog Holly.

I really loathe when people attempt to compliment an artist by saying they're gifted. It's so dismissive of the hard work that they put in. But it really is crazy that Valerie is as good as she is at 26. She is able to convey so much raw emotion in the most unlikely settings. I look at how she renders the metal kids at shows, and grand symphonic orchestras play in my head. There are sad, lurid tales being told in the silence of the seedy urinals. There's a theatricality, a noir at work in the simplest of her portraits. She's honors the history of art in her technique, while creating wholly new content. It's really exciting to think that she's just getting started, She's one of my top 5 working artists, and she created my favorite works of the year, by far.

You can see Valerie's work for yourself this Saturday night (12/12015) in "Wish List 3.5" at Gabba Gallery.

She will be one of the artists featured in Flower Pepper's 4th Anniversary Show on Dec. 19th.

Also, if you hurry, there was one drawing left at Daniel Rolnik Gallery, last I checked.

Johnny Rotten


This is oil paint on a Post-it note. I'm not even kidding!

Holly on a Post-it note.

Chair oil painting.

Chair sculpture.

Paper mache metal dudes.

DOGT detail.

Gaahl embroidery.

Holly, from my private collection.

Paper mache sculpture.

Holly, the day of my visit.

Holly, the very next day.

Texture detail.

Valerie with her chickens.