Val Sivilli – Artist Statement
The Feral lies just beneath the surface of the Human Animal. The 6-foot portrait series entitled “BEAST” presents these angst ridden subjects at human scale. In the case of the “CAT FIGHT” Paintings, composition and color serve to civilize the subject matter. It’s presentation makes it palatable. It is aestheticized, thus digestible and acceptable,
Observing animal behavior is a great signifier. Those absolutely crazy moments of deadly growls and vicious attacks, those power-plays between cats is a subtle yet terrifying game of who is protecting whom and why. This game of intimidation and submission flips and flops, back and forth. It is not unlike a seduction. It is hard to look away.
Many of my paintings are initially sourced, then re- configured, from screen shots taken from cat fight YouTube videos. The fact that these videos even exist is a testament to human feral inclinations. I, myself, find it difficult to watch these videos through to a possible deadly conclusion. It is this distillation of what ferocious behavior looks like in its pure, unpretentious form that interests me the most.
People collect animals. We collect them in zoos, in our homes, in our stories, in our popular culture. We transform them into digestible versions of what they truly are. We try to humanize them. We observe animals in endless documentaries. We enslaved them to perform in the Circus. We infuse them with human traits through our movies, animations and literature. We give them language skills, put clothing on them. We use them as symbols possessing mystical powers. We associate them with religious piety. We interact with them in our myths and fairy tales. We attempt to domesticate them.
Yet, ultimately, the animal is un-tame-able. This un-tame-ability is reflective of the un-tame-ability of the planet itself. This un-tame-ability is nature. And ultimately, we are made of that same stuff of nature. The beast can speak truth to power. Animals mirror truth back onto the self.
Most recently, while driving from my house to my studio, I encountered a raccoon in the middle of the day. It was not rabid. The raccoon walked up to the car, then stood up, looked at me as if wanting to discuss something. I said “hello, maybe you should get out of the road” then drove away. That encounter reminded me that listening to that feral, wild, un-tame-able creature was a very important thing to do and I was not doing it. I just stayed in my car and was somewhat deaf to its voice. It was not a comfortable place to be. This is when the human size animal paintings began.
My series “The Wild Boar”, from 2015 manifested itself in a series of books as well as a large body of paintings. This work is a semi-autobiographical story about the feral nature of the self. It explores how attempting to tame this feral nature is an ongoing struggle. For me it is, as well, a losing battle.
My work used the wild boar as a subject for many reasons. These reasons tend to lie in the realm of contradiction – both psychological and physical. One example of contradiction – humans tamed this beast for its’ food supply in the form of the domesticated pig. Of course, pigs escaped confinement because they could – that is what nature does. Growing numbers of feral pigs destroy crops in their search for food. Their numbers are so large that they are hunted with machine guns shot from helicopters to control their numbers. This is one isolated example of many imbalances created on this planet in the name of civilization.
By spending time with these contradictions and deconstructing attempts at taming the wild, my journey is to understand and accept wildness. By not fearing wildness, but rather accommodating it, I believe we can create more balance in ourselves and our planet. I hope to be able to understand this better. My work strives to do just this.
val sivilli 2020-2021