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LAist Interview: Mark Vallen

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Mark Vallen has been making art in Los Angeles for more than 30 years. A native Angeleno, Mark has integrated the city's residents and landmarks into his work since his teens, when he worked on seminal LA punk publication Slash Magazine and captured the early punk scene in a series of sketches, drawings, and paintings. Mark continues the DIY spirit by supporting LA's contemporary art scene, advocating for change against the status quo and sharing his opinion about the current state of painting and culture on his blog, Art for Change.

You can see Mark's current work in the shows "And Now, For Something Newd" at Avenue 50 Studio and "The New Normalcy," which opens on February 25th at Carlotta's Passion Fine Art. To see Vallen's artworks, as well as a full schedule of his upcoming exhibitions, please visit www.markvallen.com

Age and Occupation:
I’m 52 years old, and as for my profession - I’m a visual artist. In fact it’s more of a calling, I can’t help myself, I’ve felt compelled to make images ever since I was a child.

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How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?
I was born in Los Angeles, in the South L.A. community of Leimert Park to be precise. When I was about six years old, my parents moved to the San Fernando Valley, a place I’ve called home ever since. While I’ve taken up residence in various parts of the city, I’ve always returned to the Valley. Currently I live in the so-called "No Ho Arts District," a borough in North Hollywood that’s struggling to establish itself as a center for the arts.

Why do you live in Los Angeles?
For the photochemical sunsets. In point of fact, there’s no other city on earth like L.A., despite its reputation for being "laid back" and idyllic, it can be a hard, ugly and unwelcoming place. They didn’t film Blade Runner on LA’s streets for nothing. This is the home of the drive-by shooting, where police patrol neighborhoods by helicopters and the homeless freeze to death on streets lined with palm trees. I guess you can say I’m a glutton for punishment. But LA also holds boundless promise as a place where people can reinvent themselves, it has become a futuristic city that sets international trends - and that’s always a good place for an artist to live. I have to say that I love the people of LA - in all of their multi-cultural glory. It’s the multi-ethnic face of this place that I find most attractive and inspiring.

You were part of a group exhibition Don't Talk About Religion Or Politics. Now that it has concluded, what did the show mean to you and what do you hope visitors got from viewing the works on display? Why organize a show on this topic now and in Los Angeles?
I have a reputation for creating strong images based on current realities, but I don’t think of myself as being a "political artist." In actual fact I reject the term as a definition of what I do, since it sets my work apart from that of other artists. I’m no more or less "political" than a David Hockney or an Andy Warhol; to me all art is political because it’s the result of human labor. Avoiding an examination of social issues in one’s art is just as much a political stance as going out of one’s way to express an opinion. That being said, I wanted the "Don't Talk About Religion Or Politics" show to help redefine the meaning of "political art." People expected to see an exhibition full of strident images critical of George W. Bush, but as the curator of the exhibit - I wanted to avoid that type of hackneyed work. Of course, religion’s intersection with politics was also a focus of the show, but I was aiming at dialog and understanding, and not simply goading people for the sake of controversy - which is an extremely easy thing to do. Instead the show was deeply nuanced and contemplative, an open hand rather than a fist - inviting individuals to challenge their perceptions of political and spiritual matters.