The paintings that I make are probably the most personal thing I have at the moment. A lot of the placement and ideas have been ingrained in my mind since I was a little kid. A lot of my inspiration comes from knowledge of fashion, makeup, and culture, often mixing the never-ending discussion of individuality and finding a feeling with a world around it.

As a queer, I have often felt like there is always a conversation to open up about identity and how that mixes with sexuality and race, and everything about your existence. Bringing this up always felt like I was talking to someone with a fantasy-like state of mind and how it has no connection to anything besides what you feel. So yeah, I paint what I see and learn, but always have a story and motive for each character.

Black and white headshot of Adrian Valencia
Adrian Valencia

Where were you born / where did you grow up?

I was born in a town in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacán called Calleta de campos. Growing up I constantly moved around a lot, residing in different states and environments which lead me to understand the power of adjustment.
I’ve been living in the Tri-Cities for the past 12 years. I’ve finally come to terms that this is pretty much my hometown… I guess but I’ve always had plans of moving and exploring new places. But I like the feeling that there is cemented growth here in the Tri-Cities.

Has your experience moving as a child impacted your work?

It has, definitely; I think I’ve trained myself to think that not everything lasts forever and, in the moment, anything can change in an instant. So, I don’t get hung up on superficial things that don’t materialize into the ideas that I want. If something doesn’t work out, I move on to the next just like I did as a child but instead of letting that sudden change affect me, I digress and make it like a closing chapter in my life. So, I move on pretty quickly from projects and move on if it’s not working out.

What medium are you currently working in?

I’ve love working with new mediums and constantly using different paints and textiles to experiment with. I feel like I have this creative urge to paint on anything I destroy and make it have a new form; [that] has been my vibe lately. Besides using my acrylic paints and eyeshadow pallets for mediums, I’ve been really interested in animation and clay molding. So, I’m always open to new ideas that are not in my comfort zone.

Have you always known art would be an integral part of your life?

Yes and no. See, as a kid. I didn’t like toys very much. I always had a notebook and crayons with me. My earliest childhood memory was when my father bought me a full bubblegum pink artist set and it had everything I wanted as a child. I would freehand cartoons, paint on books, and make paper-like furniture. In fact, I think I did tell my mom that I wanted to be an animator when I was seven.

Later, growing up, I experienced a lot of things I didn’t wish I did and that childhood wonder when creating art kinda faded away. Things weren’t the same, and I lost that interest of creating anything for a while. Over the years, I acquired many skills such as sewing, photography, and makeup. It really took me a while to understand that In order for me to create again, I had to start painting what I feel or otherwise nothing would come to mind. And I’m glad I stuck with this.

Can you tell us a bit about your current project?

This project has been in the making for the past two and half years, and I’ve been painting these 24x36 canvases with an individual (or more) and an eyesore of scenery for each one of them. Right now, I have accumulated more than ten and I wanna have a solo show for them. But ultimately, the bigger picture is writing a story with all the characters in them.

Self-portrait of Adrian Valencia in which he is looking back over his left shoulder. A tear is coming out of his left eye and he is covered with rainbow droplets.
Self portrait 2 / Adrian Valencia

Where do the characters in your paintings come from? Are they people you know, or characters you imagine and build from your own experiences?

I do like to connect everything I’ve learned about myself and everything I’ve learned so far onto a canvas. These characters become more prominent in my work after realizing I had an eye for [putting] stylistic and maximalist ideas into a person. I often get told, if it’s me who I'm painting — and yeah, sometimes the character you see is me — deep in there are rooted ideas about my own struggle with gender and sexuality.

I’ve painted my friends or even [been] inspired by social media. They come up in concepts, too, and I did a piece on climate change and how the government hasn’t done anything to pursue the issue. At the end of the day, I paint what I feel, and if the message is there with the person seeing it, it’s awesome; but if there's a different take on it, then great, also.

Can you share a little about your technique?

I don’t have many techniques. I'm a self-taught artist without professional help; everything I know I’ve taught myself. I’m still learning as I’m going. I will say I do use eyeshadow pans to define shadow and highlights in my work, which is quite unconventional actually.

Do you have any routines or rituals that help you get into a creative space? Certain music, etc.?

