An interview with KIKI VALDES – The Drawing Chronicles
Kiki Valdes has been restless lately. A Miami native formerly residing in the Big Apple, the prolific artist whose corpus is like a waltz with a candle’s flame through abstraction and familiarity has had a lot on his mind. Churning out rapid fire ink drawings that straddle audacious feminine and masculine forms, transmuted or transmogrified, and painterly ebbs and flows that soothe the pupil, this proud child of the swamp is a New Miami Original; touching on surrealism with a smoldering semblance of imaginative tropical distortions. He captures the primal sublimations of perception roiling through a blanket of humidity and salsa, where the pelagic atmosphere permeates one’s pores, evoking for me everything from Minnie the Moocher to Buena Vista Social Club. This recent surge of creativity is immediate and urgent, yet Kiki makes this series seem effortless. Perhaps it’s the inclement weather, but it speaks wildly to me of both the hurt Miami is reeling from and the promise of the soon to be ruins, the singular frontier where a diverse diaspora of ethnic cultures lay their stake, an America, perhaps the only America, where someone like Kiki or myself might find the paintbrush and thrive. It makes one feel lucky to have been born here. Miami is fortunate to claim him as their voice. Kiki Valdes has an upcoming show at Swampspace in the Miami Design District (3940 N. Miami Avenue 33127). It’s called The Drawing Chronicles, and is the gallery’s premier exhibition for Miami Art Week 2017, running from December 1st to January 1st 2018
What should people expect from The Drawing Chronicles?
I rather people see the work without expecting anything in advance. I’m a painter so naturally people would expect paintings. At the core, all painters draw. It’s the quickest way to iron out details, concepts and compositions. It’s raw and to the point. All I can really say is, this past year I’ve been mostly drawing. The end of last year I started playing with new imagery and it’s just continued from there. I feel sort of refreshed and have new goals as an art maker. I feel these works are apart of a bigger project, a more defined visual language I’m still developing. This show is about exploring and sculpting out that vision in it’s first phase of what’s to come.
What is your creative process like these days? How is an average drawing made, from conception to execution? How frequently, if at all, do you set aside time for art? Are you rigorous with yourself about scheduling and discipline, or does it come more naturally, like an impulse? And finally, how does your environment or schedule enrich and/or impede you?
My life has become more orderly, I guess that sort of comes with age. My time management is better, for me it’s changed but at the same time still flexible since I don’t have kids. I usually make a lot of small drawings, it almost feels like I’m illustrating a comic or something, but it’s very free flowing. I use illustrator pens and I do most of my blending with licking my finger and smudging the paper. All the greys in the small drawings is ink mixed with my DNA. Sometimes my tongue gets black so I should change this method. Whenever I have a free moment I work. Sometimes it does not immediately feel as though I’m getting a lot of work done but I am very consistent. The bigger drawings are all ink and brushes so it’s a bit more like painting. I don’t use my spit for any of the bigger drawings. haha. I usually like working midday until the evening before dinner, I like to continue working later in the evening until 2am. It all depends. I don’t like feeling like a robot, I always try to find ways to make it interesting. The internet is a gift and distraction, but can be good to pace myself and read up on things I need to.
We met at a midnight movie. The Wild Bunch via Secret Celluloid Society, was it? Tell me how other mediums, from music to movies, influence your work. What about lived experience, being a Floridian, travel…in short, what thoughts and emotions typically go through your head when you create?
Yeah we did meet at a midnight movie, It wasn’t The Wild Bunch though. I can’t remember which screening it was for. But, I remember seeing you often. I love movies and appreciate it as an art form. I like all sorts of music. I grew up mostly with hardcore/punk and hip-hop. My brother and his friends snuck me into my first show at Churchill’s when I was 12. Today, I think I truly like most music. I’m currently not a huge traveler but I do enjoy engaging in new experiences. I like going out with friends and grabbing a bite. I think living life for the most part is what goes back into the art. I think it’s to do normal things just a bit differently. It makes a big difference.
What’s it like to be showing in Swampspace? How does it compare with other showings you’ve had in the past?
Oliver Sanchez, who runs Swampspace is a local hero to many artists in Miami. His art studio is actually behind the gallery space. I’ve known Oli for years. I’ve included him in a show I curated in 2010 and we’ve always shared cafecitos and great conversations together. No matter what happens, it feels like when I show it’s always unconventional. It’s always the side window and not the front door. Swampspace, for me just continues that tradition. I’m glad I’m doing it and it’s always a different experience. It’s a long time coming and it means a lot to me.
Specifically with regard to your renderings of the human form, do you have any baselines from which you draw, subconsciously or otherwise?
I sometimes use references but not too often. I may look at a photo and get a feeling, or look at a person and I usually go from memory. You can never draw something perfect from memory, and I think there’s a beauty to that. I’ve started to include the female figure back into my work, it just felt right and new things are starting to happen.
You’ve mentioned how it’s been a somewhat transitional year for you in several ways. How has change, the painful or cathartic variety, stimulated your creativity? These days, what is your aim when you create?
I am working in the smallest studio I’ve ever had, and I had to downsize the way I make my work. But, since I’ve started I’ve gotten attention that I was not expecting. In some ways drawing is very honest, and sometimes you just show more of yourself, it gets deeper. I feel many people respond to it more to my surprise. The end of last year I met someone, a woman that had a huge impact on me. We don’t speak anymore but it was a sort of a flicker, a light I needed to get going again. I am grateful for that, sounds corny but things happen for a reason. You meet people sometimes that just give you a spark that you need, and it creates a new outpouring of creativity and imagery.
What are your other hobbies, particularly with regard to living in South Florida? What enduring connections have you made — metaphysical, social, etc. — that have guided you as a painter?
I like hanging out with my family, eating food, working out when I can and hang out with friends. I’ve tried harder this year connecting with friends. Seeing people and connecting is special and it should happen often. More of that, and less of internet friendships. I love the internet but there’s just something special of someone sitting next to you and having a nice conversation.
Interview conducted by Manuel Marrero. Mr. Marrero is the author of the novel Thousands of Lies (2015) and founder of Expat Press (expatpress.com). He is currently working on his second novel.