The flamboyant Ivan Valerio creates artworks that are as extroverted and bold as his personality. Despite previously working as a fashion designer, art has always been his main priority and with a current exhibition in the lobby of Dubai’s Centro Barsha hotel, his giant abstract oil paintings are also aesthetic testaments to his fashion and design background. Yet there is also an extreme, primal element to some of the pieces, with haphazard, sweeping brush strokes and dark, stormy tones.
‘I’m the only child in my family. I’m adopted and my biological parents are Greek Italian but I was adopted in Belgium,’ Valerio explains when pushed on this aspect to his work.
‘So I have had lots of happy moments but also actually lots of sadness and confusion.’
The artist finds he works best at night, after he’s been out on the town, as that is when he finds he is most able to connect with emotions. Using his hands and some spatulas, he equates the creative process to a method that’s spontaneous and also uninhibited, adding his art is led by an instinct that is in his ‘brain, feelings and mind’.
Valerio says his parents’ response to his art was not one of concern or offence though. He says: ‘Both of my parents are not into art. My mum, she’s a judge and my father is in the trade business. Aesthetically they admire the way I use such sharp and strong colours.’
Part of Valerio’s infectious persona is his desire to accommodate people and make sure they feel valued. This is at odds with the stereotype of an introspective artist, anguished by the search for meaning and integrity.
He addresses this contradiction pragmatically, separating the commercial aspect of art from the integrity of what he’s producing.
‘As an artist, I don’t really care what the art lovers or critics say. If I answer as a businessman then sometimes I have to worry if the audience doesn’t like it. In this part of the world, the number one art is abstract but then it’s calligraphy.’
This sort of entrepreneurial bravado quickly recedes when Valerio returns to discussing his creative mindset.
‘These pieces are like my children,’ he says. ‘There is one I will keep for myself. It was a very personal painting. But still I made it into a lithograph and gave it away to people so that they can see it. Sometimes artists present art lovers with an illusion – I’m not that kind of person. I like to be very honest.’
None of Valerio’s works are named as he wants the individuals who buy the paintings to choose their own title and interpret the pieces freely. Having exhibited throughout the world, and with a show coming up in Maastricht in Holland in January, he believes there is a universal theme in abstract art that crosses all social boundaries.
‘It’s like water. If you give water to someone, they will drink it. Abstract is like smoke, it goes everywhere.’ With his measured candour, I’m able to ask him how he would feel if someone merely admired his art as a piece of decoration for their home and missed the depth of emotion. He gives a typically exaggerated shrug and quips: ‘As an artist you get disappointed. As a businessman, it doesn’t really matter.’
For each piece sold a donation will be made to the Al Jalila Foundation.
Exhibition: ‘Waves of Colour’ is on until November 1 at Centro Barsha, Al Barsha (04 704 0000).
Artist: Ivan Valerio
Prices: On request