I definitely need to be in the right headspace to paint something. Since everything is so conceptual and stylized, I concentrate everything in fragments. Right now, I also have a space issue, so I try to hang up most of my pieces so they are [not] laying around and such. But if the environment around me has some crazy energy, I do try to channel that in the work. I guess it’s all about the mood.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

There are so many right now… I’ve been into Gabriela Ruiz’s work. She’s incredible!!! Also, the late Thierry Mugler's work is a big inspiration in my work, so seeing his past runways is always thrilling. There’s so many things and inspiration I draw from, but I always look into what you wanna say with your work and if it's speaking to me.

A feminized self-portrait holds a mask in her lap, while a blue character with arms of grass holds her from behind.
Adrian Femme / Adrian Valencia

What inspires you?

A lot, lately; I’ve never been more inspired in my life. I think I have a constant drive and tik for taking anything and using it as an inspiration in the age of social media everything and anything is picked apart for inspiration but it’s all in what you do with it. A lot of my childhood has had tumultuous events that caused [me] to take a lot of my core memories as a form of escapism in my work. Also, before painting ever crossed my mind, I always wanted to be a designer and I had an eye for the structure of a garment, always finding inspiration from designers who implemented storytelling with clothing, such as McQueen and Mugler. I like the idea of smashing ideas and feelings and high fashion together.

Can you share about a time that a piece of artwork had a profound impact on you or shifted your perspective?

I mean, there’s so many artists with exceptional skills and that have good tier imagery that are doing the damn thing, and as much as I love their artwork, I'm really more interested in the life of the artist. I recently saw something about Van Gogh's sunflower piece and how even the piece is very yellow and bright, and we often connect that color with happiness, but he wasn’t; he was dealing with depression and loneliness due to his mental illness. It really connected with me that we often have a stigma on mental illness and how [we] just don’t open up about it. Over the years, I’ve learned that sometimes that littlest thing can impact somebody and can send [them] into a spiral. The lack of love and kindness builds up into a character.

How have personal challenges impacted your work?

Time and mental state… I don’t know… I’ve always gotten these episodes where I become complacent in my life, where I start to question everything, and confidence and self-worth are becoming questionable. That stems from a lot of emotional stress that starts to bleed into my work, and also time. I’m a slow painter.
Thank you for sharing that; I think many artists will relate. How do you take care of yourself during those times of complacency — times when you are questioning your self-worth?

I look back on how far I’ve come. Sometimes it feels like you’re a fish in a big sea and you can’t see past the box you’ve put yourself into. I realized this a while ago — that every time I create something in whichever medium it is, I'm always releasing something out of me, and it’s a form of therapy for me. It helps [you figure] out how you feel about something and come to terms with those emotions, though I feel that sometimes it’s good to meet new people and explore new places and merge with different personalities, [rather] than being in those four white walls all the time. Isolation is good but sometimes not always healthy as an artist.

Can you share a bit about your artistic philosophy?

I believe that an artist's job is to create from your own individual point of view and let the work speak to those who relate to it. As people, we often connect with those we find relatability with and build deeper relationships than someone who we don’t know. That’s the beauty, though; maybe out there someone can relate and find something in your work. And keep in mind that not everything is for everyone. You can’t make everyone's satisfaction.

What would you say to an artist who is just starting out?

Experiment!!!! I find it hard to just paint on canvas sometimes. I definitely find different [things] to work with [in] other paintings. You can literally make art out of anything. Don’t be afraid of color and anatomy. One time I made a headpiece out of denim. So, the ideas are endless. It doesn’t hurt to try. Also, if you have something so niche and unique to you, [put] all your time and attention onto that. Trust me; once you perfect and love what you’re doing, there’s no going back.
How can our community better support artists?

Well, giving spaces and events that cater to newer artists is a must. I have met some crazy talented people who have never been given a chance for show, or are too afraid to take the risk of showcasing. Their work goes unnoticed. Also, having people that have given me the tools to create again are truly the most important. Sometimes we lose our way and don’t know how to reconnect with ourselves again.


Main image: Self portrait 1 by Adrian Valencia

Ashleigh Rogers is the Creative Director at DrewBoy Creative. She is an artist and art instructor living in Richland, Washington with her husband and four children.

She is an artist, art instructor, and facilitator in Tri-Cities, Washington. Her work explores the themes of connection and intergenerational stories through experimentation in painting, photography, installation, and sculpture. Ashleigh is passionately dedicated to facilitating accessible arts programming in her community.

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