By ANDREW FOERCH
In its first exhibition of the academic year, UT’s Scarfone-Hartley gallery is hosting its annual Fine Arts Faculty Exhibition to showcase the department’s most powerful and boundary-pushing creative efforts. The art show premiered on Sept. 9 with a reception celebrating the school’s art faculty and will be available for viewing until Oct. 6.
The exhibition includes a diverse range of pieces including photographs, paintings, sculptures, digital images, mixed media installations and drawings.
Faculty members presenting work include Corey George, Michael Ingold, Jack King, Lew Harris, Kendra Frorup, Doug Southerland and Chris Valle, the chair of the university’s art department.
Valle, who teaches experimental and mixed media painting, has a total of 12 pieces featured in the exhibition.
Six of these paintings are from his popular Packaged Series, a haunting collection of women wrapped in clear plastic. The idea here is to liken the “ideal” human body (or at least the popular body image pushed by mass media) to the image of meats being packaged and sold at a market.
Stamped along the plastic wrapping in each piece is a barcode that corresponds to a real type of meat that you could buy at Publix. The meat that matches the barcode serves as the title of that piece – a painting titled Strip Loin from the series hangs in Valle’s office on campus. Another titled Eye of Round is featured in the exhibition.
“The notion is to be shown something in a way that’s so horrific or terrifying that you want to look away, but you can’t,” Valle said. To further explain, he introduced the analogy of the atomic mushroom cloud – in this case, discomfort creates visual satisfaction.
Valle cites Dave Hickey’s idea of “transgressive beauty,” as a personal interest and a key source of inspiration for the Packaged Series.
“I’m interested in that attraction-repulsion,” Valle said. “You don’t know if the woman is dead or alive.”
This exploration of media and television, specifically how it manipulates our reality, has been a driving theme of Valle’s art for most of his professional career. His body of work is based on the premise that television creates a fake, illusory construct for the masses. By living in this fake construct, people unknowingly give up their human individuality, just being what mass media has programmed them to be.
“I don’t think it’s going to change, so I’m not necessarily trying to change it. I’m just trying to present that: this is what it is,” Valle said. “Erosion of the self.”
Valle’s commentary has proved effective to critics, peer juries, and art enthusiasts alike. He’s won five awards in exhibitions for pieces of work from the Packaged Series, and was approached by a Plain White T’s vocalist about purchasing the entire collection.
In addition to his successes with the Packaged Series, Valle is awaiting a solo exhibition at Isabella Garrucho (IGI) Fine Art in Greenwich, Connecticut. On Jan. 1, he’ll premiere his new collection titled Branded Series to the commercial world.
This month, UT has been able to offer a sneak peek into Valle’s Branded Series before it debuts in public; six of these paintings are currently on display in Scarfone-Hartley for the Fine Art Faculty Exhibition.
With this series, Valle appropriates images from high-end fashion advertisements that he believes serve to manipulate our understanding of the body. Louis Vuitton prints and Chanel logos collide with mouthless and faceless projections of what people often strive to look like on a superficial level.
Though his conceptual presentation of this phenomenon has remained consistent, his style has been anything but.
Drawing inspiration from German neo-expressionist artists Ansem Kiefer and Gerhard Richter, Valle avoids limiting himself to one particular genre or technique. In fact, he actively tries to pair stylistic and compositional elements that wouldn’t typically be seen side by side, like graffiti and realism.
“I’m all over the place with graffiti, pure abstraction, non-traditional materials,” Valle said. “Art is about the idea. It’s about what you’re trying to communicate. Whether you’re doing a sculpture or a painting, it’s the communication that’s key.”
Valle found his interest in artistry after injury discouraged him from seriously pursuing football and basketball in college. Around the same time, a visit to New York exposed him to some wide-scale fine art exhibitions and familiarized him with concepts of abstraction.
He went into graphic design and got a position with Disney World, but realized that the lack of personal creative control was unattractive to him. Since then, he’s been working as an independent painter applying to exhibition open calls looking for opportunities to show his art.
Selection by peer review has landed his work in galleries all over the United States, as well as in Germany, London, and Florence, where he is represented by Spazio Culturale Mentana. Additionally, over his 16 active years of painting as a profession, Valle has had upwards of 15 solo exhibitions.
Becoming a professor wasn’t always the plan – until he was thrown into an assistantship during graduate school.
“I had no plans prior to that to become a teacher, but I fell in love with it,” Valle said. “It was something that was very interesting to me, and was always a way of learning and growing my own art.”
Now, he teaches his students the importance of practice and hard work. He encourages aspiring painters to paint even when they don’t know what they’re doing – people learn by doing, failing, and doing again.
“To have the opportunity to make something out of nothing is why I really do it,” Valle said. “Even if I wasn’t an artist, if I had chosen a different path. I don’t do it because it’s my job, I do it because it’s who I am.”
Andrew Foerch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org