Artist Statement • Defining Moments

I am interested in how and why we recall specific events and how our memories serve to define us. My work incubates when a tentative window opens. It is often triggered by a relatively mundane event. It could be triggered by politics, a podcast, a family drama, a death, an injury or something funny. When something in the current moment sparks a memory of a past event, it is as if a map is lying beneath both events, current and past. I am being called upon to find the threads. It is almost as if I am being beckoned to locate the connective tissue. There is a meandering, feral landscape of connectivity lying in wait for me to create something discernible from the wilderness.

In this moment a story gets written, drawings get sketched, images get cropped, dissected, sewn, destroyed. Decisions get made. Am I painting? Am I writing? Am I drawing? Deciding on the path will help me to stitch these threads together. Through the process, the reasons begin to surface. When a confusing journey lands in a logical place, I know I am on the right path for the work to evolve.


“THE NECKLACE” is a story written in 3 PARTS:

At this writing, I have only illustrated PART 3. CHAPTER ONE tells the tale of the adventure that ensued during and beyond my journey home traveling home with my mother’s ashes in the front seat of my car. CHAPTER TWO tells the tale of the gifting of the necklace, and the taking back of the necklace, throughout an entire lifetime. CHAPTER THREE tells the tale of the final visitation of my mother in the form of a praying mantis. Really, she just wanted her diamond necklace back for the last time. Yet, in the illustration of this story, a deeper truth of inherited fear is revealed.


The Feral lies just beneath the surface of the Human Animal. The 6-foot portrait series entitled “BEAST” presents our angst ridden friends at human scale. 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. By not fearing wildness, but rather accommodating it, I believe we can create more balance in ourselves and our planet. Through my work, I strive to understand this better.


The CAT FIGHT paintings capture the moment when stillness becomes intention. Observing animal behavior through the eyes of a human is a great signifier. Those are absolutely crazy moments of deadly growls and vicious attacks. A power-play between cats is a subtle yet terrifying game of who is protecting who and why. This intimidation and submission flips and flops back and forth. It is like a game, yet it is also not. The domination and the submission and the fear and the tomfoolery.  Those stressful moments that almost appear to be taunts, flirts and then attacks. These images are screen shots taken from YouTube videos that people record and upload and then watch. They are unseemly, terrifying and sometimes deadly.  I never am able to watch it through to a really violent end.   It’s the taunting and teasing and intimidation that interests me most. The Feral lies just beneath the surface of the Human Animal. In this case, the composition and the color make a violence civilized.


The Assassin (sight) paintings are inspired by the women of the circus. These women chose to live a life not limited by societal options. The circus is ferocious and is made of sweat, flesh, ritual and community. The visual fanfare of the circus has sparked the muse for centuries and as well, it has sparked mine. The circus is a window into the perplexing state of my country and exposes the seedy nature of our politics. The jester was the original spokesperson for “Truth to Power” speaking freely, in verse and without overt fear of retribution. art forms – painting, performance, theater, film, silkscreen, etc. The women in these paintings confront the viewer, call them on shortcomings, repetitive patterns and limitations. They call to task – to act, to think, to stop and ultimately, to redirect.


Embedded in the images of the Wild Boar lives the possibilities of a vast symbol system. There are environmental issues, explorations of the self, explorations of relationships, food, the land, as well as formal concepts to be explored. This incredibly fertile territory is conceptually riveting. The Wild Boar/Pig and all of its incarnations on this planet speak to multiple levels of metaphor with many levels of association. Their survival and fecundity in the face of overt hatred of their presence is baffling. They are smart, loving, fierce survivors. Beautiful is the ugliest most engaging way.

Val Sivilli
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