Psychological Portals: Interview with Valentine Aprile

By Sarah Mills

Valentine Aprile is a multi-disciplinary artist.  Her eclectic arts education includes The University of the Arts (drawing/painting, modern dance, and arts in education), The Art Students League of New York, Nimble Arts (VT), The Maggie Flanigan Acting Conservatory, and The Martha Graham School of Dance. Previously she has won varied arts awards in Philadelphia, her past creative home. As a visual artist her work has been shown in galleries, museums, and alternative art spaces nationally and in the UK. She is currently based in New York involved in multiple projects, directing, painting, and occasionally leading workshops. 


I am creating psychological portals, or visual meditations, marrying abstraction and life study by utilizing both traditional techniques and intuitive improvisation.  My work is informed by observation of human behavior and sociopolitical events as well as my own life experiences. I experience the world from the perspective of a woman artist and a single parent of little means striving to move forward in a patriarchal wealth based society. Yet I see magic and potential for change and remain optimistic.


How did you start merging abstract work and figure studies?

I started playing around with the idea a little bit in college. I've always been more interested in psychological stories and imaginative play than just trying to recreate what I see in front of me. However, learning the technical skills needed to be able to understand and create form and space etc has proven invaluable. At some point, I became more interested in performance work and the capabilities of the body and expression in that regard. I've always tried to bring my visceral understanding of that to my visual work. However, it wasn't until after I had my daughter, in 2005, that I started seriously experimenting with the idea. More so in the last few years, and I look forward to pushing that process further in coming work.

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Can you tell us a little about your figure drawing process?

LOL!! When I draw I love to start out big, or open, and loose. I always work standing up whether drawing or painting no matter the size of my page or canvas. I like to be able to move freely, I feel like it allows more of a natural energy to flow into the work. I'm very interested in movement and sensuality. The challenge comes in keeping that sense of movement as the structure is built more solidly. ..that is, if I continue a straight up drawing beyond the gesture, which I rarely do anymore. However, when I do, I think my background in dance helps me quite a bit in that endeavor.

In dance, there is always this intense push and pull, this sense of controlled opposition, of going beyond what is pedestrian, ordinary, or 'real'. It's the yummiest. However, that being said, If I'm 'drawing' with my paint within a fuller composition, whatever sense of movement or lack thereof in the figure or portrait is dictated by the direction in which that painting takes me. Ah, so it seems my drawing process is actually quite different than my painting process... When I'm drawing I'm focused on the figure and what the figure is saying and adding compositional elements to support that. When I paint.. well...

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Describe your process for your paintings. How do you plan and execute each work?

I don't often plan out my paintings before I start. I usually begin by just getting some paint on the canvas. I love color and love watching it move and change as I improvise with additive and reductive methods trying to get to something interesting that flows well. I also make stencils that I can use to help create pattern and movement. At a certain point, I decide what kind of figure or portrait would work in that space. Then there's a back and forth between that figurative element and the surrounding space as I begin to see and refine what I'm trying to say with the image. Sometimes I choose colors to start with based on a feeling or mood I'd like to experiment with. Occasionally though I'll look at a blank canvas and imagine the face or figure of someone I know.

What I know about their personalities, how I feel about them, and how I see them in the larger world all come into play. I never sketch anything on the canvas first though.

What inspires you in your day to day life?

Environmental issues, socio-political issues, inner struggles, love, passion, and all the beautiful people in my life. I am particularly inspired by those who have an understanding of what it means to fight for something.


What has been the most exciting moment in you art carrier so far?

Every day that I get to create and make new discoveries about myself, our world, the people I know.. that's what's exciting. Every time I get to share that work with someone else and see that they feel involved can relate, are touched somehow..that's also exciting...and teaching is exciting. So I really don't have a specific 'moment'. It's all of the moments.

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What are you currently working on?

A few things. I've actually started painting on an older canvas which used to be titled Pile-up. The new title is Onata. I'm adding a figure and it's giving the piece a whole new vibe. My daughter Onata is my model. It's technically challenging because the figure is small in comparison to the way I usually work. I'm really enjoying it though, it's been quite a while since I painted a full-ish figure of any size. In the studio photos at my work table, which I rarely use, I was working on attached work sample file number 3.

Also, a work in progress and the only one done on paper. That one is a watercolor and graphite. It's my second ever experimentation with watercolor and also uncharacteristically small as far as the figure is concerned but that movement in the figure and the passion embodied, I just really love working with that. I'm also working on finishing up an indie TV pilot as the executive producer. It's called VAL and it's about being a struggling single parent in New York trying to reach creative goals and still be a good mother and provide. From my point of view, it's not just about providing for her but also teaching her about tenacity, morals, ethics, love, strength etc...and how to be a genuinely happy well-rounded person who isn't afraid of feelings. All the juicy bits of life. Part of all that is leading by example. I will never give up on what I want for myself because I wouldn't want her to do that.

Additionally, I have a performance installation piece called Running Through the Woods that I'd love to bring to Philly. It's dark but the message is positive and runs along the same lines of never giving up. The artwork for the installation was done quite a while ago as a collaboration with James McElhinney. I've attached some of those as well. I set the poses and did the posing and he did the straight figure drawings. Then I manipulated them by adding, subtracting, or altering.

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What is your favorite thing about working with fluid paints?

The layers. The movement. The allowances for the delicacy that I can mix with texture or heavier marks should I choose. Really beautiful things are allowed to happen by chance and I get to decide whether I want to keep them or not. Sometimes those beautiful accidents can shape a whole painting, like Bed of Roses.

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