Val 2021

I am painter, printmaker, writer, musician and educator. My work uses narrative elements and a conscious use of color to isolate and express deep truths about humanity’s relationship to the planet, other living beings and ultimately, to each other. In recent years. I have been painting and deconstructing and reconstructing and thinking a lot about the BEAST. Creating and exploring the human/animal on both paper and canvas.

I also write and illustrate little stories about my little life on this planet and make little artists books.

you can read all about me if you can stand it:

My name is Val Sivilli.  I grew up on Long Island and studied visual arts as an undergrad at SUNY Purchase. There I discovered Printmaking and studied WoodBlock Printing with Antonio Frasconi. I transferred to Alfred University to finish my BFA in 1984. As a young artist I confronted the concept of duality head-on. I created musical instruments from both ceramic forms and printmaking plates. I also created printed editions of musical scores to read while playing those same instruments. I grew up a classical pianist. Music continues to play a big role in my creative life.

After graduating from Alfred, and for the next 6 years, I worked as a studio assistant to both Leon Golub and Nancy Spero.  I was Nancy’s printer for many years. I became the first person to print with Nancy’s polymer plates in the Lawrence Oliver Gallery in Philadelphia.  I travelled with her to Spain, Ireland and Canada to print commissioned installations. I also worked on Leon’s mercenary paintings in the studio as well as creating a large group of Leon’s etchings at Bob Blackburn’s Printmaking Workshop. Working at Leon and Nancy’s studio gave me a first hand look into the art world in NYC. To be honest,  I did not love the art world. I did not love the angst that both Leon and Nancy constantly felt about their legacy. They hardly found any joy in the creation of their work. It took me a long time to realize that, but I think that is why I finally decided that leaving New York City was acceptable to me.

I earned my Masters Degree at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers.  My work continued to address many of the same issues that it did at Alfred. I created work about the dual nature of living a meaningful life while simultaneously confounded by the ersatz nature of popular culture. Duality was infused into the work at almost every stage. I was constantly overlapping political figures with mythical imagery. Photographic printmaking techniques were combined with painterly elements.  My work through the 80’s addressed the political world and issues plaguing artists via the NEA. I participated in exhibitions that addressed Tiananmen Square, exhibitions about Jessie Helms, and Robert Bork, and smaller shows that were sounding boards to confront the silencing of the artists voice.

At 31, in 1990, I moved to Western New Jersey to start a family.  I sought out almost every artist in the Frenchtown NJ area that did not paint barns. I became the director of a small cooperative gallery called “Steamroller”. During those years I created a lot of art.  I participated in many local exhibitions. Painting had became my preferred medium. I painted quite a bit during the 1990’s. I had a one person installation at the Hunterdon Museum of Art and had many New Jersey and Pennsylvania exhibitions at college art galleries, local galleries, NJ Arts annuals, etc.  From around 1999 through to 2006 I created a huge ongoing series of body prints.Yet those efforts to exhibit, as good as they looked on my resume, as good as the work was, were very costly.  And even though I continued to teach part time at TCNJ, RVCC, BUCKS, those exhibitions in combination with being a college professor still did not prove to land me a full time teaching job. Because I was about to become a single parent, the act of exhibiting my paintings by applying to exhibitions was becoming a luxury I could not afford. I continued to dedicate time for painting but doing the hustle to exhibit was no longer in the cards. From around 2006 to 2014, I stopped trying to show my work. I just painted when I could and shared the work when invited to, documented them and then put them in storage. I started a small graphic design business and printed and sold graphic t-shirts while continuing to teach as an adjunct. Both served me well during those hard times while I was raising my kids.

In 2015, I had a defining moment. I was 55 years old. I decided then and there that I would go back to simply painting and teaching – no more t-shirts or graphic design. After driving cross country to visit some friends and family, I was invited to the Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico for a 3-month residency.  I used a HatchFund for crowd source funding.  I was able to raise over $11,000.00.  I spent 3 months painting. It was during that time that I created all of the work that focused on the feral nature of the self as personified by the image of the Wild Boar. During the residency, I painted 57 paintings, and wrote and illustrated 2 books about the ‘wild animal that lives inside of me”. When I returned home I was thrilled to show that work in a local gallery. You will notice that most of the work I have shared has been created after 2015 as I believe it is my best and most mature work. During the next few months, I gathered a group of like minded artists and we spearheaded T.H.A.T. –  The Hunterdon Art Tour. an open studio tour of Hunterdon County’s artist studios. Before Covid, we had 3 wonderful years of absolute success.

During the 5 years between Taos and Covid, I have continued exploring that feral nature that lives inside the human animal.  Much of my work has addressed the rage that has been incited because of our political situation. Images of Acrobats, Circus animals, Animal trainers, Female Sharpshooters have permeated my paintings. This work continues to address the balance of an inner world with an outer life. The intersection of political and private worlds are explored through formal artmaking practices – color, paint, design, medium. The image of the wild boar continues to rear it’s ugly little head. It inspired a series of 5 illustrated books which I have self published on Amazon. Because I love to write very short stories that are kind of personal vignettes of simply ironic situations as a respite from the rage filled work, I have also created a ongoing series of hand bound illustrated artist books. Two of these books have been performed live at ArtYard’s Crankie Festival.

In February of 2020, right before Covid,  I exhibited at the 14C ART FAIR in Jersey City. It was an awesome and successful event for me that gave me great exposure. It proved that I could once again have a relevant presence in the NYC Art World. These days, I continue to teach as an adjunct, spend any and all extra time in the studio painting while adding Book Arts to the mix.  I am currently developing and teaching Online Art Classes as an adjunct while waiting for the Art World to come back to life.  I am currently working on stitched paper pieces that are more like large painted collages that tell stories as well.

Val Sivilli
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