Surrealism is Ideal for Pacifist Who Fights to Save the World

If it works: Ken Vallario’s philosophy involves saving the world.
Photo by Clark Hodgin

Ken Vallario doesn’t spend much time laboring over his personal brand. “I’m absolutely opposed to the concept,” the painter declares. Instead, Vallario says, he is “given” the idea for a painting in a dream, or else he might “conceptualize [a work] as a response to a philosophical idea.” 

Despite such metaphysical beginnings, there’s a lot of work involved. “I sometimes draw out plans and research symbols until I arrive at an image,” he explains. “And sometimes I strike against the canvas with a brush until I am granted a new image.”

Laocoön’s Daughter
Photo by Clark Hodgin

Vallario says he began painting when he was 12, and, even so young, was “already starting to understand art as a practice.” He adds that his teachers were encouraging, and yet, much of his early development was done in isolation. He followed his passion for visual art to Florida State University, where he earned a BFA in 1997.

“I had one great professor, Ed Love, who taught me how to be uncompromising, and how to be fiercely opposed to selling out in any way. I also learned that the art world was full of politics.” 

Photo by Clark Hodgin

Although many of his friends headed to grad school, Vallario chose to “face the world” by going to New York City to test himself. Working a number of jobs, he lived the typical life of a struggling artist. It was, he admits, “the greatest education.” He would later move to Asheville to escape the harsh winters of the Northeast and to embrace a less hectic lifestyle.

Vallario views the artistic process as a negotiation with infinity, and no less. “The older I get, the more I see each painting as a life-and-death struggle to save the world.”

And a deep approach requires even deeper study. “I cannot conceptualize an art practice without a reading and writing practice. My artwork is a way of capturing my latest research,” he says. It’s also, of course, a way of feeding his imagination, which he regards as one of our human senses — one that can be “disciplined and turned into a highly sophisticated means of perceiving reality.”

The Subject
Photo by Clark Hodgin

 Done earlier in acrylics and more recently in oil, Vallario’s narrative paintings are daring in theme but polished and precise in execution. Elements of surrealism combine with a remnant of mythological light: think Escher meets Dali under a Maxfield Parrish sky.

A self-described pacifist, the painter spends much of his creative energy reflecting on the world’s collective existential challenge. “We only have one possible future … our awakening to the survival value
of peace.” The work, he says, is meant to be enjoyed intellectually.
He explains that artists have the freedom — and, as one can intuit from his work, the responsibility — to make profound claims about how imagination will serve us in some undetermined but radically dynamic future.

“The thing I tell most people who visit my studio is that I am a philosopher who paints. My art is meant as … a validation of a heart that longs for greater things.”

Event Horizon
Photo by Clark Hodgin

Ken Vallario, Wedge Studios, 129 Roberts St. in the River Arts District. For more information, visit Ken Vallario Art on Facebook.

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